The Texans begin training camp in West Virginia today, and I'll admit that it's still an adjustment adapting to their heading out of town for cooler temperatures to start the preseason. I will be headed to the Greenbrier this coming Sunday morning, and I will be there all week next week, so if anything big goes down, you'll have my hot takes on it right here, complete with analysis backed by my actually being onsite.
For now, my job is to get mentally prepared for what we will see in West Virginia, and help get you mentally prepared, too! So, without further ado, here are the four things (non Deshaun Watson-related) that I am most intrigued to see in training camp the next couple weeks:
4. Can the offensive line just be average?
No position group has more improving to do than the offensive line, and no position coach should have more pressure on him than offensive line coach Mike Devlin. Head coach Bill O'Brien talks about Devlin like he is the second coming of Alex Gibbs, but O'Brien's proclamations about Devlin's coaching chops have not matched up to the player development (or lack thereof) nor the results on the field. There's been a ton of turnover in this group, which is a GREAT thing considering they were the worst offensive line unit in the league last season. New to the roster are three likely starters in guards Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete, along with tackle Seantrel Henderson. Second year tackle Julien Davenport will get first crack at left tackle, and Nick Martin will try to live up to his second round pick billing in his third year at center. Third round pick Martinas Rankin will hopefully compete for playing time after he recovers from a foot injury. I still think there might be a move to pick up a tackle from someone else's roster after roster cut-downs, and if that's the case, hopefully that pickup is better than Breno Giacomini was last year, which shouldn't be hard, because I think I might be better than Breno Giacomini was last year.
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3. How strong can the secondary be?
I remember having conversations about the secondary on my radio show back in February, and with the depth chart mainly consisting of downtrodden Kevin Johnson, aging Kareem Jackson, and a few bodies at safety, the big concern was just that — bodies. As in, who the hell are the Texans gonna get to play corner and safety? Now, six months later, they've added Aaron Colvin at corner, re-signed Johnathan Joseph to a reasonable deal, and added Tyrann Mathieu and rookie Justin Reid at safety. Jackson has been moved to safety, as well, which is a better fit for his skills now. That's a solid recovery by GM Brian Gaine. The only bad news is the loss of Andre Hall to Hodgkins lymphoma. The huge X-factor is Johnson, who is trying to regain his first round form he flashed in 2015 and 2016. If that happens, this defense should advance from reliable to opportunistic.
2. Does backup QB even matter?
Last season, the Texans went 3-3 in Watson's six starts (and could have easily been 5-1). They went 1-9 in the other ten games. Yeah, the roster was banged up and collapsed on itself by December, but there is zero doubt that Tom Savage and T.J. Yates were just not very good at playing quarterback in the NFL. While starting quarterback is the most important position in team sports, the Eagles showed that there's no excuse to lean on a QB injury as a reason to just fold like the Texans did last season. So the question becomes "If something happens to Watson where he misses a week or two or three, can any of Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb, or Stephen Morris, steady the buffs and win a game or two for you?" Right now, I'd say it's sketchy, at best. The roster around the quarterback position is better than 2017's, but probably not improved enough to avoid becoming an also-ran in the absence of Watson. Put more succinctly, I am anxious to see if these backups show any degree of competency in training camp.
1. Do we get a healthy J.J. Watt?
Here are the things we know when it comes to J.J. Watt — first, he has played in only eight games the last two seasons due to two of the most brutal injuries an athlete at his position can suffer, herniated discs in his back, and a catastrophic leg injury. Second, nobody will work harder to recover from those setbacks than Watt. In other words, effort to regain form is not a variable in this thing with Watt, it's a constant. So, knowing both of those facts, we still have no idea what to expect once the pads go on. The bigger question is "What would you sign up for?" In other words, what percentage of Peak Watt would you accept if offered to you at this moment. I would gladly take 70 percent of Peak Watt, along with the knowledge he may miss a game or two, if the football gods were to make that offer. We may not know until a few weeks into the regular season just what we are getting with Watt. One thing we also know — he will have plenty of support around him on that defense to make his transition back to full time play easier.
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.