"At some point, guys have to show us what they can do. I don't really care about draft slots. I don't care about money. What we care about as a staff is performance. Can everyone in this room make the team? No. Embrace the fact that we're giving you a shot because we see some things that we want to see more of. We've got time, but the clock is ticking." — Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien
Indeed, the clock is ticking for some of the Texans' 53-man roster locks to try to secure more prominent roles with the team, and for some of the fringe players to try to draw an NFL paycheck (or at least a practice squad paycheck) this upcoming season. This Sunday against the New Orleans Saints is probably more about the former than the latter, as the starters and "rotation"-caliber players will likely be seeing the lion's share of the action, what with it being the third preseason game and all.
The time for the backups and potential backups to shine more will come next Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys in the final preseason game of 2015. For now, let's look at four things to watch for this Sunday in the game against the Saints:
4. Hoyer Era Begins
It seemed inevitable throughout training camp, and it turns out it was — Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans. It's not a sexy choice. It's not even sneaky hot. It's Brian Hoyer, a guy who went undrafted six years ago and has a 56 percent completion percentage in 16 career starts. Obviously, we're looking for Hoyer to do the necessary things a quarterback on a team with this team's defense needs to do — protect the football, make the necessary throws, etc. More than that, I'm looking to see how "presidential" Hoyer is in this start. What kind of leader is he? (Honestly, "presidential" is a reach. I'd settle for "mayoral" or "competent middle manager of a northeastern paper company" after the late Schaub and Fitzpatrick eras.)
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3. WANTED: More Offensive LInemen
At four of the five starting positions on the Texans offensive line, I feel pretty good. Duane Brown and Derek Newton are a very solid pair of starting tackles, Brandon Brooks is a budding star at right guard, and Ben Jones is at least playing his natural position at center. The left guard spot, though, is a pretty good tell for the rest of the offensive line depth chart — they're using tackle Jeff Adams (whose body type screams "tackle") at left guard, because 2014 second rounder Xavier Su'a-Filo is injured, and when he's healthy, he's still been behind Adams. That's how bad it is depth-wise. They can't find another guard who can even clear the bar of "mediocre." This is what happens when you draft three offensive linemen in three years, and they're all snakebitten by injury (Brennan Williams), illness (David Quessenberry) or ineffectiveness (Su'a-Filo).
2. Charles James and Khari Lee
Of all the Texans players featured on Hard Knocks, I have been most entertained by these two guys — Charles James for his skewering of rookie safety Corey Moore in Episode 2 and his general joie de vivre, and Lee for his hysterical impersonation of Bill O'Brien this past Tuesday. I am irrationally hoping for both of these guys to make the team, which tells me that I would probably make a terrible NFL GM, what with picking players on entertainment value. I'd have the funniest 1-15 team in league history.
1. Running Back Roulette
We still don't know when Arian Foster is returning from his groin injury, although the rumors are pretty encouraging (possible return by end of September!). We are fairly certain Alfred Blue will be the starter in Foster's place, but obviously won't get nearly the touches Foster gets when he's healthy. So who gets the secondary share of carries? Seventh-round rookie Kenny Hilliard got 13 carries in the 49ers game and seven more last Saturday, but he's barely averaged two yards a carry. Chris Polk averaged more than five yards on seven carries against the Broncos (and got mad praise from O'Brien in Hard Knocks Episode 3). Sunday could be Jonathan Grimes's turn. He's had only ten carries the entire preseason, and showed some bounce against the Broncos. This is an underrated issue that hasn't gotten much attention.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.