Training camp for the Houston Texans ended on Wednesday morning with what's become a tradition under head coach Bill O'Brien, where he takes one of the heftier Houston Texans and has them attempt to field a punt. If the player is successful, then practice cuts out early. Talk about pressure!
In 2014, the player chosen was then-guard Ben Jones. In 2015, it was then-rookie defensive end Christian Covington. On Wednesday, it was rookie nose tackle D.J. Reader. O'Brien shared some insight after practice into why he picks who he picks:
“I usually try to pick someone that I think, I have confidence that they may catch it, but I know there’s a chance they may drop it. So if he drops it, we’re going back to practice. If he catches it, we’re going to move on to the next phase.”
Thankfully, Reader, a former first baseman on the Clemson baseball team, made the catch, celebration ensued, and the Texans can officially move onto the next phase of preparation for the 2016 regular season. Along those lines, there is certainly optimism that this season's rookie class can be the most productive since 2011, a class that included J.J. Watt and landed three names on yesterday's list of top ten rookie seasons in franchise history.
Let's take a quick glance at how this class, which has six draftees and a few intriguing undrafted guys, has fared so far in 2016:
1/21. WILL FULLER, WR
If you had listened to some of the concern on draft night about the Texans' selection of Fuller, you'd have thought that not only does he have poor hands, but that he actually was born with no hands. As it turns out, his hands are quite functional, as are his legs, which churn at a 4.3 second pace on the 40-yard dash. In the Saints game on Saturday, we got a glimpse of Fuller's complete skill set, as he showed an uncanny ability to get open on intermediate routes. It helped that the Saints' secondary gave him absurd cushion, fearful of his sprinter's speed. Fuller is going to be an exciting weapon.
2/50. NICK MARTIN, C
While most rookies start their careers listed third or fourth string, at best, Martin came into camp listed as the starting center. That's how much acumen and skill he'd shown for the position throughout minicamp and OTA's. However, an unfortunate string of bad luck — a back issue followed by a high ankle sprain on a fluke play where he got rolled up in practice with the Saints — has ended Martin's rookie season before it started. He looks like a great piece for the future, but after surgery on the ankle, it will likely be 2017 until we see him again.
GRADE: A (when healthy, ultimately will likely be INCOMPLETE)
3/85. BRAXTON MILLER, WR
When the Texans were in triage mode at quarterback last season, O'Brien used plenty of players in "wildcat" type formations, including Cecil Shorts, Jonathan Grimes and even B.J. Daniels. None of them have the dynamic skills of Miller, who we have yet to see in that formation (and probably won't, considering preseason is a time for "trick play" secrecy). Miller has been sort of a poor man's Fuller throughout camp, showing a solid ability to make plays in the passing game, although my guess is they have some designed runs (end arounds, reverses) in the playbook for Miller, as well.
4/119. TYER ERVIN, RB
Ervin has been the biggest disappointment of the class so far. (Someone has to be, right?) Early on in camp, he showed a wiggle and an extra gear that the Texans have not really had at running back, certainly since O'Brien arrived. (Arian Foster was super productive, but was more smooth and gliding than sudden and quick, like Ervin.) It hasn't translated in games, although to be fair, nobody is running the ball exceptionally well behind the patchwork offensive line. The bigger disappointment has been Ervin's inability to seize the lead return man role, which O'Brien and special teams coach Larry Izzo clearly want him to do. He's getting every opportunity to do so, and hasn't yet.
5/159. K.J. DILLON, S
After starters Andre Hal and Quintin Demps, safety is a position that is wide open on the depth chart, and while it took him a little while to get his feet under him, Dillon has begun to flash some of the versatility that made him such an intriguing fifth round pick back in May. At this point, he should make the team and, minimally, contribute on special teams.
5/166. D.J. READER, DT
In a position group where the Texans really need to find some solutions to help out J.J. Watt, they may have found a steal in fifth-round pick Reader. Although not Wilfork-level massive (honestly, who is?), Reader is a gigantic individual with tremendous quickness and skill for a guy his size. Again, the dude played baseball in college, so, like Wilfork, he's a pretty good athlete, not just a fat person. Worst case, it looks like the Texans found a capable big body to spell Wilfork. Best case, they found Wilfork's heir apparent.
Beyond the six draftees, I count five undrafted guys with anywhere from a great chance to a puncher's chance of making the team...
UDFA. STEPHEN ANDERSON, TE
I got a lot of people replying to my most recent projected 53-man roster saying that Anderson should be in the "LOCKS" category. We will see. Given the fact that he is not really a classic tight end, more of a third down specialist, I don't think Anderson can afford to go into the tank these last two games, or O'Brien may just go the safe route and take Anthony Denham, who's been here before, on the 53-man roster as the third tight end. But Anderson looks like he belongs.
UDFA: WENDELL WILLIAMS, WR
Speedster who could steal a spot on the roster with a few great returns in these final two preseason games. As it is, I think he's at least got a superb shot at the practice squad.
UDFA: BRENNAN SCARLETT, OLB
Just recently recovered from a hamstring injury and saw his first action of the preseason over the last couple weeks. With a full camp, he'd be in pole position to make the team, and considering the lack of solid faces after Clowney, Mercilus, and Simon at outside linebacker, he may still make it.
UDFA: ERIC LEE, OLB
Likely a practice squad guy, but another outside linebacker who has flashed at times this preseason.
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UDFA. KA'IMI FAIRBAIRN, K
Nick Novak has been better than Fairbairn over the last couple weeks, but the kicker battle is still open heading into the final two games of the preseason and should be one of the more intriguing position battles as we head toward the roster cutdown.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.