As quickly as Houston Texans training camp began a couple of weeks, here we find ourselves, already about a dozen or so practices in, and on the calendar we are suddenly halfway through camp. So with the week long trip to Green Bay (described by the voice of the Texans, Marc Vandermeer to me, as sort of a "college bowl" vibe, with the pomp, circumstance, practice schedule and the eventual game Thursday night) in the rear view mirror, and with the Detroit Lions coming to town later this week for practice and a game, it's time to give out some winners and losers thus far at Texans training camp.
(NOTE: I'm guessing that next week, whoever the voice of the Lions is, that guy will not be describing practice in the sweltering August that of Houston as a "bowl game" vibe. I'm guessing it will be compared to a trip to the surface of the sun, or the world's most nuclear sauna, something along those lines.)
4. The running back depth chart
It's amazing what a difference a week can make. Just about eight days ago, we were scratching our heads over the Texans' waiving of D'Onta Foreman, and wondering, after Lamar Miller, exactly what the solution would be at the running back position. Then, Bill O'Brien makes the trade on Thursday for Browns third down back Duke Johnson, and then the two undrafted rookies, Damarea Crockett and Karan Higdon, run the ball pretty well against Green Bay in Thursday night's game. It's still a very suspect position on this roster, but things appear to be trending up at running back.
3. Will Fuller's magic legs
Fuller didn't play in Thursday's loss to the Packers, but that was largely for precautionary reasons. After what I've seen out fo Fuller the first two weeks, I don't need him getting anywhere near any sort of contact between now and Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints. Fuller looks as physically ready as he's been in his career, and heading into his fourth season, the secret to fully unlocking the capabilities of Deshaun Watson lies in the availability of the wide out from Notre Dame. Fun stat — Watson had a 147.2 passer rating targeting Fuller last season, the second best rating between a QB and WR in the league (Russell Wilson/Tyler Lockett, 158.3, was first).
2. Bill O'Brien's zen
Most of the media covering the team, that's at practice every day, agrees on this point — Bill O'Brien seems calmer this training camp than he normally does, either in training camp or during the season. Now, maybe this changes in September or October if his secondary gets buried under an avalanche of passing yards from the murderer's row of quarterbacks they face, but for now, it is definitely a kinder, gentler O'Brien. He seems comfortable with his staff, and comfortable in the unorthodox construct of the front office. We can't discount the possibility that the presence of everybody's-favorite-person Jack Easterby, Texans EVP of Team Development, as a calming influence either.
1. Bradley Roby
Along with the offensive line (more on them in a second), the secondary remains the biggest concern for this team. Fortunately, the addition in that area with the most upside, Bradley Roby, has looked very solid, so far. Now, granted, he wasn't covering Michael Thomas or Julio Jones, as he will be asked to do in September, but he looked very good against the Packers, and has played well in practice. If Roby can finally establish some consistency (he had some good moments as a Bronco, but some bad ones, too), and Johnathan Joseph just plays solid, then the starting corners on this team won't be nearly the glaring hole that the two tackle spots are right now on offense. Which brings us to.....
4. Deshaun Watson's anatomy
I'll just go ahead and say it — Matt Kalil at left tackle should terrify any Texan fan hoping that Deshaun Watson survives the season. Kalil was not good against the Packers, and then on Sunday at the fully padded practice, edge rushers repeatedly took turns taking his lunch money in 11-on-11 drills. Washington's Trent Williams (a seven time Pro Bowler in his prime) is still staying away from Redskin camp in a dispute with the team, and might be available via trade. Hopefully, O'Brien's willingness to trade for Duke Johnson is an indicator that he's not going to stand pat at key positions.
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3. A.J. McCarron
If something happens to Deshaun Watson in the regular season, it should be McCarron's show, but he suffered a hand injury in the practices in Green Bay, and will miss the rest of training camp. Not only is McCarron a loser in this scenario, but many of the young wide receivers and tight ends trying to secure a spot on the 53-man roster now have Joe Webb and Jordan Ta'amu throwing them the rock in practice and games, which is not completely optimal.
2. Unavailable players
While O'Brien has, by and large, been at ease during camp, he does seem to be more peeved about players who are unavailable than in previous years, in particular young tight ends Kahale Warring and Jordan Thomas. There are other players who have missed time, but those two easily yield the most intriguing storyline, given the competitive vibe at that position, the performance thus far of the three fully available tight ends (Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, and Gerrell Adams), and the draft equity invested, particularly in Warring, who was the team's third round pick back in April.
1. Clowney drama seekers
If you're a radio host or blogger (I'm both) hoping for Jadeveon Clowney's contract situation to be a content source during training camp, then you've come away gravely disappointed. (Hopefully, your creative juices have been flowing and you're able to make do with J.J. squishing kids' bikes and the like.) As of right now, both sides have either said pleasant things about the other (Bill O'Brien on Clowney) or said nothing at all (Clowney about the Texans), and the belief is that the sixth year defensive end will be back after the third preseason game. Nothing to see here, unfortunately.