We are five sweltering hot practices — okay, actually, four sweltering hot practices and one air-conditioned-bubble practice — into training camp for the Houston Texans, and here are the things that we've learned so far:
1. The offense is going to be kind of a work in progress throughout the preseason. Brock Osweiler has improved throughout camp after a very shaky first practice this past Sunday, but the defense is clearly way ahead of the offense at this point. If we are to believe that the first week of training camp correlates directly with anything about the regular season, the Texans are either sitting on a really, really good defense, a really, really shaky offense, or both.
2. We know that the Texans have had some issues in the draft, issues that predate Bill O'Brien's arrival (What up, the two players left on the team from 2013's draft?), but if minicamp, OTAs and the early portion of training camp are any indication, this rookie class has a chance to be the most impactful that we've seen since 2011, when J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and T.J. Yates were fixtures on the Texans' first playoff team. WR Will Fuller looks like the real deal as a deep threat; center Nick Martin got special praise from O'Brien after practice on Wednesday; Braxton Miller looks like he's been playing wideout his whole life; and Tyler Ervin has a skill set the Texans have been reluctant to draft at running back through the years (weird traits like speed, wiggle and explosiveness). Cautious optimism is appropriate.
3. J.J. Watt can still pop the crowd even in street clothes. Watt isn't allowed to spend much time on his feet after having a herniated disk removed a few weeks ago, nor can he spend much time outdoors because of sweat and stitches not mixing well, but he still gets the loudest ovations when he jogs out to the practice field. The only thing missing is John Cena's theme music.
4. The competition for roster spots is always fierce in an NFL training camp, but the best battles to watch over the next few weeks of practices and preseason games would appear to be:
* Akeem Hunt vs Jonathan Grimes: 4th RB spot
* Cecil Shorts vs Keith Mumphrey vs mystery candidates: 5th, 6th, etc WR spots
* Ka'imi Fairbairn vs Nick Novak: Kicker
* Max Bullough vs Brian Peters vs Akeem Dent: Backup ILB spot
* Fuller vs B. Miller vs Shorts vs Ervin vs Williams: Ladder match for return duties
So without further ado, let's try to cobble together a 53-man roster based on what we've seen so far and what we expect the Texans to do. Keep in mind, this is a prediction of who will make the team, not my personal assessment of whom I would take...
THE LOCKS (32) .. * denotes rookie
QUARTERBACK (2) — Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage
RUNNING BACK (2) — Lamar Miller,* Tyler Ervin
WIDE RECEIVER (4) — DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong,* Will Fuller,* Braxton Miller
TIGHT END (2) — C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin
OFFENSIVE LINE (7) — Duane Brown (T), Xavier Su'a-Filo (G),* Nick Martin (C), Jeff Allen (G), Derek Newton (T), Chris Clark (T), Tony Bergstrom (G/C)
DEFENSIVE LINE (3) — J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, Christian Covington
LINEBACKER (5) — Brian Cushing, Bernardrick McKinney, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, John Simon
CORNERBACK (3) — Kareem Jackson, Jonathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson
SAFETY (2) — Quintin Demps, Andre Hal
SPECIALISTS (2) — Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler
Okay, those are the easy ones. I'm not saying I agree with all of them, but I do think that those players all come into camp with their jobs fully secured. (I know — amazingly, yes, the tight ends are secure in their jobs.) So let's try to put together the rest of the roster...
FILLING IT IN..... (21)
33. Alfred Blue, RB
I don't think Blue is a very good NFL running back, but I think the Texans' staff disagrees with me; hence, all that starting run he would seem to get whenever Arian Foster would go down with injuries the past two years. So he is making the team.
34. Jay Prosch, FB
They're gonna take a fullback, so until I see otherwise, it'll be Prosch. In fact, I think they like Prosch's ability carrying the ball in short yardage.
35. Cecil Shorts, WR
I'll give the nod for the fifth WR spot to the veteran Shorts. I don't think they want to go into the season with DeAndre Hopkins as their most experienced wideout.
36. Kendall Lamm, T
37. Jeff Adams, G/T
38. Greg Mancz, G/C
Filling in the rest of the dance card on the offensive line. Really need to see preseason games before getting any sort of read on this position, so for now, I'll go with guys who were on last season's team and who the coaching staff seems to like. Lamm, specifically, was bumped up to the first unit after Newton's hamstring injury.
39. D.J. Reader, * DT
40. Brandon Dunn, DT
41. Devon Still, DE
I'll take these three with Jeoffrey Pagan on the outside looking in.
42. Max Bullough, ILB
43. Brian Peters, ILB
Backup inside linebackers and special teams bodies. Peters, in particular, was a stalwart on special teams after arriving here in Week 4 last season.
44. A.J. Bouye, CB
This is an easy one — Bouye has looked very sharp in camp and has been cited by O'Brien in post-practice interviews as someone who's had a great offseason.
45. Charles James, CB
Cautiously, I will assume that James is more than just "the guy who was a feel-good Hard Knocks story," and is viewed as a solid Texan now.
46. Rashard Cliett, LB
I'm going to bank on O'Brien's breathless evaluation of Cliett pre-injury last season as a harbinger of his making the team this season. Solid analytics by me.
47. Antonio Allen, S
48. Eddie Pleasant, S
49. Kurtis Drummond, S
Lots of bodies at safety. These are as safe a guess as any.
50. Akeem Hunt, RB
I'll take the speed and playmaking ability of Hunt over the...what exactly is it that Grimes does exceedingly well again? (Honestly, Grimes seems like a swell dude, but it is somewhat amazing that he's hung around with this team for five seasons now. Well, this would be his fifth season if he makes the team.)
51. Wendell Williams, WR
52. Ka'imi Fairbairn, K
53. Stephen Anderson, TE
Your three undrafted free agents who will make the team — a kick returner, a kicker and a tight end who can make plays in the passing game (novel concept!)
And yes, I'm going with two quarterbacks, Braxton Miller as the emergency guy, and O'Brien's ability to yank a guy off the sofa and coach him up to win a game...Case Keenum and T.J. Yates approve!
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.
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