After nearly two weeks of baby slapping each other while wearing jerseys and shorts, save a few padded practices here and there, the Texans finally got a chance to line up across from another NFL team and hit them in the mouth.
Quite honestly, the Texans' 24-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara was more than a little sloppy, and the one thing Texans fans were looking forward to — Brock Osweiler throwing the ball around the yard — they saw only in very nondescript, rudimentary throws, with Osweiler going 4 for 7 for 27 yards in his Texans debut.
However, there were players who made an impression, including a Texans quarterback, so let's examine the winners and losers from last night's preseason opener...
4. Tom Savage
If you're looking for an indicator of how classroom time and film study can affect a player's development, look no further than Savage, who's played almost no football for the past year, dating back to his season-ending injury in the 2015 preseason. We'd heard throughout last season that the coaches had been giving Savage game plans to study even though he was out, the hope being that it would advance his game when he returned. They were right. Savage looked much more in command during OTAs and training camp, and seized the backup role on Sunday night, completing 14 of 24 for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
3. Dak Prescott
I made no secret about my love for Prescott's game leading up to the draft, even going so far as to say that if the Texans were going to draft a young quarterback, they should just wait until the third round and take Prescott, who I thought had some very Russell Wilson-like qualities. As we all know, the Texans opted to eschew the draft altogether and fork over $37 million guaranteed to Brock Osweiler, which is fine. Back to Prescott — the knocks on him coming out of Mississippi State were the offense that he ran (Tim Tebow-ish spread) and accuracy issues (which he actually seemed to clear up his senior year, but whatever). Well, in the end, the Cowboys took Prescott in the fourth round, and one preseason game in, they look pretty damn smart for doing so, as he went 10 of 12 for 139 yards and two touchdown passes against the Rams on Saturday night. But no, I'm not bitter.
2. Travis Frederick
What's that, you say? TWO Cowboy stories in one version of what's supposed to be a TEXANS post? Well, this one ties tangentially to the Texans. Congratulations to Frederick, who became the highest-paid center in all of football with a six-year, $56.4 million contract extension that he signed over the weekend. Two thoughts on this deal as it pertains to the Texans — first, DeAndre Hopkins was taken four picks before Frederick. I'm guessing his people have not only taken note, but have texted Rick Smith a link to the article outlining Frederick's deal. Second, if Nick Martin ends up being a legit starting center in the league, and is truly a "ten- or twelve-year pro," as many have forecasted, then the Texans need to set aside at least about 75 percent of Frederick's overall contract number for Martin in a few years.
1. Stephen Anderson
At a position of need for the Texans, tight end, Anderson has been impressive throughout training camp, so it was good to see him make a play to get his name into the box score, a seven-yard touchdown catch that put the Texans ahead for good, 17-13 in the third quarter. The undrafted free agent out of Cal had several dozen friends and family in attendance, and they cheered loudly as his bid to make the 53-man roster continued to fortify. If the team were breaking camp this week, I think Anderson would make the squad.
When you start adding up the roster spots and cross-referencing the spots with the number of players available, one thing becomes pretty clear — the Texans have a minor glut of NFL running backs, which is a very, very good problem to have. Lamar Miller and Tyler Ervin are locks to make the team, and the coaches clearly like having Alfred Blue around. From there, you had Jonathan Grimes, Akeem Hunt and even Kenny Hilliard (12 carries, 40 yards) flash some of the good stuff last night and throughout camp. That's six bodies for four, maybe five, spots, and the only way it's five spots is if the Texans decide to abandon the fullback position. The end of the Jay Prosch era may be near.
3. Jadeveon Clowney
It goes without saying that this is a huge season for Jadeveon Clowney. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Clowney's biggest problem has been his inability to stay healthy; he has missed 17 of a possible 32 games, plus a playoff game last January, in his first two seasons. So when he was being held out of practice last week for knee soreness, those close to Clowney will have to forgive the collective eye roll from the entire city of Houston — the "here we go again" eye roll, if that helps you. However, it's bad enough that Clowney is being left back in Houston for treatment of a sore knee while his teammates are practicing and playing in San Francisco, but does he really need to hop over to Lake Charles and roll dice on Friday night?
Yes, that is reportedly how Clowney kept himself occupied while his teammates were working in the Bay Area — playing craps at the Golden Nugget:
When news of Clowney's little side trip broke on Twitter over the weekend, there were plenty of people saying, "What's the big deal? He has free time, he is not doing anything illegal." My counterargument would be "Ask any player, former or current, what THEY think of Clowney hanging out and gambling while they work...you'll see why it's a big deal." The No. 1 overall pick from 2014 is an undrafted free agent in the "self-awareness" department.
2. Return game
The first real live action for Larry Izzy's revamped special teams was hit or miss. The coverage teams were solid, which wasn't always the case last season, but the return game was still lacking. The Texans had only two kickoff returns and they averaged just over 20 yards a return, and in the punt return game, Ervin put the ball on the ground (recovered by the Texans) and Fuller made a decision to field a one-hop punt that almost got him murdered by overzealous 49er coverage team members. Izzo still has a lot of work to do.
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1. Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick missed the game with a sore shoulder, which I suppose gave him time to ponder how he ended up in a world where he is backing up Blaine Gabbert. THIS GUY...
...is somehow backing Blaine Gabbert. Football is weird, man.
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.