With rookie mini-camp, OTAs, and mandatory mini-camp in the books and the team now preparing for training camp in West Virginia, there is plenty to chew on regarding the work the Houston Texans put in this spring. There are so many angles to look at with this team so we pared it down to eleven things we learned over this stretch of preparation. Here is what we learned about the Texans heading toward training camp.
The Tom Savage Show
The reality of the situation is that the Texans have invested a lot in Tom Savage: they drafted him, put many hours into his development, and he is the one guy who has made it through the numerous personnel shifts in the quarterback room. For the first time in his career with the Texans, Savage is getting an extended look with the first team offense, something that he has not received in the past. Savage is working not only on his game, but is learning how to take responsibility and ownership of the offense. If anything, he has grown since the start of OTAs, evident especially given how he carries himself in the huddle and makes minor adjustments on the field with personnel and formations. He is clearly ahead of the curve skill wise when compared to the other two quarterbacks but his biggest jump has been him setting up the offense to succeed play-to-play.
J.J. Watt's Health
J.J. Watt back will be in question until training camp arrives and start dealing with contact. The biggest issue with Watt's back last season was how slow his feet where off the snap. It is hard to tell if that quickness will be regained but when he is able to cut loose in West Virginia, there will be a better feel for his health. He took veteran day's off during this stretch and when he was on the field looked like he was supposed to in drills and pass rush.
Youth at Wide Receiver
The Texans are in the same spot they were last season when they went to camp. They have DeAndre Hopkins and a lot of youth behind him. There is a good chance Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller V and Braxton Miller will be the foundation of the receiver group, but looking deeper, the Texans have to find more options. The team is depending on the group to take a jump as a whole but it still feels like they need a veteran presence added to the group, almost a grinder who will do the dirty work as in making tough catches and mixing it up in the run game. Wendall Williams has made some strong strides in his game but the players in this younger class of rookie free agents have not had health on their side. Justin Hardee is the top option from the rookie free agents but looking big picture, there are plenty of questions surrounding the group.
The biggest addition to the Texans could be Wes Welker and it is in part due to how much he has been working with the wide receiver group, sharing his knowledge from when he played in this offense in New England. It is easy to see how important receivers have been to the Patriots offense over the years and Welker is in there with the Texans receivers, having conversations with the group after reps on the field, during drills, and in the film room. DeAndre Hopkins and Braxton Miller both have discussed the importance of Welker to their growth in the offense, especially in reading coverages to improve their reads for the quarterbacks in the passing game. The Texans have moved tight end coach John Perry to the wide receivers and Perry was instrumental in developing both C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin in the offense. Perry's hard coaching on technique has now been brought to the wide receiver group. The Texans know the group needs to make the jump and adding two coaches with different styles to help them has been good for the group early.
There are a few positives for this group starting with the health of both Lonnie Ballentine and Kurtis Drummond. If the duo can stay healthy, they will each push for roster spots on the 53-man roster. Andre Hal is the most experienced option at safety along with Eddie Pleasant and Corey Moore, who played in the base defense late last season. K.J. Dillon is expected to be ready for training camp, trying to get full strength after a torn ACL last season. Much like the wide receiver group, there are some names who feel like they can make a difference but the Texans bringing in Jaquwan Jarrett and meeting with Aaron Williams makes the intentions of the team more clear. The Texans are not ready to pull the trigger on either of those options but they are looking for a veteran presence for camp to come in and compete.
The best part of Deshaun Watson being with the Texans there is no reason to rush him on the field with Tom Savage currently running the offense. There is a perception that there is pressure on Watson to be a “now” player for the Texans but that is far from the truth. With Bill O’Brien being so hands on with the entire quarterback group, Watson will have time to absorb the offense and iron out his mechanics, which he has begun doing since his arrival during rookie mini-camp. There are positive reviews on how Watson is behind the scenes: he has been called a team player, coachable, and more importantly, self-motivated to make a difference on and off the field for the Texans. The Texans are looking at Watson for the long haul and do not expect him to be an immediate fix to their quarterback carousel. Watson will hit the field when the Texans feel he is ready and can operate the offense with little issue. When that is, no one knows, but there is no accelerated program to get him on the field.
If there is one player out of 90 on the roster who clearly looks like he is ready to push for more, it is Tyler Ervin. His confidence is clear when he is on the field and is running, catching, and settling into what the offensive coaches are asking him to do. He has shown flashes of what made him successful at San Jose State, which is making defenders miss. He is making defenders come up empty which would happen even if they were in pads. There are times when Ervin gets the open defenders in trouble with how quick he is getting in and out of his cuts. Ervin has to find a way to bring this to camp and continue growing as a player.
Robert Nelson Jr.
The Texans always find ways to get cornerbacks who fit into what they want and Robert Nelson is becoming that next cornerback to watch. His best attribute is his long speed and ability to run with any receiver on the field, but he is going to have to show that he can come in and spot fill snaps on defense behind the trio of Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and Kevin Johnson. The Texans are not afraid to go into their depth chart during games to ensure they are fresh for the entire game. Nelson has a chance to get his snaps up during the year and with his strong work during the spring, he has a opportunity to fill that void in the depth chart.
If David Quessenberry shows he can hold up during camp, he will have achieved the more difficult obstacle in getting back on the field - playing football is the easy part for him. His versatility is an added plus because he is the only option who could play all five spots if needed on the line. The story is already the best of the NFL off-season and it will only get better when Quessenberry hits the field, showing he can again handle full contact. If that happens, he will be depended on to be a key portion of the offensive line. There has not been contact for Quessenberry for over four years but knowing what he is made of, there is no reason to discount him landing a roster spot when training camp ends.
Rookie Free Agents
There is always a group of rookie free agents to watch heading into camp, specifically, the work they put in. Trench players are not included in this list until pads go on in camp; until then, it's virtually impossible to get a feel for what they can do. Still, early names to watch are outside linebacker Dayon Pratt, wide receivers Justin Hardee and Riley McCarron, cornerbacks Bryce Jones and Dee Virgin, and inside linebacker Dylan Cole for the rookie free agent group.
The biggest change since the Texans hit the field is the work that Bill O’Brien is putting in with the offense. He has been hands on with the quarterback group and entire offensive unit. O’Brien is even using the radio to call in plays to the quarterbacks, a responsibility which used to be in the hands of the departed George Godsey. The influence of O’Brien is clear. He is in the mix with the entire group and it is paying off with some of the early work on the field. The group looks much more fluid compared the past seasons and in a system that predicates itself off of precise routes and throws, it looks like the offense is much further along than expected. The players have noticed how much O’Brien is involved and they like that he is taking ownership of the offense and working the group.
Related Links: Duane Brown Not Heading to Mini-Camp | Aaron Williams Visiting the Houston Texans | David Quessenberry Wins PFWAs Award | Mandatory Mini-Camp Update 1 | Extended Cut of Mandatory Mini-Camp Day 1 | Deshaun Watson Preparing the Only Way He Knows How To | Texans Work Done Until Training Camp