NFL Preseason Week 2: Lions-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

Jordan Thomas needs to make an impression on Saturday.
Jordan Thomas needs to make an impression on Saturday.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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This week for the Houston Texans has largely centered around two things — the reported continued attempts to trade outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season, and a sweltering week of practices outside at the Methodist Training Center with the Detroit Lions.

The former is going to be an ongoing thing, it would appear, until Clowney decides to show up at NRG Stadium, if indeed that ever happens. What appeared to be a fairly cordial holdout a few weeks ago, now has a big board that includes "Clowney misses some regular season games" and "Clowney gets dumped to another team for a less mediocre left tackle than Matt Kalil" as theoretical betting options.  It's crazy.

The latter, the week of practice with Detroit, which was about as uneventful and deathly humid as joint practices have ever been, culminates with a game tomorrow night at NRG Stadium. It's the second preseason game of the year for both teams, and if I am reading Bill O'Brien properly in his press conference yesterday, I wouldn't be surprised if, once again, the Texans hold out their front line starters, like J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, and Deshaun Watson.

So, with that said, let's look at a few items that you can watch out for, if you're going to the game or watching on television. Here we go...

4. The return of Jordan Thomas
The tight end position has been a weird one throughout training camp. Jordan Akins and Darren Fells are the two sure things right now, as both have been available and, for the most part, filling the roles for which the team envisions them. Rookie Kahale Warring has been an oft-injured mystery, who's suited up for a few practices and that's it, and Thomas missed a bunch of practices before returning to the field this week. Of all the tight ends, based on 2018, I think people had the highest hopes for Thomas, a giant of a man who was a solid red zone threat his rookie year. It would be nice to see him make a few plays and calm any fears of a sophomore slump.

3. Matt Kalil's last stand
Back in the spring, the Texans signed Kalil, who hadn't played in a football game since 2017, to compete for their left tackle spot. While early on in camp (without pads on, worth noting) Kalil appeared to be moving well and looked healthy, it's been pretty much a disaster since the pads have gone on a couple weeks ago, including a horrific first practice with Detroit. (NOTE: Kalil got a "veteran's day off" for the second practice.) There is no doubt that Matt Kalil is fighting for his professional life, at this point, and if you're the Texans you have to ask yourselves "Should we be having a guy who is barely keeping his professional head above water and wondering if he himself can even play protect the blind side of our franchise quarterback?" Um, no. No is the answer.

2. Crockett vs. Higdon
Back in 2009, there were a couple of undrafted rookie running backs that came in and made favorable impressions, One was Jeremiah Johnson out of Oregon, and the other was a guy named Arian Foster out of Tennessee. Foster found his way onto the practice squad, then onto the team, then into the team record books. I don't know if either of Karan Higdon or Damarea Crockett are on their way to Foster-type success, but unlike Johnson and Foster, I do think one of them has a chance to make the 53-man roster out of training camp. Both ran hard against the Packers last week, and there should be some run game fireworks on Saturday, too.

1. Edge play on defense
So, if the Texans are going to willingly get worse on the edge on defense this season by moving Clowney — and make no mistake, there is no way you're trading Jadeveon Clowney and becoming a better football team in 2019, particularly on the edge of the defense — then whose turn is it to step up? The obvious answer is Whitney Mercilus, who has looked phenomenal during camp, and who, I'm guessing, we will see a series or two out of on defense before he calls it a day. I guess the problem here is that, beyond Mercilus, we are going to be watching a bunch of guys who have zero chance of giving you a fraction of the impact of Clowney. I'll repeat what I said in this space yesterday — the best case for EVERYBODY involved, the Texans and Clowney, is that he comes back and balls out on the franchise tag in 2019, and then the team tags him again in 2020, and everyone works out a trade to a place that will pay him his big money. I am hoping this is what happens.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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