QUARTERBACK: Starter - Matt Schaub. Backup - Sage Rosenfels.
Schaub has overcome offseason surgery to his non-throwing shoulder to return to his starting role at quarterback. The Texans are hopeful with a healthy Andre Johnson in the mix, Schaub can play at the level they hoped when they traded two second-round picks to Atlanta for his services. If Schaub struggles early, there could be trouble in the fan base. Sage Rosenfels went 3-1 in the final stretch of last season, and there was a growing concern in Houston that he should have at least been able to compete for the starting job this year. Coach Gary Kubiak refers to Rosenfels as a starter and says the team is lucky to have him and Schaub. But Schaub is the Texans' No. 1 guy, and he has proven when he is on that he can make good decisions and get rid of the ball with ease. The main problem is simply keeping him healthy and keeping him on the field.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Steve Slaton, FB Vonta Leach. Backups - RB Chris Taylor, RB Darius Walker, RB Ahman Green.
The Texans have implemented the zone-blocking scheme with the help of Alex Gibbs to boost production, but so much of the success still relies on Green being on the field. Injuries have depleted this position the last two seasons, making it a major weakness under coach Gary Kubiak. Green missed almost all of the preseason with a groin injury. The good news is Leach returns as a solid blocking fullback, and Taylor and Slaton each played well in considerable preseason action. Taylor is a solid back who gets to the hole. He improved as the preseason went forward. Slaton has a burst of speed no one else in the group has. He has also shown considerable improvement in pass protection and is a solid receiving back. He will be utilized often as well.
TIGHT END: Starter - Owen Daniels. Backups - Joel Dreessen, Mark Bruener.
Daniels could emerge as one of the league's better tight ends this season. He had a solid year last season until he started dropping the ball. If he can hold onto the ball this season, he could garner some of the respect he deserves. He is great in the passing game and is always getting yards after the catch. Around 75 percent of his catches resulted in a first down for the Texans last season. He has also improved tremendously the past two seasons in blocking on the line of scrimmage. That is also Bruener's specialty. While showing he is capable of catching passes, Bruener is mainly utilized in two-tight end sets as a blocker. Dreessen is capable of being a dual-threat. He caught four passes last year - two four touchdowns and is a solid blocker.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter. Backups - Andre' Davis, David Anderson, Jacoby Jones.
This is the strength of the offense. Johnson is back after missing most of the offseason and seven games of last year. He looks forward to a season where he has a ton of talent surrounding him. Walter and Davis both had the best years of their respective careers last year, and should keep defenders from constantly hounding Johnson. Walter has improved upon his yards after the catch -- something that was a strong suit of Davis' last season. Anderson and Jones will only have much of a factor in the offense if someone gets hurt. Anderson is a smart player, who takes every opportunity he gets. Jones has struggled to hold onto the ball this offseason, but still has a lot of potential as a deep threat for the quarterbacks.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starter - LT Duane Brown, LG Chester Pitts, C Chris Myers, RG Mike Brisiel, RT Eric Winston. Backups - T Ephraim Salaam, T Rashad Butler, G Kasey Studdard, G/C Chris White.
The offensive line has been tutored the entire offseason by Alex Gibbs. The zone blocking scheme is in full force, and the players are excited to see what happens in the regular season. They will be cut blocking often, and their run protection and their pass protection looks very similar to defenses, so they are hoping that gives them an edge. All eyes will be on Brown, a rookie who will take over protecting Schaub's blindside. He has played well in the preseason in pass protection. It helps having a veteran like Pitts next to him. Pitts has played in all but five plays on offense in Texans history. Myers is the newcomer in the middle. He has spent his pro career playing the zone blocking scheme and is comfortable with Schaub and Rosenfels. Brisiel won the starting job in the offseason by playing tremendously. He has a good work ethic and is good in the run game. Winston is emerging as one of the league's better right tackles. Salaam will be the top swing tackle, and the Texans love the all-around improvement they've seen out of Studdard.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starter - RDE Mario Williams, DT Amobi Okoye, NT Travis Johnson, LDE Anthony Weaver. Backups -- DE N.D. Kalu, T Jeff Zgonina, T Anthony Maddox, T Frank Okam, T DelJuan Robinson, T Tim Bulman.
There is still a lot of focus on the defensive line since it still boasts three starters from the first round of the NFL Draft. Mario Williams is coming off a 14 sack performance, but the Texans weren't able to boost the pass rush around him in the offseason like they had hoped. They added Colvin, but he struggled to get comfortable in the scheme during the preseason. Kalu, who had knee surgery in the offseason, returns as their best complement to Williams. The Texans hope Okoye can take a step forward similar to what Williams did a year ago. The Texans have some solid depth this season, but overall there are very few changes to the line from a year ago.
LINEBACKER: Starter - SLB Zac Diles, MLB DeMeco Ryans, WLB Morlon Greenwood. Backups - Kevin Bentley, Chaun Thompson, Xavier Adibi.
The team set out in the offseason to get a more athletic unit at linebacker. They also wanted to get more pass rush from their linebackers. They partly achieved their goal. Diles seems like a good choice to succeed Danny Clark at SLB. He had a solid offseason and works hard. He has a knack for getting to the ball. The anchor of the group and the defense is Ryans, who returns from his first Pro Bowl appearance. He will wear the defensive transmitter in his helmet, and he has the best pass rushing skills of the group. Greenwood is a smart player, who has started the past three seasons on the weak side. He is solid against the run.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Jacques Reeves, LCB Fred Bennett, SS C.C. Brown, FS Will Demps. Backups - S Dominique Barber, S Nick Ferguson, CB DeMarcus Faggins, CB Antwaun Molden, S Brandon Harrison, CB Eugene Wilson. PUP - Dunta Robinson.
The Texans signed Reeves in the offseason to help deal with the loss of Robinson (knee/hamstring), who will be on PUP for at least the first six weeks of the season. Reeves has struggled in the preseason in coverage, however, and the Texans need him to step up when the regular season arrives. Bennett has been solid since he began starting midway through his rookie season, but injuries remain a concern with the second-year corner. At safety, the Texans have more depth than they have had in the past. Demps and Brown return to their starting roles, but they have a completely new set of backups. Ferguson has shown a knack for making plays in each preseason game. This is still not a strength of the team. They will need help from a defensive line pressuring the quarterbacks to make their jobs a little easier.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Kris Brown, P Matt Turk, LS Bryan Pittman, PR Jacoby Jones, KR Andre' Davis.
The focus on special teams has been on Jones, who struggled to catch punts in preseason games. The Texans have now told him he must carry a football with him everywhere he goes to try to break him of the habit. The Texans love his athleticism and potential too much to give up on him. Jones and Davis are touchdown threats each time they touch the ball. Davis returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season. Pittman is as consistent as they come - botching just one snap since 2003. Brown and Turk have put together solid preseasons. The Texans didn't bring any other kickers or punters into camp to challenge them, and the two responded well.
Positional Analysis: Houston Texans
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