NFL Preseason Week 1: Texans-Packers — Four Things To Watch For

O'Brien gets to test drive the new challenge rules on Thursday night.
O'Brien gets to test drive the new challenge rules on Thursday night.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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A few years ago, in 2015, with the Texans toiling though training camp as the subject of HBO's Hard Knocks, the team took a trip to Richmond where they scrimmaged with the Redskins for a couple of fight-filled days of practice. It got so bad between the two teams that the cameras famously caught cornerback Johnathan Joseph telling Kareem Jackson that "We gotta get the f**k out of Richmond."

Fast forward to this week, with the Texans in Green Bay for a couple of inter-squad practices and a game tonight, and I don't think the exit sentiment is quite as strong as 2015 in Richmond, but it's trending that way. Whatever the goosebumps generated by Lambeau Field, tradition, and cooler temperatures, they've been cancelled out by some chippy practices, highlighted by rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson blistering Packer tight end Jace Sternberger in a drill on Monday.

Tonight, hitting will be an accepted part of the mix, as the Texans (backups) will take on the Packers (backups) to kick off the 2019 preseason schedule. Here are a few things that I'll be watching tonight:

4. Post-Foreman running back battle
The D'Onta Foreman Era ended on Sunday in Houston. It resumed on Monday in Indianapolis, where the Colts picked Foreman up off of waivers. So now, the battle ensues for the second running back spot behind incumbent starter Lamar Miller. There's a good chance that the Texans' backup running back for the regular season is in someone else's camp right now, but that shouldn't stop undrafted rookies Karan Higdon and Damarea Crockett from staging a compelling battle toting the rock. Frankly, I'm hoping to see a ton of those two, as opposed to some mix of Josh Ferguson, Taiwan Jones, and Buddy Howell.

3. Howard and Scharping on the offensive line
Brian Gaine was fired in June as the general manager for the Texans. According to folks around the building, the reasons centered more about how Gaine functioned behind the scenes than his actual football evaluation acumen. I bring this up because the early grades on his two highly drafted offensive linemen, Tytus Howard and Max Scharping, are really good. Here's Howard pie-facing some poor bastard on Monday:

Right now, the two rookies are the chalk to start in Week 1 at each guard spot, and if they develop into the two guards of the future, I'm perfectly fine with that. If that is the case, life on this roster gets tough for guys like Martinas Rankin and Senio Kelemete.

2. Pass interference challenge laboratory
For the first time ever, NFL head coaches will be able to challenge pass interference calls, both calls made on the field or plays with no call that they feel were penalties. O'Brien was asked about this by my SportsRadio 610 colleague Landry Locker on Saturday, and here was his answer:

"I think we've talked about it a lot, but I think we've got to be really strategic as to how we approach it and if you think it's – on the first play of the game, do you put a flag on the field there? I don't know, when you can have one that's really a key play maybe at the end of the half or obviously at the end of the game. So, we'll see how it goes. Sometimes in the preseason you're doing it just to see how they officiate that particular play because it's not a real game yet. It doesn't count, so maybe you can use it to experiment a little bit. We'll see. We're continuing to talk about that."

Personally, I think this new gizmo available to head coaches has disaster potential, both from an exposure of game management deficiency standpoint, and the unintended consequences from overestimating just how much replay "gets it right." I'm all about watching coaches experiment with it, though, this preseason.

1. Lonnie Johnson, Packer Enemy Number One
Johnson leveling Jace Sternberger on a crossing route in a drill is one thing. Rookie mistake, maybe? Perhaps forgivable if he just apologized and let sleeping dogs lie. However, Johnson took to Instagram and put up this since-deleted post:

So expect a lot of targets Johnson's way, and perhaps even a crackajack block of some sort. If I'm Lonnie Johnson, my head is on a swivel.

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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