This is a tricky article to write.
How can it be titled “5 Players to Watch”, and exclude quarterbacks Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson? The former is the starter heading into the season, while the latter was selected 12th overall after the Texans moved up aggressively in the draft.
Those two have been, and will be, written about extensively. Plus, you can always throw receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a list like this as well: he’s a breathtaking talent in the prime of his NFL career at the age of 25.
Instead, we’ve gone with five players that have a combined four years of NFL playing experience. One on the list spent his rookie campaign on injured reserve. Each member of the quintet is in Year 2 as a pro.
With no more of a preamble, here are five players to watch on offense at Texans Training Camp in 2017.
1. WR Will Fuller, V - Fuller V began his NFL career with a bang: a pair of 100-yard receiving games. He played 12 contests the rest of the way, and averaged 35 receiving yards per game. According to receivers coach John Perry, Fuller’s spent extra time on improving his hands.
“He comes out and does a lot of pre-practice work on his own, and that’s been impressive to me,” Perry said in early June. “And then he has stayed after practice a couple times, and we’ve done some deep ball drills with him, which is really important.”
Comfort in the offense will also be a key for Fuller this season.
“He definitely has better knowledge of our system,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “For the guys that were rookies last year, this is a much easier spring for them because they know where to go, they know what to do.”
Fuller also said the difference between Year 2 in the League as opposed to his first, is substantial.
“Last year I was thinking a lot,” Fuller said. “Just coming in trying to learn the offense and trying to make sure I was doing everything perfect. This year I’m just a lot more relaxed.”
A clear mind and sure hands for Fuller could pay huge dividends for the Texans offense in 2017.
I think one of the things you look at is it’s just a matter of tracking the ball, and when he does that he catches the ball really well. It’s just the few times where it was a little more difficult for him to track. We just have to keep putting him in all those different situations that he saw last year. I watched the tape with him when he came back and we tried to recreate those scenarios again for him to put him in realistic situations.”
2. C Nick Martin - Martin was locked in as the team’s starting center all through the spring and summer of 2016. But a leg injury early in training camp last year put the 2nd-rounder on the shelf for his rookie campaign. He took part in all of OTAs and the veteran minicamp, and was back with the first team offense at the center spot.
Greg Mancz played all but one snap at center in 2016, so Martin supplanting the veteran speaks volumes of the second-year player’s ability and promise.
“I’m really excited about Nick,” offensive line coach Mike Devlin said. “That’s why we drafted him. He’s a smart kid, size, length.”
Martin said he spent the time off the field with his nose in the playbook last season.
“I was just trying to stay with it as much as I could, learn the in-game routine, run game, pass game, how we go about it,” Martin said. “Everything.”
He also said he’s much “more comfortable” with the offense and his responsibilities in it this year as opposed to last.
The sentences about Fuller can also apply to a pair of second-year offensive skill position players in...
3. WR Braxton Miller and 4. RB Tyler Ervin
For Miller, 2016 was just the second season of his football career in which he played receiver. A quarterback through high school and the bulk of his time at Ohio State, the former Buckeye caught 15 passes for 99 yards and a score, but missed the final four games of the year due to injury. According to Perry, a big focus this offseason for Miller was the recognition of coverages.
“That’s what I’ve been really trying to spend a lot of time with Braxton on,” Perry said. “It’s much different when you’re under center recognizing coverages as opposed to being out wide and recognizing coverages. When he knows who he has to beat, he’s very good, but he has to keep working on that coverage aspect of it. You’ll see a lot more improvement there.”
Miller said he was helped this offseason by the addition of assistant receivers coach Wes Welker, one of the game’s greatest-ever slot receivers.
"I'm always in his ear, bugging him, as you can see after practice," Miller explained. "I was just asking him all types of questions. What did he see? What did I do wrong today? After every play, he's always correcting what I did wrong. Then I just go out there on the next play and fix it."
Ervin, meanwhile, was primarily a special-teamer last year. That should change in 2017.
"Of course, I’m an offensive player, man," Ervin said. "I love offense, so any chance I get to do that, I’m enjoying it. A little bit more receiving stuff but I take it as a challenge and I like doing it as well. Anything they ask me to do, I’m going to do."
5. TE Stephen Anderson - Anderson caught 11 passes for 93 yards and a score as an undrafted rookie in 2016. Like Fuller, Miller and Ervin, he’s a second-year offensive weapon that should only improve after a year in the system.
"It’s great because you can play loose, play relaxed and everyone plays better when they’re playing more loose and more relaxed," Anderson said Tuesday. "Going out there, competing, trying to get better every day. I know mistakes will be made but as long as you learned from it and then adjust and make sure it doesn’t happen again then that’s good football right there."
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 9/17/2019)