As we discussed in this space earlier this week, the Houston Texans and the New Orleans Saints were slated to conduct two joint practices on Thursday and Friday of this week. Ultimately, the two head coaches, DeMeco Ryans of the Texans and Dennis Allen of the Saints, decided that it was best to cancel those practices, in the name of health and player safety.
If you're a Texans fan who is into the development of your team's young players, this was a somewhat significant decision, as players like quarterback C.J. Stroud — especially, Stroud, among all players, really — will miss out on valuable practice reps against motivated opponents. Those reps will now be confined to the 60 minutes these two teams will play on Sunday night, 7 p.m. kickoff on FOX.
To that end, let's nail down a few things to keep an eye on, as several young players make their final stab at making the Texans' 53 man roster:
4. Does Steven Sims break through as a return specialist?
Sims is a fifth year journeyman, who has, thus far, been given most of the reps returning kicks, including a 43-yard return against the Dolphins on Saturday. Sims' reps at wide receiver have been less scintillating than the return reps, and it appears as though the Texans' top six spots at receiver are close to set, and they don't include Sims. It will be tough to find room for a return-only player who isn't elite, so Sunday is important for Sims, who might be able to stay on as a practice squad body, if he doesn't make the 53-man roster.
3. Run defense, please
The run defense has been helter skelter though two preseason games. Against the Patriots, two weeks ago, the Texans' run defense looked like the 1985 Chicago Bears. Last week, against Miami, they looked like, well, the 2022 Houston Texans. In his interview on Texans Radio this week, DeMeco Ryans said that he watched the film from the Miami game, and the problems appear fixable. After the game, he was critical of the effort level of the defense. I don't know how technically improved the run defense will be, but with guys playing for jobs, I would imagine effort will not be an issue.
2. Key final impressions
There are a handful of battles for final roster spots at several positions going into Sunday, and after the game, it will be a quick turnaround for Nick Caserio to decide who's earned a spot on the team. I think the most intriguing "cut down" storyline will be whether or not Caserio finally cuts one of his own draft picks, and if so, who will it be? The betting favorites are tight end Brevin Jordan, linebacker Garret Wallow, and defensive tackle Thomas Booker. In the rookie class, I think only seventh round pick Brandon Hill, safety out of Pitt, is in danger of being cut.
1. C.J. Stroud, final dress rehearsal
Ryans said in his Monday press conference that nothing can replace game reps in order to gain experience, so this we know — C.J. Stroud will play on Sunday, and with no joint practices this week, I could see him playing quite a bit. If there is similar improvement from Miami to New Orleans, as there was from New England to Miami, then Texan fans will be very excited going into the regular season. Now, for some fun evaluation on Stroud, check out this video from former NFL quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan: Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast, on Instagram at instagram.com/sean.pendergast, and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.