The Texans' annual trip to the Greenbrier is over, and one preseason game and one practice back in Houston are also in the books, so now we have some data off which to work in predicting who exactly makes this Texans team out of training camp.
Evaluating some positions is easier than evaluating others, given the scarce amount of time the Texans have spent in pads. Skill guys, whose position drills and 11-on-11 participation aren't really predicated on contact, are a little easier to evaluate with a layman's eye, so far. Offensive lineman and defensive lineman have had far less "live action" that simulates their real jobs. In fact, I asked head coach Bill O'Brien about that process evaluating the guys in the trenches on Saturday, and here was his answer:
“That’s a great question. I think the big thing in these practices is, obviously, assignments. Let’s make sure they know up front with the shells on, let’s make sure they know what the call is, who’s setting with them, who’s helping them, who are they combo-ing with, all of those different things. Then you’re looking for technique. You can really evaluate technique in these practices, especially coming back to Houston. A little bit hotter than The Greenbrier. How many guys are able to mentally, on every single play, be able to use the proper technique and do it down in and down out on a practice like this. So, there’s a lot to evaluate there, but it’s definitely different than if they had pads on.”
Things should amp up this week, with the 49ers coming to town for a couple days of inter-squad practices, and then the second game of the preseason on Saturday at NRG Stadium. For now, let's go off of what we have, and put together a 53-man roster. Here we go...
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb
I'm making this call earlier than I thought I might, but I feel it's a certainty that, barring injury, Weeden will be the backup and Webb will be the third quarterback, while minoring in special teams and maybe a trick play or two. Both backups looked solid in the win over the Chiefs last Thursday. The fourth QB in camp, Stephen Morris, may as well be a JUGS machine at this point.
RUNNING BACK (2): Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman
I'm still forecasting Foreman to be on the 53-man roster and not the PUP to start the season, but that may change on the third version of the roster prediction next week. Miller has dropped weight and looks sleeker than his first two seasons. It was good to see him bust off a 19-yard run in that Chiefs game.
WIDE RECEIVER (4): DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Bruce Ellington
Same group as the first version of the 53-man roster. Coutee has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, which is disappointing, and that's given other guys a chance to step into the breach at slot receiver. More on that in a minute....
TIGHT END (3): Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas
O'Brien says that tight end is the second hardest position to learn in his offense, behind quarterback. Interesting how prominently two rookies will figure into that position group.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete, Nick Martin, Julien Davenport, Seantrel Henderson, Greg Mancz, Martinas Rankin
Like Foreman, if Rankin is still languishing with that foot injury in a week or two, the calculus changes on Version 3.0 of this prediction.
DEFENSIVE LINE (3): J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington
All three of these guys finished 2017 on injured reserve. All three of these guys look to be in tremendous condition, and ready to go for 2018.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Brennan Scarlett, Duke Ejiofor
Mercilus and Clowney are being handled VERY cautiously right now, and Clowney's ability to bump down and play defensive end adds to the versatility of the roster, and may affect some final decisions. Ejiofor goes from a "fill in" guy on the first roster prediction to a lock after his three QB hits in the Chiefs game.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Bernardrick McKinney, Zac Cunningham, Dylan Cole
This might be the deepest position on the team, if measured by the caliber of the locks to make the team. All three of these guys are productive, dependable players. You'll see what I mean in the next two positions....
CORNERBACK (3): Aaron Colvin, Johnathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson
See? Yeah, three guys are a lock to make the team, but can we call Kevin Johnson "dependable" right now?
SAFETY (3): Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Reid, Kareem Jackson
And same thing here... Reid is a rookie and Jackson just moved to this position like a month ago. Yeah, three guys are locks to make the team, but it doesn't mean they're all going to be productive.
SPECIALISTS (3): Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler, Ka'imi Fairbairn
I would have liked to have seen some camp competition for Fairbairn, but oh well.
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (19): 3 QB, 2 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 7 OL
DEFENSE (16): 3 DL, 4 OLB, 3 ILB, 3 CB, 3 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 P, 1 LS, 1 K
So let's start filling out the rest of the roster. Here we go...
39. Jay Prosch, FB
40. Troymaine Pope, RB
Ok, I'll admit it — I was excited to do this post, largely to include Troymaine Pope as part of the 53-man roster. He had looked great in camp in West Virginia, and that translated onto the field in the game against the Chiefs, with a 34-yard screen pass the marquee Pope highlight. See ya, Alfred Blue.
41. Sammie Coates, WR
Coates has looked very good in camp, and showed early on in the Chiefs game that he can be a tough matchup physically for some DB's, as he drew two penalties on the Texans' first TD drive.
42. Chad Slade, T/G
43. David Quessenberry, G
I replaced Kyle Fuller with Chad Slade, as Slade has seen time at right tackle this preseason and guard last season. I'll take the tackle-to-guard versatility over the guard-to-center versatility of Fuller.
44. Carlos Watkins, DT
45. Joel Heath, DE
46. Brandon Dunn, DT
Defensive line depth. Was tempted to include Angelo Blackson here, though.
47. Brian Peters, ILB/ST
Special teams guy, who had a nice game at inside linebacker against the Chiefs.
48. Dee Virgin, CB
The fourth CB spot is up for grabs right now, and while Virgin had his troubles in the Kansas City game, he also made a few plays, including a nice open field tackle early in the game on third down to force a KC punt.
49. Kurtis Drummond, S
Spin the wheel the next few weeks between Drummond, Corey Moore, and Treston Decoud.
50. Johnson Bademosi, CB/ST
The Texans made him the highest paid special team-specific player in football, so he should probably be a lock (and likely will be on Version 2.0)
So here are the numbers now:
OFFENSE (24): 3 QB, 4 RB, 5 WR, 3 TE, 9 OL
DEFENSE (23): 6 DL, 4 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 4 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
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Let's pick three players to round this bad boy out:
51. Braxton MIller, WR
52. Tyler Ervin, KR/RB
The Texans are giving Miller ad Ervin every opportunity to make the team. Miller has looked much more capable this preseason than at any time of his tenure here. Ervin is getting all of the first team reps returning kicks and punts. He can also serve as your fourth RB, relieving us of enduring Alfred Blue's two yards and a cloud of dust.
53. Peter Kalambayi, OLB/ILB
When in doubt, I'll tack on a draft pick to make the team over a project that may have plateaued in Ufomba Kamalu. Kalambayi has gotten high grades for his efforts so far in camp.
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.