I had a chance to attend two of the Houston Texans recent OTA sessions in person, and my overriding feeling while standing there (in a steam bath) watching this version of the franchise prepare themselves for the upcoming season was "This just feels so weird." For reasons we all know, there was no Deshaun Watson there. J.J. Watt is gone. Numerous other departed stars are also not walking through that door.
It is not even a slight exaggeration to say that this feels like an expansions team. There are a billion new faces, and thus, trying to predict who the 53 man roster will be when the season starts, a dicey proposition to undertake in June even when the Texans have a SOLID foundation, feels like a game of roulette.
So will that stop me from doing it? OF COURSE NOT! The show must go on, and while the Texans have chosen to skip mandatory minicamp next week, I shall not shirk my duties of giving you my best educated guess as to who runs out of the tunnel in Week 1 at NRG Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars. So with a dozen or so non-padded practices in the books, here we go....
QUARTERBACK (3): Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel
There are currently four quarterbacks on the roster. These are the three that I see suiting up when the season begins. The other quarterback on the roster is being sued by 22 women for sexual misconduct. Let's move along.
RUNNING BACK (4): Phillip Lindsey, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Buddy Howell
If there is one position on the roster that Nick Caserio has cleaned up contractually and turned into the "fierce competition" that seems to get brought up by every player and coach in every press conference, it is running back. There are several on the 90-man roster right now, and ALL OF THEM are in contract years. They will need a couple of them to play on special teams, thus Burkhead and Howell making the team. I think Mark Ingram is the veteran who gets squeezed.
WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Keke Coutee, Nico Collins, Chris Conley
The three incumbents from last season — Cooks, Cobb, Coutee — are all small in physical stature, so I think the receiving corps gets rounded out with two bigger bodies in the rookie Collins, who's been impressive in the practice sessions, and Conley, a veteran on a one-year deal who's had his moments at a couple previous stops.
TIGHT END (4): Jordan Akins, Brevin Jordan, Pharaoh Brown, Kahale Warring
The first three on this list were easy adds. Warring, a third round pick from 2019, and perhaps the most impressive player on the team if you were judging solely on physique, is one of the biggest wild cards in camp. I'll hang onto him for now.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, Justin Britt, Marcus Cannon, Max Scharping, Justin McCray, Charlie Heck, Lane Johnson, Roderick Johnson
Offensive line coach James Campen was harping heavily on competition within this group in his press conference earlier this week, making it seem like even Laremy Tunsil (Pro Bowler) was fighting for his starting position. A LOT of guesswork involved in nailing down this crew.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Shaq Lawson, Ross Blacklock, Charles Omenihu, Maliek Collins, Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Greenard, Jacob Martin, Jordan Jenkins, Roy Lopez
With the move from a 3-4 defense to Lovie Smith's 4-3 defense, there has been a big shift in semantics, with last year's outside linebackers now all being listed as defensive ends. Anyway, I just threw all of them into the stew with the heavy fellows that play defensive tackle, and this is the group I came up with.
LINEBACKERS (5): Zach Cunningham, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Garret Wallow
Zach Cunningham and a whole new set of bodies. Of all the position groups, this is the one I am most intrigued by, because the veterans they've brought in have played a lot of good football. Pierre-Louis, in particular, was a starter on a very good Washington defense last season.
CORNERBACK (6): Bradley Roby, Desmond King, Keion Crossen, Terrance Mitchell, Tremon Smith, Cornell Armstrong
SAFETY (5): Justin Reid, Lonnie Johnson, Eric Murray, A.J. Moore, Terrence Brooks
I'll lump these two groups together knowing that, in a perfect world, at least a few of them — Crossen, Armstrong, Moore — are listed as defensive backs, but are on the team solely to run down and cover kicks on special teams.
SPECIALISTS (3): Ka'imi Fairbairn, Cameron Johnston, Jon Weeks
The only group in camp where there is literally ZERO competition. Honestly, I'm just glad Jon Weeks is back.
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