Bill O'Brien told the media this weekend in his Sunday press conference following the 14-10 loss against the Broncos Saturday night that he would be treating this week leading up to Week 3 of the preseason in New Orleans against the Saints, for the most part, the same way he would a preparation week for a regular season game. (Although I'm guessing that he'd know who his starting quarterback would be if it were the regular season, just a hunch.)
What this means is that the clock is officially ticking for a bunch of guys on this roster. Training camp is basically over, and the chances for guys 40 through 90 on this team to make their case for regular season employment have probably all but dried up. The hay is mostly in the barn, so to speak.
The key dates you need to know are as follows:
Sept. 1: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must reduce their rosters to a maximum of 75 players on the active list.
Sept. 3: Final preseason games.
Sept. 5: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the Active/Inactive List.
So let's give our latest moderately-educated conjecture as to what this roster will look like come September 5th. We will do this two more times, the day after the Saints game next Monday, and again next Friday morning after the Cowboys game on September 3. Here we go:
THE VETERAN LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage
Easiest "cut and paste" from the previous version of 53-man roster predictions, especially after BIll O'Brien named Brian Hoyer his starter yesterday.
RUNNING BACK (3): Arian Foster, Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes
The longer we go without any Arian Foster update at all, the more inclined I am to think the Texans are going to keep him on the 53-man roster and wait out the healing process of the groin injury. In fact, I'd be all for him making a upraise appearance out of the locker room after everyone else takes the field in the opener against Kansas City, like John Cena returning for the Royal Rumble that one year. (EXACT. SAME. THING.)
WIDE RECEIVER (3): DeAndre Hopkins, Cecil Shorts III, Nate Washington
Same as before, nothing really to see here.
TIGHT END (2): Garrett Graham, C.J. Fiedorowicz
Not only will these guys make the team, they may actually get utilized in the passing game. Tight ends were targeted six times in the first half on Saturday night.
OFFENSIVE LINE (6): Duane Brown, Derek Newton, Ben Jones, Brandon Brooks, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jeff Adams
God, this position is so anemically thing right now. I feel great about three of the starters (Brown, Newton, Brooks), okay about one (Jones at CENTER, not guard), and then yikes — left guard is a circus, and the two juggling clowns are Adams and Su'a-Filo.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5): Vince Wilfork, J.J. Watt, Jared Crick, Jeoffrey Pagan, Louis Nix III
This group is pretty well set. It'll be neat to watch Watt and Wilfork play football together someday.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Jon Simon
Feel even further entrenched with this threesome given Clowney's solid return (so far) from the microfracture surgery on his right knee that derailed his rookie season. A healthy Clowney … please, God and baby Jesus, this is all I ask. I think even Arian Foster would believe in you if he knew you would heal Clowney's knee. It's THAT important.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (2): Brian Cushing, Mike Mohamed
Not only am I fired up about Cushing, I'm fearful of saying one negative word about him after his performance in Hard Knocks last week. He might stick my head in the toilet and flush!
CORNERBACK (3): Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, A.J. Bouye
Deepest position on the team. Bouye gave up a bad touchdown in the Broncos game that O'Brien basically conceded was Bouye's fault, but I think his spot is secure.
SAFETY (2): Rahim Moore, Andre Hal
Your first performance removal of a "lock" player from the previous version of this post is Stevie Brown. I think Quintin Demps was brought in for a reason and part of that reason might be Brown hasn't clinched a spot on this team.
SPECIALISTS (3): Jon Weeks, Randy Bullock, Shane Lechler
Scoop of vanilla, scoop of chocolate, don't waste my time.
THE DRAFTEES (5): CB Kevin Johnson (1st round), ILB Bernardrick McKinney (2nd round), WR Jaelen Strong (3rd round), WR Keith Mumphrey (5th round), DE Christian Covington (6th round)
I'd still be beyond shocked if any of these guys didn't make the 53-man roster, at this point, barring injury, although Strong is doing his best to make me look like an idiot. He has not been great. If you didn't know who they were, you'd think Chandler Worthy or Mumphrey were the third round rookie based on how they've been used, as oppose to Strong.
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (19): 3 QB, 3 RB, 5 WR, 2 TE, 6 OL
DEFENSE (18): 6 DL, 3 OLB, 3 ILB, 4 CB, 2 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So we need thirteen more players. The store is closed on specialists, quarterbacks, and probably defensive linemen, too. Let's add the easy ones here first:
41. Jay Prosch, FB
Whatever. Fullback. Blah. Next.
42. Chandler Worthy, WR
Worthy and Bonner are staging a battle to see who can make it as a sixth receiver/kick returner. Wild cards that could impact either of them making it — Mumphrey's productivity as a returner, Demps' being given a shot in the return game. For now, I'll put Worthy here.
43. Ryan Griffin, TE
Griffin's spot seems safe, especially with injuries to early camp sensation Mike McFarland (injured reserve) and Anthony Denham. Also, Khari Lee's inability to get out of bounds on the final play against Denver was one of those five second stints that make a difference at cut time.
So we're good at RB, WR, and TE. We need a couple more offensive linemen. It's not a great group, but let's go with:
44. Cody White, G/C
45. Aaron Adams, OT
Okay, defensive side of the ball...
46. Akeem Dent, ILB
O'Brien seems to dig him.
47. Eddie Pleasant, S
48. Quintin Demps, S
One of these guys is probably your starter at strong safety at some point. (I'm not sure the Andre Hal experiment is a reasonable long-term solution.)
49. Charles James, CB
After Hard Knocks and Saturday night's performance on special teams, he now MUST make this team!
50. Darryl Morris, CB
Coin flip between him and Jumal Rolle, I liked how Morris led Kourtnei Brown into the end zone on his pick six on Saturday night. Good, underrated hustle play. Of course, Morris also gave up the game winning touchdown, but sixth corner, so whatever.
Speaking of Brown, I have no idea what to do with the outside linebacker spot. I had Jason Ankrah in as the 4th OLB last week, but it's hard to ignore Brown, Carlos Thompson, Lynden Trail. For now...
51. Jason Ankrah, OLB
…I'll keep Ankrah on the roster.
Two spots left. There are three inside linebackers in the mix for one of the spots, and it'll probably be special teams deciding which one it is — Max Bullough, Justin Tuggle, and Jeff Tarpinian. Special teams narrows it to Tuggle and Tarpinian. I want to say Tarpinian but he's been banged up and Tuggle has played well on special teams. I think Tuggle probably makes it...
52. Justin Tuggle, ILB
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Finally, probably at this point need one more body at running back until we have clarity on Foster
53. Kenny Hilliard, RB
FIRST FOUR OUT: Tarpinian, K. Brown, L. Trail, J. Rolle
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.