For players on the fringe of either making the Houston Texans' 53 man roster or getting sent home (or perhaps to the practice squad, once they pass through waivers), the cancellation of the two joint practices with the New Orleans Saints this week was a body blow to their career possibilities. They lost out on valuable, intense practice reps, and because of the cancellation of the joint practices, the Texans' starters will probably take up more usage on Sunday night, meaning fewer chances for the reserves.
Still, the Texans' front office, led by GM Nick Caserio, and DeMeco Ryans' coaching staff, will need to cobble together a 53-man roster. Sometime between Sunday's game and the final cutdown from 90 players to 53 players, I will be doing one more 53 man roster projection. For now, the four position battles I'll be watching most closely this weekend are the following:
Third running back spot — Mike Boone vs Dare Ogunbowale
Ogunbowale, of course, was a Houston Texan last season, and has carved out a nice career over the last seven years, after entering the league as a camp body for the Texans in 2017. Boone was signed as a free agent this offseason, after contributing for the Broncos last season after Javonte Williams season ending ACL injury. Boone has been the more productive player, and more dangerous player in camp and in the two preseason games. Boone led the team in rushing against New England (4 carries, 25 yards) and had 32 yards receiving against Miami on Saturday. Ogunbowale lost a fumble against the Patriots, and missed Saturday's game against Miami with an injury. The key for Boone will be showing he can contribute on special teams, a necessity for backup running backs.
Final defensive tackle spot — Kurt Hinish vs Thomas Booker vs Khalil Davis
There was a point last season, at the height of the injury bug on defense, when Hinish and Booker, two late drafted or undrafted rookies, were starting at defensive tackle. That position group has been fortified with the signings of veterans Sheldon Rankins and Hassan Ridgeway in free agency, and the battle to make the 53-man roster is much stiffer for slightly seasoned youngsters like Hinish and Booker. Booker has barely played in camp because of injury, and is in serious jeopardy of getting cut. Hinish has flashed at times, but has a low ceiling ability-wise. The wild card is the journeyman veteran Davis, who has flashed in both preseason games thus far. I would throw Roy Lopez into this group, but I think his job is relatively safe.
Final tight end spot — Eric Tomlinson vs Brevin Jordan vs Nick Vannett
We know Dalton Schultz will be the starting tight end, and on the latest Texans depth chart, Mason Schreck is listed as a co-first stringer with Schultz. Teagan Quitoriano is probably making the team, as well. Brevin Jordan was in serious jeopardy of not making this team coming into camp, and he's been nursing an injury for over two weeks now. He hasn't seen the field, and it's questionable if he is even a fit in this new system. I think he is gone. Tomlinson is on his second tour of duty as a training camp Texan (2015-2016), and has played on seven different NFL teams. Similarly, Vannett is experienced, having come into the league as a third round pick in 2016. If I had to handicap it, I'd give the slight edge to Tomlinson based on glimpses I've seen at camp, but it's a coin flip, for sure. There's a possibility the Texans keep just three tight ends, in which case, none of these guys make the team.
Sixth linebacker — Garret Wallow vs Christian Kirksey vs Jake Hansen
Early on, this looks like one of the more improved positions on the team. Denzel Perryman has been making plays in camp and had a pick in the loss to Miami. Blake Cashman, when healthy, has been causing turnovers in camp, and young players Christian Harris and Henry To'o To'o definitely look like part of the rotation. Harris has been particularly good. I would guess veteran Cory Littleton makes the team, which leaves one spot for Wallow, Kirksey, or Hansen. I would eliminate Kirksey off the top. He is on the wrong side of 30, has been injured all camp long, and carries a hefty salary cap hit. Among Wallow and Hansen, I'd probably keep Wallow, just based on his physical traits, but I could see it going either way.
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