The games are back! The Texans travel to New England for the preseason opener. Here are five things to watch when Houston and the Patriots kick off at 6 p.m. CT Thursday evening in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
1) Stroud under center – Rookie C.J. Stroud gets the start at quarterback for Houston, and it'll be fun to see how well he plays and how long he plays. The second overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, Stroud's one of the most accurate passers in college football history.
He's been impressive on and off the field since the moment he was drafted in late April. Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik pointed out one of the rookie's most-impressive qualities after a week of training camp was in the books.
"He has a great feel for what's happening around him, and it doesn't take all the way until the film room to be able to talk about it and know how to handle it," Slowik said. "He has an idea before we see the tape. Typically, with him, the tape is just verifying what he already knows."
Head Coach DeMeco Ryans hasn't said how long Stroud or anyone else will play on Thursday night. But it's the first bit of professional game action for the young signal-caller, and Ryans' expectations for Stroud and all the rookies are very simple.
"I just want to see those guys not blink," Ryans said. "I want to see them go out and continue to do what they've done in practice, not try to make too many big plays or try to put the team – it's just about them focusing on their craft and what they're doing."
2) Young pass-catchers – Stroud, Davis Mills and Case Keenum will likely throw to a bevy of young receivers against the Patriots. Nico Collins enters his third season, while rookies Tank Dell and Xavier Hutchinson will see their first NFL action.
That trio has impressed throughout training camp, and each of those three has a unique skillset they bring to the Texans offense under Slowik.
Hutchinson was an All-American last season at Iowa State and over the last two weeks he's come up with a big catch in just about every practice. Still, he said he'll be a bit nervous before kickoff.
"Even though it's a preseason game, I know I will get goosebumps, for sure," Hutchinson said." I've waited my entire life to get to this moment, so just to be here – it'll feel unreal, or surreal. And I'm just going to be really happy, and I'm going to have a lot of emotions going."
3) Backs not named Dameon Pierce – Dameon Pierce was terrific as a rookie last season, and has looked impressive heading into his second campaign. Devin Singletary signed with Houston in free agency this offseason, and has a proven track record after four seasons in Buffalo.
Behind that duo, though, is an intriguing mix of backs. Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale, Gerrid Doaks and rookie Xazavian Valladay have all seen action throughout camp.
Seeing what that quartet does on Thursday night will be one more step in the process of determining who makes the 53-man roster over the course of the next month.
4) The Terminator – Rookie Will Anderson Jr. has routinely made plays in training camp. Seeing him in game action against a different opponent will be must-see television.
The young defensive lineman has been a force, getting into the backfield on a daily basis the last two weeks. It's been clear to see why Houston traded up to the third overall spot in the Draft to select the Alabama star.
Ryans and Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke have a very specific plan for how they want Anderson to play in this defense.
"He's going to be attacking," Ryans said. "We don't want him coming off, reading, playing slow. The main thing we want him to do is play as fast as possible so he can go make plays for us. We're not going to slow him down."
5) Debut for DeMeco – Since Ryans returned to Houston in late January, the franchise and fanbase have been energized. Thursday will the first glimpse of Ryans in game mode since his arrival.
How he and the staff handle the communication and execution of getting plays and players in, making in-game decisions and more will be a few things to monitor in his debut.
Ryans was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco the last two seasons, and now as head coach the responsibilities will be different as the man in charge.