In the middle of the afternoon on Monday, with less than 48 hours until the beginning of the first practice of this season's training camp, the Houston Texans finally put the finishing touches on its 2023 rookie class and, in effect, its roster entering camp by getting rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud signed to his rookie contract:
It took a while, but it eventually got done. Texans GM Nick Caserio and Stroud's agent David Mulugheta, who'd worked with each other before on the trade of Deshaun Watson, another Mulugheta client, were able to arrive at an agreement between the young signal caller and the Texans. With that, the DeMeco Ryans Era is off and running, with the first practice set to begin Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.
If you're among those who were able to secure tickets for the open practices, good for you! The tickets are in much higher demand this preseason than the last several. Here is a short guide on a few things to watch for, beginning with Stroud and the offense:
The installation of Bobby Slowik's offense
For those of us who have had to endure seven seasons of Bill O'Biren's offense, a hangover year of Tim Kelly as the OC, and whatever the hell Pep Hamilton was running last year, the long night is finally over. DeMeco Ryans is bringing along former 49er passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik to construct his version of a Kyle Shanahan-style (which is an offspring of Gary Kubiak-style) offense. Of the specific things to watch within the construction, the timeframe for Stroud becoming the starter is first and foremost. Also, I am anxious to see how run-heavy the offense is, and if they skew toward being more tight end-centric in their personnel groupings, or if some of the young receivers can make an early impact and force their way onto the field.
The physicality of a DeMeco Ryans training camp
It's been a long time since you would go to a Texans training camp practice and come away impressed with the physicality of the group. Put simply, there was not much contact at Texans practices under David Culley, Lovie Smith, or even Bill O'Brien. Reportedly, Ryans is a fan of hitting in practice, so that will make the open practices (the ones where they hit, at least) more fun. Also, after four long years, we are finally going to get some joint practices again, as the Dolphins will practice twice with the Texans here, and the Texans will practice twice with the Saints in New Orleans.
Who seizes the leadership roles?
The Texans have one of the youngest, if not THE youngest, teams in the NFL. The last couple of seasons have seen, quite honestly, a few missteps in who the team has identified or brought in to lead the younger players. Guys like center Justin Britt couldn't stay healthy, and guys like wide receiver Brandin Cooks essentially bailed on the team when the going got too tough. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil seems ready to embrace his leadership role, and younger players like Dameon Pierce have a season or two under their belts. To me, I'll be most interested to see how the offense responds to Stroud's brand of huddle leadership, and how the defense responds to rookie defensive end Will Anderson, whose ability to affect the team's culture had to be baked into the high price they paid to move up and draft him third overall.
Freshmen becoming sophomores
Last year's rookie class carries a ton of intrigue as camp opens up on Wednesday. First and foremost, the two first round picks from that draft, CB Derek Stingley and LG Kenyon Green, absolutely must begin to realize their potential. Stingley flashed some good things his rookie season, and Ryans' scheme will certainly better use his skills than Lovie Smith's defense. Green is the bigger issue, literally and figuratively. Green has spent his short NFL career either injured or underperforming, or both. The 15th overall pick in the 2022 draft has to tighten up his game, especially protecting the ultra-valuable Stroud. As for the rest of the class, safety Jalen Pitre and Pierce should be able to build on solid rookie seasons, and linebacker Christian Harris (hamstring) and wide receiver John Metchie (cancer) overcoming their ailments from 2022 to have a full camp this summer will be a huge boon to the young core of this team. There are a ton of promising names to watch from the 2022 rookie class as they head into their second season.
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