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5 Things to Watch: Texans at Cardinals

Posted Aug 9, 2014

Texans TV's Drew Dougherty wrote about five key storylines to follow when the Texans face the Cardinals tonight in the preseason opener.

*Here are Five Things to Watch when the Texans open the preseason Saturday night at Arizona.

Finally.

We have games to watch and evaluate. Two long, hot weeks of watching practices at Texans training camp are behind us, and we get to see what the squad looks like when they're facing somebody else.

First things first: as long as he suits up, you could put first rounder Jadeveon Clowney first on the list of things to watch for every game this season. The flashes he's shown in practice have been wild. He blocked a punt one day. Twice he's had the chance to drill a running back just after the ball carrier took the handoff.

Clowney's probably playing against the Cardinals, and might even start. So definitely keep an eye on what Number 90 does in Arizona. Here's what else you should check out.

1. New face on sidelines
It's Bill O'Brien's first game as an NFL head coach. He was the man in charge for a pair of seasons in Happy Valley at Penn State, and is no stranger to the professional sidelines after his time in New England.

But now he's the boss. At the highest level. And he was very realistic on Thursday when asked whether or not he might be a little nervous.

"You always have the so called butterflies," O'Brien said. "To me, it’s good. It’s good to have that. You’re excited about the opportunity. You’re excited about the game."

O'Brien will likely be fiery at times. But if you've paid attention and watched the pair of mic'd up videos we posted over the last few months on HoustonTexans.com, you'll also notice him getting excited about good deeds done by his players.

2. Young wide receivers
Andre Johnson won't play, but the greatest player in franchise history will be there when it matters. DeAndre Hopkins is also a lock for the 53-man roster. Mike Thomas has been impressive in the slot position. DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin have a lot of experience.

But there's a group of pass catchers behind those five who are vying for a spot on the active roster, and one, two or three might supplant some names above.

Alec Lemon and EZ Nwachukwu have turned in strong camps thusfar, and are trying to rise above the practice squad. Both were there in 2013 as undrafted rookies.

Joe Adams was signed a week ago, and will challenge for a spot.

2014 undrafted rookies Lacoltan Bester, Anthony McClung and Travis Labhart also have much to prove.

Each of the six from that second group has turned in a great play or two or more throughout camp so far. How they handle the competition against Arizona will be fascinating.

3. Return game
Some of the names in section number two factor heavily in the return game competition. Martin is the incumbent, and handled the bulk of kickoff and punt returns for the past two seasons.

But Thomas has shown a willingness to mix it up on punt returns, and spoke about how much he loved the "hecticness" of taking back a punt.

Adams came into camp and was immediately a fresh looking returner on kickoffs. He was outstanding in the return game for the Arkansas Razorbacks, and will likely get a chance to earn a spot.

Dennis Johnson got time at running back and on kickoff returns last year, and has done the same in camp. He's fighting for a roster spot again this year.

4. Savage debut
Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback.

Case Keenum is the backup.

But rookie Tom Savage will get to play with the second team offense as well.

His reps have been limited throughout camp, but he'll get a chance to show how much of the playbook he's mastered, and how well he's transitioned to the pro game.

"He’s got to calm the butterflies and do what he has been taught to do to this point and go out there and play football," O'Brien said. "Get us into the right play, make good decisions, throw the ball accurately, get us in and out of the run scheme like the way we’ve been doing."

Savage was a fourth round selection in the draft, and despite the new playbook, he said he's confident.

“As a competitor, I think any quarterback wants to say they can play a game and that’s how I’m always going to be," Savage said. "I can’t put a percentage on it; I’m just trying to learn it and put in all the work I can.”

5. Kicker competition Randy Bullock made the final 12 field goal attempts of 2013, and has kicked well in camp.

But he's had a challenger in Chris Boswell, a rookie free agent from Rice University.

How much each one kicks off, how many attempts they'll get on extra point tries and field goals will be a key.

Punter Shane Lechler's been the holder for both throughout OTAs, minicamp and training camp, and said he's been impressed by both.

O'Brien said both have kicked well, too.

"The competition has helped Randy," O'Brien said. "I think he kicked pretty well the other day. Boz, I thought he hit it pretty good today. There’s not live rush yet, so you know, they’re basically kicking on air."

Twitter.com/DoughertyDrew

Content on HoustonTexans.com does not necessarily represent the views of the Houston Texans front office staff, coaches or executives.

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