Sean Pendergast

NFL Preseason Week 4: Rams vs Texans — Four Position Battles To Watch For

Vyncint Smith is battling to defend his roster spot on Thursday night.
Vyncint Smith is battling to defend his roster spot on Thursday night. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The 2019 preseason mercifully comes to an end tonight, as the Los Angeles Rams backup backups come to town to take on the back half of the Houston Texans' roster. Normally, my preview post would be titled "Four Things To Watch For," but there are two truths about this particular final week of the preseason — first, there are no subtle layers to watch in this game other than position battles and, second, the only thing to really WATCH FOR in the next week or so is how the Jadeveon Clowney saga finally ends.

The latest on that is this, courtesy of Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network:

Also, there is this, courtesy of Ian Rapoport, also of the NFL Network:
So, to recap, the Texans, operating with their head coach as de facto general manager, are openly shopping one of the 50 best players in football, who is now in between agents, and allowing him to visit potential trade partners, a week and a half before the start of the season. What could possibly go wrong?

Ok, now let's get the four position battles that I'll have an eye on tonight, as the 53-man roster begins to take its final shape (at least until the Texans make a handful of inevitable waiver pickups on Sunday to shore up running back, the secondary, and probably the offensive line)....

4. Tight end — Jordan Thomas vs Jerrell Adams vs Kahale Warring's concussion
Right now, I have three tight ends as locks to make the 53-man roster — Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas. However, if I were to categorize those three, I'd say Fells and Akins are SUPER LOCKS, and Thomas is a mere normal lock, which is to say there's probably still a five percent chance that things could go sideways for Thomas, who missed a chunk of training camp a couple weeks ago with an undisclosed injury (that seemed to perturb Bill O'Brien). I don't think the Texans will keep four tight ends but, if they do, I think the most likely scenario is Jerrell Adams making the 53-man roster in a massive upset, and Warring getting stashed on injured reserve for what will amount to a "redshirt" season. Right now, Warring is in concussion protocol as the rest of the rookies and fringe players are making final impressions.

3. Wide receiver — Vyncint Smith vs Steven Mitchell vs Tyron Johnson
At wide receiver, the four locks are easy — DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and DeAndre Carter. Of the players vying for the fifth wide receiver slot, Smith is the most experienced, having worked his way onto the field down the stretch last season, after massive injuries (Fuller, Coutee, Demaryius Thomas) decimated the position group. Steven Mitchell has minimal regular season experience — one play, one pass interference drawn. Rookie Johnson may have the most upside of the three, as a former five star recruit who began his college career at LSU and finished at Oklahoma State. He's been getting open fairly consistently throughout training camp.

2. Running back — everybody not named Duke Johnson
Three weeks ago, the Texans' running back depth chart consisted of Lamar Miller and D'Onta Foreman with a bunch of rookies and fringe guys behind them. Then, Foreman was waived, the team traded for Duke Johnson, and Lamar Miller suffered a torn ACL on Saturday. the bizarre shuffle of the deck now leaves Duke Johnson, a career third down back, as the Texans' featured RB. Behind him, there are six players who have combined for 60 career carries — veterans Taiwan Jones and Josh Ferguson, second year player Buddy Howell, and three rookies (Damarea Crockett, Karan Higdon, and Cullen Gillaspia). There's probably a running back out there on someone else's roster who will be a Texan by next week, but my money within this group are on Jones and Gillaspia to make the 53-man roster.

1. Defensive line — Joel Heath vs Carlos Watkins vs Albert Huggins
Last season, defensive line was the one position where the Texans brought extra bodies into the regular season, as they carried seven defensive linemen for most of the season. This season, J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Angelo Blackson, and Brandon Dunn are the locks to make the team. Rookie Charles Omenihu will make the team, as he has flashed throughout camp. This leaves Heath and Watkins, with undrafted rookie Huggins as the dark horse. I think Huggins has a puncher's chance of making it, as he's shown some ability to rush the passer from the interior, a skill severely lacking on this roster. Of the other two, Heath and Watkins, I'll go with Heath, but I really have no clue as to what will happen here. Watkins has been injured for a majority of camp.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast