Coinciding with our Texans TV 2009 season preview series with "Voice of the Texans" Marc Vandermeer, HoustonTexans.com takes a position-by-position look at the Texans in the days leading up to training camp. Our fourth position preview looks at the Texans' tight ends.
Key player: Owen Daniels (2008: 70 rec., 862 yds., 2 TD)
Additions:Anthony Hill (fourth-round draft pick, North Carolina State); James Casey (fifth-round pick, Rice)
Subtractions:Mark Bruener (retired)
2008 breakdown:Daniels emerged as one of the NFL's best tight ends last season. His ranked third among tight ends with 862 yards and fifth with 70 catches. Daniels capped the career season with a trip to the Pro Bowl, where he caught a touchdown pass. Dreessen, one of the Texans' top special teams players, played in all 16 games and set career highs with 11 catches for 77 yards.
Bruener was inactive for most of the 2008 season. Clark Harris was activated from the practice squad in December to serve as the Texans' long snapper. The Texans gave him increased snaps at tight end during OTAs and will continue to look at him there in training camp.
The big question:Will Daniels become more involved in the red zone?
This question isn't just directed at fantasy football players concerned about Daniels' two touchdowns in 2008. The Texans are determined to solve their red zone woes this season. Few players are more prolific at catching first downs than Daniels, but he has only five touchdowns over the past two years after catching five as a rookie.
The Texans were third in the NFL in yards but 17th in points per game last season. To bring the points up, they'll have to improve in the red zone, where they were 26th in the league (46 percent success rate). An improved running game might free up more looks for Daniels inside the 20.
"I would think so," Vandermeer said. "The whole team is focused on being better in the red zone, and the offensive line has another year in the system of zone blocking with Alex Gibbs. The whole offense will be a lot more efficient in the red zone, so Owen Daniels is bound to be a part of that."
Camp battle to watch: Dreessen vs. Hill vs. Casey
The Texans obviously can't put four tight ends on the field at the same time, so the three players behind Daniels will have a battle on their hands for playing time.
Each brings different skills to the offense: Dreessen, a serviceable blocker and improving receiver who has experience in the system; Hill, a run-blocking specialist who surprised coaches with his soft hands during OTAs; and Casey, an inexperienced blocker but talented receiver and the most versatile of the three. It will be interesting to see who carves out what niche in the offense during camp. And Harris can't be forgotten about, either; the Texans are interested in seeing what he can do at tight end during camp.
Roster size (2009 vs. 2008):The Texans kept three tight ends heading into the 2008 season: Daniels, Dreessen and Bruener.
That number probably will increase to four in 2009. The tight end always has been a key part of Gary Kubiak's offenses, and Texans coaches have hinted that they want to use more two-tight end sets in running the ball this season. Having four tight ends would give them ample depth with which to do that.
"I think they can (keep four) because you look at the versatility of these players," Vandermeer said. "You look at the ability of a James Casey to possibly play some fullback for you; that takes the heat off of having to carry an extra fullback, which they wouldn't want to do anyway, probably. As long as they can play special teams well, you can carry four tight ends. You would look at four tight ends being the likelihood."
Final thought: On O.D.'s contract: Daniels and the Texans were working on a long-term deal earlier in the offseason but couldn't come to an agreement. Daniels signed a one-year restricted free agent contract in June, so he is under contract for the 2009 season. He didn't show up for mini-camp after signing the deal, so it remains to be seen what O.D.'s status will be come July 31.