A quick aside on this season of HBO's award-winning series Hard Knocks to begin this post, and it will circle back around to the Texans, I promise. This season, chronicling the rebuilding of the 0-16 Cleveland Browns, debuted on Tuesday night. It appears to have the makings of some compelling television, what with a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback (Baker Mayfield), a downtrodden but maniacal fanbase, and numerous other interesting characters.
One of my biggest takeaways from the first episode, and I'll caveat this by saying I realize there are hundreds of hours of footage edited down to 58 minutes, was just how intense and physical the Browns' practices were, especially in comparison to what I saw in West Virginia last week with the Texans. The Texans' practices I watched had almost no hitting (some of that because of downpours last Thursday and Friday, but still), and a very casual ambiance.
I say all that to say that TONIGHT feels like our first real chance to do some evaluating with this team, especially evaluating the back end of this 90-man roster. So, starting 7:30 p.m. today, what are some things to watch for as the Texans travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs? Well, here are a few....
4. Among the starters, who plays and how long?
It's been intimated that Deshaun Watson will play in this game. Let's hope it's a few casual handoffs and one or two drop backs. No need for any heroism from the future of the franchise. Get in, get out, go home, for Deshaun. I'd be mildly surprised if we see any J.J. Watt in this game, as he continues his comeback from his traumatic leg injury. J.J. has looked phenomenal in camp, but why risk it? We definitely will not see Whitney Mercilus (minor injury) nor Jadeveon Clowney (continued recovery from knee scope). One starting group that I am anticipating getting an extended look at is the (hopefully) revamped offensive line. There's no reason for the starters to come out any earlier than the middle of the second quarter or maybe even halftime. It's a group of nearly all new faces, and opportunities to build cohesiveness against live action need to be capitalized upon.
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3. A glimpse of Patrick Mahomes
Deshaun Watson was a wunderkind last season, no doubt. However, we forget that, taken two picks before him in the 2017 draft, was Mahomes, the rifle-armed second year player out of Texas Tech. Mahomes didn't get nearly the practical in-season work that Watson did last season, with one garbage start at the end of last season against Denver (a 27-24 win, in which Mahomes threw for 284 yards). It's not out of the realm of possibility to think that THE QB rivalry in the AFC for the 2020s could be Watson vs Mahomes. So tonight's visual alone of both guys on opposite sides in uniform should be fun. Mahomes likely gets about the same amount of work as Watson, maybe a tad more. I'm anxious to see what parts of Mahomes' game Andy Reid chooses to show off in preseason Week 1.
2. How will the rookie tight ends look?
Bill O'Brien has said repeatedly that the second most difficult position to learn in his offense, behind quarterback, is the tight end spot. The Texans will likely trot out two rookies at tight end as part of their opening week 53-man roster in about a month, third round pick Jordan Akins and sixth round pick Jordan Thomas. Both looked very, very capable in training camp, with soft hands and good athleticism. The part of their game that I will be focused in on tonight is the mental part — the blocking assignments, the route running, how comfortable both appear out there. Tight end could wind up being one of the more underrated positions on this team.
1. The revamped special teams
Last but not least, it would be impossible for me to include new special teams coach Brad Seely as one of my "camp crushes," and then not include special teams as one of my areas to watch tonight. Seeing somebody, a healthy Tyler Ervin perhaps, break off a long return would be such a welcome sight. Beyond that, coverage and return teams are going to be the avenue through which at least a handful of guys are going to make the 53-man roster. I am excited to see Johnson Bademosi, a player the Texans signed to a decent contract solely for special teams purposes, get out there and show why they made that move. Also, Ka'imi Fairbairn didn't have the greatest few days when I was in West Virginia, so it would be nice to not have to discuss "Hey, why exactly did they not bring in a second kicker to camp?" on Friday.
You can hear Sean Pendergast on pre-game coverage, starting at 4:30 p.m., and post game coverage following the game tonight on SportsRadio 610. Also, 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.