For the Houston Texans, the agenda for the next couple weeks is pretty simple:
1. Keep as many guys, especially front line players, as healthy as possible to build toward the regular season opener on September 10. This is numero uno, top of the heap, great googily moogily priority number 1-A!!
2. Figure out over the next week or so, which players will be getting the majority of the snaps positionally and situationally.
3. Figure out over the next 11 days (until the final whistle sounds on the Cowboys game in Preseason Week 4) who the back end of the roster and practice squad guys will be.
The Texans have the benefit of some time, but as someone who puts together mock rosters as part of my gimmick, there is no time to waste in sharing my third version of the "if the season started tomorrow" 53-man Houston Texans professional football roster. So, on the heels of Saturday's game against the Patriots and one more practice this morning back here in Houston (how was that temperature, boys?), here is my best guess.
Once again, my goal here is to try to accurately predict the roster, so this is more projection than who I would take if I were Bill O'Brien and Rick Smith, just to be clear...
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
This has been an easy one since the start of minicamp last June. They will almost assuredly keep three quarterbacks, and I'll go as far as to say that Savage is a virtual lock to start in Week 1, regardless of results against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night. (I hope I'm wrong, as I am a "start Watson Week 1" truther.)
RUNNING BACK (3): Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman, Alfred Blue
We are adding Alfred Blue to the locks this week. We know the coaching staff loves him, and he has done some good things on special teams this training camp, and more importantly, he has run hard. Foreman is the best talent at this position on the roster, and would be my Week 1 starter. Until they start to use Lamar Miller like the Dolphins used to use him, it's hard for meet get excited about him.
WIDE RECEIVER (3): DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong
Will Fuller's injury makes this a three-man lock coming out of camp. Nagging injuries to Hopkins and Miller have opened the door for others to make a favorable impression, a baton that some have taken and run with and some have fumbled onto the track. More on this below.
TIGHT END (2): C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin
Fiedorowicz did not play on Saturday (despite being the player on the ticket and the program cover!), and Griffin is an easy pick. The battle for the third tight end spot is intriguing, with Stephen Anderson a logical favorite over the upstart Evan Baylis.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Duane Brown, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Nick Martin, Jeff Allen, Julien Davenport, Greg Mancz, Kendall Lamm
Same group as last week, with no real reason to change. The one comment I will reiterate is that there is a really good chance that Nick Martin, even when Duane Brown comes back, winds up being the best offensive lineman on this team in 2017. He's been stupendous this preseason.
DEFENSIVE LINE (4): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington
Putting Clowney with the defensive linemen even if the depth chart lists him as a Jack linebacker. Funniest comment made to me at training camp — when I told defensive line coach Anthony Weaver that his group looked really good one day, he said "Yeah, having 99 back out here makes me a pretty good coach." Weaver with the major self-awareness!
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (2): Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett
One of a handful of positions where I have no clue what they're going to do after the first couple guys.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Brian Cushing, Bernardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham
Rough Saturday night for Cunningham, who got burned for both Patriot touchdowns on the EXACT SAME PLAY, but he is making this team, obviously, as a second-round pick.
CORNERBACK (3): Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson
The second position where the drop off after the top guys is precipitous.
SAFETY (3): Andre Hal, Eddie Pleasant, Corey Moore
And then there's safety, where even the front line guys scare me a little bit. I am adding Corey Moore to the locks, as he started the game on Saturday and has done some good things during camp. But yikes... the LOCKS are Hal, Moore, and Pleasant! On the bright side, Hal had a near-pick on Saturday night that showed great athleticism and smarts on his read of where Tom Brady was going with the football.
SPECIALISTS (2): Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler
Two easy ones.
OK, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (18): 3 QB, 3 RB, 3 WR, 2 TE, 7 OL
DEFENSE (15): 4 DL, 2 OLB, 3 ILB, 3 CB, 3 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 P, 1 LS
36. Jay Prosch, FB
The more I think about Prosch, the more I think he might be in jeopardy. He is a logical cut if there is someone at a position — defensive back, defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver —- where they're concerned about injuries or they need someone who can better contribute on special teams. The fact of the matter is Prosch just isn't good enough at the "upside" skills you need to warrant keeping a fullback, i.e. catching the football, the occasional carry, etc. Keeping him here, but he is on the bubble.
37. Tyler Ervin, RB
Ervin had a 19-yard punt return and a few decent carries on Saturday. Truth be told, the return is all they need from him to justify his spot. He is moving closer to being a lock, and barring a disaster against the Saints probably will be next week.
38. Bruce Ellington, WR
Of the random wide receivers in camp — and there are a TON of them — Elllington seized the brass ring on Saturday night, putting up good numbers (4 catches, 93 yards), but in doing so, also displaying some skills that some of the other players competing for the last couple WR spots have not shown. Ellington showed the ability to high point a jump ball on a 37-yard catch, and showed some nice wiggle and burst on crossing routes.
39. Stephen Anderson, TE
Anderson is finally healthy and had a 15-yard catch on Saturday. He is probably making the team, but we will see if perhaps Evan Baylis (who I think will make the practice squad) can give the coaches something to think about.
40. Bruno Giacomini, OT
41. Chris Clark, OT
42. David Quessenberry, OG/OT/C
This rounds out the offensive line crew, although I still think they will scour the waiver wire and cut lists for a tackle between now and the start of the season. Quessenberry getting some snaps at center shows some of the versatility and football smarts that O'Brien values so much.
43. Carlos Watkins, DT
I have Watkins, a fifth-round rookie, making the team, but Matthew Godin (No. 69) was active on Saturday, as was Rickey Hatley (No. 97). We might have a tussle for the last couple spots on the defensive line.
44. Brian Peters, ILB
On the strength of special teams, Peters makes it.
45. Ufomba Kamalu, OLB/DE
Kamalu makes his first mock 53-man appearance! He made some plays on Saturday night, including forcing the game-clinching fumble. Also, if Kamalu makes the team, it opens up the possibility of using so many of these old Kamala videos from WWE...
46. Robert Nelson, CB
47. Treston Decoud, CB
Nelson didn't see much time on Saturday, and after coming close to sealing a spot early in camp, his only film so far this preseason is the various burns suffered against Carolina. Decoud looked really solid on Saturday. Denzel Rice is breathing down the necks of both of these guys.
48. Marcus Gilchrist, S
49. Kurtis Drummond, S
These seem like the next logical safety picks. Neither does anything to calm my nerves over that position.
50. Nick Novak, K
We definitely have a kicker battle going on. Novak versus Fairbairn will be one of the few position battles, and the only starting position battle, that likely is still on the board for the Cowboys game on August 31.
Here's where we stand now...
OFFENSE (25): 3 QB, 5 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 10 OL
DEFENSE (22): 5 DL, 3 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 5 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So we have three spots left, two less than we had on the last go-round, so maybe they've solidified a few things over the first four weeks of the preseason. Maybe. Let's shop for the last three spots, shall we?
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SHOW ME HOW
51. Chris Thompson, WR
There's going to be a rookie wide receiver that probably makes this team, and Thompson did some nice things in the practices that I attended. He also made a great play on coverage teams on Saturday, and at this point, he may have more to offer the Texans than Riley McCarron does. McCarron was a hot name at the beginning of camp, but has cooled off.
52. Dylan Cole, ILB
Undrafted rookie makes it on strength of his nose for the football so far.
53. Brandon Dunn, DT/DE
He got snaps with the first team on Saturday night, with Clowney and Covington both out. Also, Joel Heath has been banged up. This spot probably comes down to Dunn and Heath, and Dunn is the healthy one right now.
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