The construction of an NFL roster is a long process, and even once the season begins, it's a continuing, fluid process. The assembly of the 2019 Houston Texans is in just its second week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and even head coach Bill O'Brien acknowledged on Wednesday that we are still at the very early stages of knowing exactly what the group trying to build off 2018 will look like:
"I think as a whole we're coming together. It’s early. That’s basically OTA number five. We've got a long way to go. Guys are working hard and guys are trying to do what we’re asking them to do. But it's very early."
True, true, Coach. That said, just because it's late May, and just because the players are practicing wearing no shoulder pads, that doesn't mean that we won't try to draw sweeping conclusions from the OTA session that was open to the media on Wednesday. So here goes:
Johnathan Joseph is embracing the leadership role
We know who THE most important and indispensable players are for the 2019 Texans. The obvious ones are Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney. However, when you consider the number of new faces and the abundance of youth in the secondary, you don't go much further down the list before you get to Johnathan Joseph's name. At practice on Wednesday, Joseph's embracing of this role was quite evident, with lots of quasi-coaching of younger players, plenty of trash talk, and even a couple plays made during 11-on-11. Joseph talked about his role after practice:
"I think we made some, obviously, additions in free agency. Then we had a couple of guys get drafted, added some pieces. I think my role overall is just being a leader, leading by example, helping guys out, wherever they may fit. Whether it’s with the defense, just learning the city, just being comfortable with the guys on the team. And obviously, just taking it to the practice field and then eventually training camp and into the regular season games."
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No Hopkins and Fuller means plenty of Coutee and Smith
Will Fuller was working out off to the side for the morning, and DeAndre Hopkins was... well, somewhere. (He wasn't out at the practice fields, at least from what I saw, which is fine, as long as he gets his 100 catches this regular season.) This meant plenty of reps for two second year guys, slot receiver Keke Coutee and deep threat Vyncint Smith. Amidst a sea of young receivers trying to make this roster, Coutee and Smith stood out. Coutee has looked really comfortable in both open OTA sessions, and more importantly, he's looked healthy, with no ill effects from the hamstring that dogged him all of last season. Smith is obviously a guy that the coaches and front office really like, as suggested by his holding a spot on the 53-man roster all of last season. He's shown a more well rounded game in these OTA sessions, with some nice catches over the middle to go along with his obvious deep speed. It was a good day for Smith on Wednesday.
Offensive line shuffling continues
At one point during the OTA session, I was standing and watching with my SportsRadio 610 colleague and fellow Texans postgame host, Paul Gallant, and he was tracking the offensive line combinations that Bill O'Brien and offensive line coach Mike Devlin were trotting out there in front of Deshaun Watson. After looking at Paul's notebook page, a couple things became obvious —- first, Nick Martin is the starting center (#66 was in the middle of every permutation on the page.), and second, the rest of the line right now may as well be generated using a roulette wheel. Without getting into specific permutations (rules preclude me from doing so), let's just say they are trying pretty much everything, including the two highly drafted rookies on the offensive line, Tytus Howard and Max Scharping, playing outside at tackle and since at guard. This will be the first training camp that I've attended where I plan on watching offensive line drills above everything else.
Former Texans players as coaches
AS many of you re aware, Bill O'Brien has turned his coaching staff into a place where some former Texans can dip their toe in the water and try coaching on for size. Former quarterback T.J. Yates, legendary wide receiver Andre Johnson, and former inside linebackers Akeem Dent and Brian Cushing are the O'Brien Era players that have found entry level assistant spots. I didn't see Dent or Yates out there Wednesday — I'm sure they were out there, I just didn't make a point to notice them — however, Cushing and Johnson were both front and center, with Johnson working drills with the receivers, and Cushing spotted sending in defensive signals and counseling young linebackers. For what it's worth, Cushing looks like he is ready to cage fight tomorrow. He is in tremendous shape. (It makes me a little nervous that he's blocked me on Twitter. I don't want that guy mad at me!)