Kids, gather around and let me tell you about a time when the third week of the NFL preseason was actually sort of a big deal. Ok, maybe not a BIG deal, but kind of a medium-sized deal, in which the head coaches would actually play their starters into the second half of the game. It was a glorious time, in which you only felt partially extorted if you were playing full boat for a ticket to one of these glorified scrimmages.
Well, those days are gone. Now, we celebrate openly when Bill O'Brien alludes to his starters possibly playing a series or two in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon against the Rams, who, by the way, will be playing their starters for the first time this preseason.
The Rams, when fully deployed, are one of about a half dozen teams on the short list as favorites for the Super Bowl, provided that head coach Sean McVay (and, if we're truthful, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) can make all of the potentially combustible personalities mix and mesh. Truth be told, I'm kind of thankful that the Texans will next catch them in the 2021 regular season (UNLESS THEY MEET IN THE SUPER BOWL... WOOOOOO!!!).
Here are four things I'll be watching for, as rosters are on the cusp of being whittled down from 90 to 53 a week from today....
4. Honey Badger Era begins (sort of)
It still doesn't feel totally real that Tyrann Mathieu is a member of the Houston Texans, and I say this as someone who watched him practice in person roughly a dozen times over the last month or so. Until we see him make that first tackle, or gather that first turnover, or execute that first safety blitz against a REAL opponent — then, and only then, will it feel totally real. I personally believe Mathieu is going to have a monster, near-2015 season for the Texans. We will get the equivalent of a feature film trailer on Saturday afternoon, I hope. Maybe a tackle or two, and if we're super lucky a big play.
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3. Running backs
This is a weird position group right now. On the one hand, I'm actually as enthused as I've been about Lamar Miller since early in the 2016 season, when we realized that, sadly, Bill O'Brien would have tp use him like Christian Okay in order to win games. (Thanks again for nothing, Brock!) Miller looks trim, spry, and kind of quick this preseason. After that, the RB depth chart is a bit of a mess. D'Onta Foreman looks like he will start the season on the PUP list, meaning he won't be back until Week 7, Alfred Blue and his three yards per carry are back in our lives when we thought that we'd broken up with them after 2017, and Troymaine Pope is teasing us with a play here and a play there. Given my druthers, I'd like to see Pope sew up a spot on the 53-man roster on Saturday, and I wouldn't mind seeing one of the undrafted guys, Lavon Coleman or Terry Swanson, nail down a spot on the practice squad.
2. Punter battle
Hey, don't look now, but in one of the more odd, unexpected developments in this training camp, future Hall of Fame punter Shane Lechler finds himself in a battle with undrafted free agent Trevor Daniel, out of Tennessee. Daniel reportedly signed with the Texans so that he could be around Lechler, and sponge a thing or two from him, in anticipation of getting a job eventually somewhere else. However, Daniel has looked more than capable, and while Lechler is still the cagey vet who can make the ball dance and who can use his leg like a pitching wedge on pooch kicks, Daniel may have some upside for the future. Keeping a punter on the practice squad would be an odd use for that element of the roster, so we will see what happens. For what it's worth, the two took turns punting against the 49ers for the whole game, a decent sign for Daniel.
1. Healthy J.J. Watt
It sounds like we should expect to see Watt for a series or two on Saturday. Anything more than that will be unnecessary heart palpitations every time the ball is snapped. This is now the third straight preseason where we've unveiled a surgically repaired Watt, a tradition that I would undoubtedly like to see end with the 2018 preseason. Watt has looked like his old self in practices and workouts. We can only pray that's indicative of what he will look like in Week 1 in New England.
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.