Houston will start rookie quarterback David Carr Sunday night at Reliant Stadium. Carr, the number one overall pick in this year's draft out of Fresno State, was actually injured during the second quarter of Houston's preseason finale to Tampa Bay last Saturday.
After an MRI Saturday revealed only a bruised knee, Carr returned to the practice fields today and went through most of the drills with the rest of his offense.
"I think David is doing well," Texans head coach Dom Capers said Monday afternoon. "He's not back 100 percent yet but he's made progress every day. He went out and did everything today."
In five preseason games, Carr completed 37 of 70 passes for 441 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He has excellent down the field vision, and his arm strength could test the Cowboys' secondary.
Carr doesn't play like a rookie, but with a patchwork offensive line blocking for him, he could be in for a long evening facing the likes of La'Roi Glover, Ebenezer Ekuban, and company.
Carr has as strong an arm as any quarterback in the league, and his decision-making has looked solid through the course of training camp. Getting pressure on the rookie early will go a long way in sealing a big Cowboys win.
Carr will have several talented targets to throw to, most notably rookie wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. Gaffney won't get the start Sunday night, but he may be the receiver that sees the most action before the outcome of the game is decided.
Gaffney was the Texans' second round pick out of Florida where he likely would have owned just about every college receiving record had he not left the Gators for the NFL draft.
"He's got good size (6-1, 206) and outstanding quickness. He's very instinctive," says Texans head coach Dom Capers. "He's got great vision and body control. I like his on-field demeanor. He'll go up and attack the ball. And he's a willing blocker, too. The running game's so dependent on the receivers' ability to block."
Former Green Bay Packer Corey Bradford will likely get the nod at one receiver, and starting opposite him will be veteran speedster Jermaine Lewis. Bradford had an excellent training camp in Houston and some experts are predicting big things for him once Carr gets a year or two of experience under his belt.
Lewis, used primarily as a special teams performer for the Baltimore Ravens over the last 3 seasons, will see extensive time at receiver for the Houston Texans this season. Lewis is small, (5'7, 175) but extremely fast. He'll likely test the Cowboys secondary deep Sunday evening.
"When you look at our receiving corps, we have some capable receivers, and obviously, Jermaine has been the best return man in football over the course of the last few seasons," said Capers.
"With his ability to run with the ball in his hands, you'd like to be able to get the ball thrown to him a few more times and give him a chance to break big ones."
Houston will start Rod Rutledge at tight end. Rutledge is a big target at 6-feet 5-inches tall, but he wasn't utilized much in the preseason and he doesn't figure to be a big factor in the season opener against the Cowboys. Rutledge has only caught 27 passes and 1 touchdown in his 4-year NFL career.
One of the strongest areas on the team entering training camp this summer was the offensive line, but after being bitten by the injury bug, the Texans might be lucky to be able to block some of the top high school teams in the Lone Star state.
If there was one area the Cowboys can likely exploit in the season opener, this would be it. The Texans signed former all-pro offensive tackle Tony Boselli this past spring in hopes of him being able to protect franchise quarterback David Carr. Unfortunately for Texan fans, Boselli hit the practice fields for the first time in full pads only today. Coach Dom Capers does not expect Boselli to play against the Cowboys Sunday night.
Also on the injured list will be starting tackle Ryan Young, who will miss the season opener with a groin injury.
Houston will rely on a makeshift offensive line that includes rookies Chester Pitts and Fred Weary, as well as career bench warmers Jimmy Herndon, Ryan Schau and center Steve McKinney. McKinney is actually making the switch from guard to center.
"I think these guys on the line have worked hard and worked well," Capers said. "I don't know if we are happy with any area of our football team, because we know how much improvement we have to make. I think the guys we've had in there have given us good effort, and at times I think we have been efficient. We just haven't been consistent enough."
To say that La'Roi Glover and company should be able to have their way with this unit Sunday evening would be an understatement. Looking at these match ups on paper, you'd have to say that Glover or Ekuban could easily walk away with several sacks apiece Sunday night.
In the backfield, RB James Allen will likely get the start. You might remember Allen from two years ago when he rushed 290 times 1120 yards for the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately for Allen, a banged up offensive line isn't going to help his cause.
Allen is an elusive open field runner with excellent hands out of the backfield. The Texans will likely try to involve him in the offense early on with some swing passes and dump off routes across the middle of the field.
"I'm looking forward to this opportunity and this chance. I know there is a lot riding on how I play, but I wouldn't want it any other way. The challenge is there for me to step up, and I'm ready to accept that challenge," said Allen.
Backing up Allen will be Jonathan Wells (6'1, 240) , who rushed for 1,331 yards and 16 touchdowns last season at Ohio State. Wells is the bigger of the two, and the Texans will want to see what he can do the field Sunday evening.
Houston finished the preseason second-to-last in the league in rushing, averaging less than 2.9 yards per carry. That number will likely not improve against a revamped defensive line for the Cowboys.
Projected Two-Deep Depth Chart Position Starter Backup WR Jermaine Lewis Jabar Gaffney LT Chester Pitts Jelani Hawkins LG Ryan Schau DeMingo Graham C Steve McKinney Chris Lorenti RG Fred Weary Calvin Collins RT Jimmy Herndon Chad Overhauser TE Rod Rutledge Billy Miller WR Corey Bradford Avion Black Q David Carr Mike Quinn RB James Allen Jonathan Wells FB Jarrod Baxter Ed Stansbury