The Houston Texans begin training camp in two days, and if the lead-up feels a little strange this season, it's probably for two good reasons. First, the Texans will be conducting about 95 percent of their training camp in the much cooler confines of the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. For the first time in franchise history, there will be no early-August, sweltering-heat-box local practices across the street from NRG Stadium. As someone who covers those practices, I will miss the content, but I will not miss changing clothes twice a day.
Second, most summers it feels like FOREVER for NFL training camp to arrive because of the gigantic sports cavity that has historically existed in the month of July. But this year? The Astros are the best team in the American League, and within a three-week period, the Rockets traded for Chris Paul, almost traded for Carmelo Anthony and put the team up for sale. Additionally, in the past four days, O.J. Simpson was paroled and an SEC coach got fired for calling prostitutes.
In short, it's been an AMAZING summer for stories!
Now come the Texans, and (one hopes) the dawning of the Deshaun Watson era. It's never too early to predict who Watson's 52 teammates are going to be in Week 1, but this season, it is a little bit harder as camp moves along, and here's why — courtesy of the Houston Chronicle, here are the key dates of camp:
Tuesday: Players report
Wednesday: First practice, The Greenbrier
August 9 GAME at Carolina 6:30 p.m.
August 15-16: Joint practices with Patriots
August 18: Return to Houston
August 19 GAME vs. New England 7 p.m.
August 21-22: Open practices at Methodist Training Center
August 24: Joint practice with Saints in New Orleans
August 26 GAME at New Orleans 7 p.m.
August 31 GAME vs. Dallas 7 p.m.
September 2: Roster cut to 53 players
September 3: Claiming players off waivers ends
September 3: Practice squad signings begin
Notice that this year, for the first time, there is no date to cut rosters to 75 players. Instead, most of the cuts down from 90 players to 53 will theoretically take place in a 24-hour period at the end of camp, which will be the NFL's equivalent of Nike unveiling a new shoe at the mall. A mad rush for special team gunners and back-end roster filler!
So let's see if we can nail down a first blush at the 2017 Houston Texans, knowing full well that injury, underperformance and just general football god-generated havoc will make me look stupid a month from now. Here we go...
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
This is an easy one — whenever O'Brien is asked about quarterbacks, he makes sure to mention all three guys, and as long as one is a rookie, there will be three of them total. Also, O'Brien has dealt with enough injury attrition in his three seasons here to know that having only two quarterbacks is a little treacherous.
RUNNING BACK (2): Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman
If it feels like I'm light on numbers for "locks" here, get ready. That will be a theme of this exercise. I was very close to putting Alfred Blue on here, just because I think when the coaching staff looks at him they see a mirage of a young Adrian Peterson (and they're the ONLY ones who see it), but I can't make Blue a lock, just on principle. He is slow, he is below average...and, sadly, he's the third-best running back on this team. (So his name will come up later.)
WIDE RECEIVER (4): DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong
These are the top four, and right now these are the ONLY four with NFL game experience, aside from Wendell Williams and his four receptions. A grand total of eight seasons of experience here. Anybody have Anquan Boldin's phone number?
TIGHT END (2): C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin
It will be interesting to see how much of the statistical improvement of these two was due to ACTUAL improvement in their level of play and how much was due to Brock Osweiler nervously throwing underneath lasers to them because the downfield stuff was so confusing and scary to him.
OFFENSIVE LINE (6): Duane Brown, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Nick Martin, Jeff Allen, Julien Davenport, Greg Mancz
Just typing these six names, given the various swirling clouds around all of them, gave me anxiety. Duane Brown's holdout, Su'a-Filo's and Allen's underperformance in 2016, Nick Martin's returning from injury, Davenport is a rookie. Oh dear...
DEFENSIVE LINE (4): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington
The best position group on the team. The bizarro Texans defensive line. Very few questions here, aside from Watt's return from injury.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (2): Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett
Another thin position, but if you think this is thin, wait until we get to safety.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Brian Cushing, Bernardrick McKinney, Zac Cunningham
I love this trio...
CORNERBACK (3): Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson
...and this trio.
SAFETY (1): Andre Hal
I just threw up in my mouth...
SPECIALISTS (2): Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler
I'm assuming they will at least pay some lip service to a competition at kicker between Nick Novak and Ka'imi Fairbairn. Novak was consistent on short to medium field goals, but is not really a plus anywhere else.
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (17): 3 QB, 2 RB, 4 WR, 2 TE, 6 OL
DEFENSE (13): 4 DL, 2 OLB, 3 ILB, 3 CB, 1 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 P, 1 LS
Maybe I'm being overly conservative, but I truly feel like about two-thirds of the 90 guys in camp are fluid and have varying chances of being asked to leave. So we have some serious roster fill-out to do here, 21 players need! Let's go...
33. Jay Prosch, FB
There will be a fullback on this team. There's always a fullback on this team. I'm told Jay Prosch is good at doing fullback things.
34. Alfred Blue, RB
35. Tyler Ervin, RB
Ervin has a chance to be some nice "found money" in his second season, because I think most Texans fans are close to writing him off.
36. Wendell Williams, WR
They really need a veteran wide receiver. I am hoping the fifth WR is not on the roster right now.
37. Stephen Anderson, TE
Part of me thinks they see Anderson as a quasi-WR, and he therefore is the fifth wide receiver, in a way. That rationalization, by the way, does not make me any more comfortable.
38. Kendall Lamm, OT
39. Bruno Giacomini, OT
40. Chris Clark, OT
Nothing to see here...move along...
41. Carlos Watkins, DT
Could be a practice squad candidate, but I'm going to guess he will be closer to D.J. Reader as a rookie than Ufomba Kamalu.
42. Sio Moore, OLB
Seriously, I have no idea what to make of the outside linebacker depth chart. As I scour the depth chart, John Simon is slowly becoming a very underrated loss in free agency.
43. Brian Peters, ILB
They love him on special teams, and if you can play special teams, and bring that blue collar, and be first one in and last one to leave, you will always have a spot at the O'Brien Thanksgiving Day table!
44. Robert Nelson, CB
45. Treston Decoud, CB
Nelson looked good in minicamp and OTAs and, despite some burn marks last season, actually made a few plays, too. Decoud is an intriguing prospect with some safety possibilities as well, given his length.
46. K.J. Dillon, S
47. Eddie Pleasant, S
48. Corey Moore, S
49. Kurtis Drummond, S
One of these guys will probably start. Drinking hard liquor this very moment is an acceptable reaction.
50. Nick Novak, K
Team chooses consistency over the big leg.
Here's where we stand now...
OFFENSE (25): 3 QB, 5 RB, 5 WR, 3 TE, 9 OL
DEFENSE (22): 5 DL, 3 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 5 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So we have three spots left...what do we need?
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51. Joel Heath, DT
He was pretty solid last year when given opportunities, and they could use another big body along the defensive front.
52. Dylan Cole, ILB
My token undrafted free agent rookie!
53. David Quessenberry, OG
Maybe I'm being a wishful thinker, but I'll put Quessenberry on here until they cut him. This would be the best story of training camp, if it happened.
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