Kids, gather around and let me tell you about a time when the NFL actually treated the third preseason game as if it mattered. Back in my day (old-guy go-to phrase), all the way back in like 2014, NFL teams would work training camp and the preseason to a crescendo that culminated with a third preseason game in which regular starters played well into the third quarter.
Well, that was a different time and place, kids, back before there were things like Instagram models and the WWE Network. Now, we live in a world where the third preseason game means the starting quarterback plays one, maybe two series, and then it's time for players 40 through 90 to stage three quarters worth of football Hunger Games to make the team.
Only imagine Hunger Games being mind-numbingly boring and full of mental mistakes. (Actually, Hunger Games with a ton of mental mistakes would be wildly compelling. Scratch that analogy.)
On the scoreboard, the Texans defeated the Saints 27-13, but it was more about the players trying to earn an NFL paycheck or justify their spot on the depth chart. Let's examine how some of them did…
4. Brian Hoyer
One of the things I was very curious to see with Hoyer (in addition to, y'know, completing passes and protecting the football) was how "presidential" he felt running the office. Was he a CEO out there? Did he appear to have command of the offense? Did he get everyone set up right? And once again, for the second time in two starts, he came out fast, scoring a touchdown on his first drive as the starter. Hoyer completed all three of his passes for a total of 45 yards as the Texans answered the Saints' field goal on their first drive with seven points. Hoyer was decisive and crisp. It'll obviously be much different going against the Chiefs' front seven in two weeks, but this was a solid first performance and validating for Bill O'Brien.
3. DeAndre Hopkins
For all of his warts as the Texans' quarterback in 2014, and dear God were those warts plentiful, Ryan Fitzpatrick did do one thing well — he let DeAndre Hopkins go make plays. In the first quarter yesterday, we got a taste of Brian Hoyer appearing to be dialed into that dynamic as well, with a 29-yard jump ball to Hopkins followed by a 19-yard should-have-been-touchdown on a contested throw to the third-year wideout. More important for Hopkins, it appears there are enough other options in the receiving corps to give opposing defenses something to think about and not completely flood Hopkins with attention.
2. Khari Lee
Admittedly, I'm hoping Lee makes the team, in large part because of this impersonation of Bill O'Brien...
….so sue me. Hey, Lee had a juggling 17-yard catch, and seems to be making enough plays to stick around, on the practice squad if nothing else. (For what it's worth, Charles James, another comedic favorite, made another play that should help him make the team, with a 73-yard touchdown run that was called back because of a hold.)
1. Jaelen Strong
In the second episode of Hard Knocks, one of the story lines was about the struggles of rookie wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who was made to look like he had cricket paddles for hands in the segment on his trials and tribulations. In last weekend's game against the Broncos, Strong had only one catch for five yards and missed a key block on a missile screen pass. On his first catch yesterday, he juggled the football, maybe costing himself some yards after catch. However, fortunately for him, he was able to turn things around and finished with a team-high five catches including a touchdown on a fourth-down play from Ryan Mallett. Strong was always going to make the 53-man roster because he was a third-round draft pick, but at least now he's playing as if he actually deserves to make it.
4. FOX viewers
There are plenty of improvements that networks have made with broadcasts and I'm sure there will be many more in years to come. Things always evolve. However, one of the things that I am totally okay with is the angle from which we watch plays from scrimmage. I'm perfectly okay with watching from the camera along the home sideline. I don't know anyone who's requesting that we watch plays from a weird, motion-sickness-inducing angle that hovers awkwardly over the offensive team's huddle, yet that's what FOX continually gave us throughout portions of the game. FOX, don't overthink this, please.
3. John Harbaugh
I have no idea who this sideline reporter is. It's a preseason game, so it's likely some local broadcaster who is picking up a few extra bucks doing Ravens exhibition games. Poor bastard didn't know what he was getting into….
Gotta love John Harbaugh berating the sideline interviewer (who is hand-picked by the team in the preseason) pic.twitter.com/eizkpy1J4L— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 30, 2015
It's cool, I'm fairly certain Gregg Popovich would've murdered this dude with his bare hands, so Harbaugh making him look like some slapdick who doesn't follow sports isn't quite as bad as that.
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2. Kevin Sumlin
The accidental tweet-that-was-supposed-to-be-a-direct-message is the social media nightmare of pretty much anyone in a position of public prominence. (That and the "direct message conversation that you thought would remain private but gets tweeted as a series of screen caps." Those are the two.) Well, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin learned his lesson the hard way over the weekend when he sent what had to be an attempted DM to his entire timeline. He deleted it quickly, but the Internet needs only a few seconds to screen cap something salacious, like making fun of the drinking issues of other head coaches…..
1. Offensive line depth
We got a slight glimpse into which offensive linemen might be kept around for the regular season when Bill O'Brien chose to start Kendall Lamm at left tackle in place of Duane Brown. This allowed the rest of the line to remain intact without the massive shuffle that would've taken place if they'd moved Derek Newton from right tackle to cover for Brown (which would've shuffled everyone except Brandon Brooks at right guard). So if we know that Brown, Brooks, Newton, Ben Jones, Jeff Adams and Xavier Su'a-Filo are making the team (safe assumptions), add Lamm to the list. They probably keep two more linemen, but at this point, I have no idea who those would be. I'm guessing there will be at least one offensive lineman who isn't currently on the team on the 53-man for Week 1 of the regular season. Just a hunch. The backup linemen have not been good.
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