With the Houston Texans next phase of OTAs starting up, there are some early topics to pay attention to regarding the team. Ten practices are on deck for this portion of OTAs before Mandatory Mini-Camp arrives in mid-June and the Texans will continue working on their roster to find out answers as they head into training camp.
There will be plenty of discussion on the return of J.J. Watt and how much work he will get during the Spring and the quarterback discussion will continue to dominate the mainstream thoughts until the start of the season. Here is a deeper look at some early trends to pay attention to heading into OTAs.
Here are ten things to watch for the Texans heading into OTAs.
1. How Bill O’Brien Works with the Offense
We had a little glimpse of how Bill O’Brien would be more involved with the offense during rookie mini-camp. The Texans head coach was directing traffic for the offense during rookie mini-camp, which should carry over to OTAs. Plenty rests on O’Brien’s shoulders this upcoming season and his only goal is to improve an offensive group that has gone backwards for three years straight.
2. Right Tackle Watch
The Texans recently added Breno Giacomini but this should be Chris Clark’s position to lose heading to the season. The Texans will open up the competition, looking to find the answer at the spot for this upcoming season. Also, keep an eye on Laurence Gibson and rookie Julién Davenport to see if either of these young players can progress quickly enough to push for the spot.
3. Kareem Jackson Move Coming?
The Texans have yet to make the jump with Jackson official but in the Divisional Round against the New England Patriots, Jackson played well at safety and showed he could run fill from the second level and cover when needed. Most have agreed that Jackson can make the move. Could this finally be the year? With a void at safety due to the exit of Quintin Demps who signed with Chicago, whether this is the opportune time to move Jackson is yet to become official. There is a good chance Andre Hal will be the week one starter and Eddie Pleasant will remain a sub package player in nickel and dime situations, but who the third player will be in the safety rotation remains a focus heading into the Spring.
4. Tom Savage’s Show Until Further Notice
Tom Savage is finally in the position to be the one who is being chased for the starting gig for the Texans in 2017. He has always been the one trying to catch the starter since he arrived in 2014 but now, having rookie Deshaun Watson on board is a good thing for Savage. Maybe Watson’s presence will help push Savage to become a better player and if it doesn’t not work out to plan, the Texans have invested enough to turn it over to Watson, if needed. The team has a bridge to their future with a quarterback they invested in as O’Brien’s hand picked signal caller in Savage.
5. The Kicking Competition
Ka'imi Fairbairn will get another crack to unseat Nick Novak for the kicking spot for the upcoming season. The competition counts from day one for the the two and will be watched closely in terms of how they kick field goals but more importantly, how they handle kick off duties which was a big issue last season with the special teams. Having a kicker who can consistently kick off with good hang time and inside the 5-yard line with the new kick off rules can change the look of the special teams unit. Faibairn was kept around for a reason after being placed on the injured reserve heading to last season, and he added some much needed weight and strength his rookie season despite the IR designation. The Texans know what they can get with Novak: consistency and accuracy but not much leg strength to flip the field and pin teams deep in their own territory. The team has been searching for a young kicker for some time; maybe Fairbairn can finally be the answer.
6. Rookie Free Agents Under the Radar
Every season, a group of rookie free agents make their marks to either land on the 53-man roster or the practice squad. Some early names to watch are ILB Dylan Cole, DT Eli Ankou, S Malik Smith, and CB Dee Virgin. Also, keep an eye on the the group of wide receivers brought in with Shaquille Hill, Chris Thompson, Riley McCarron and Deante' Gray.
More names will come to light as practices continue, but this is the early group who prompt attention from the rookie free agent pool signed by the Texans.
7. Slot Wide Receiver
The Texans drafted Braxton Miller to become a vital part of the offense, their top option at slot wide receiver. Injury issues and the time he took learning the position slowed Miller some his rookie season and when he went out, there was no true threat at the slot position to attack the middle of the defense. The Texans are trying to find another option with the group of rookies they brought including Shaq Hill, Chris Thompson, Riley McCarron, and Deanté Gray, each of whom fits the physical parameters needed for the position. There appears to be a spot open on the depth chart and finding another slot wide receiver is a priority for the Texans to help Braxton Miller and the offensive unit.
8. Wes Welker Influence
The offensive assistant is already showing his worth by not only helping John Perry with the wide receivers, but helping primarily with the slot wide receivers. With the return game to start ramping up with work on the field, Welker will have a hand in helping the punt returners also. A position that has been lacking an impact, the influence of someone like Welker is possibly what has been missing. The addition of Welker could be exactly what is needed specifically for Braxton Miller to push him to continue to evolve as a player in the NFL.
9. A Good Problem to Have
What is better than having one center? Having two, of course. The Texans spent an early pick on Nick Martin in 2016, but his season was cut short due to an injury in training camp in a joint practice with the New Orleans Saints. Greg Mancz recovered from his own major knee injury from his rookie season and was able to fill the void at center, possibly becoming the offensive line's most consistent player outside of Duane Brown. Now, the Texans have a slight issue coming into camp much different that last year's. in 2016 they went into the season with no real answer at the position but this year the team could see two capable players fighting it out at the position.
10. Draft Class Impact
Which rookie of the drafted class can make the biggest impact the most quickly will always be the question and the plans for the class should be clear early on. Zach Cunningham will be worked in early to help Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney, giving the Texans a trio who can help against any set. Watson’s contributions this season will be dependent on how quickly he can develop over the practices. D'Onta Foreman will have to get his conditioning level up before getting on the field, but it appears he could be Lamar Miller’s help. Carlos Watkins should be able to move into the spot D.J. Reader has vacated on the defensive line, with Reader moving to the starting nose tackle spot. Treston Decoud and Kyle Fullerwill have to work into the rotation but has a chance to help in some capacity year one.
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