Here are five things to watch when the Texans play the Cowboys in the preseason finale on Thursday evening at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
1. A Case for Keenum- Second-year quarterback Case Keenum will start for the first time as a Texan, and for the first time since he led the University of Houston to a 30-14 triumph in Dallas' Ticket City Bowl on January 2 of 2012. Through the first three games of the preseason Keenum, like backup T.J. Yates, has been crsip and efficient in leading the offense.
He's completed 34-of-50 passes for 354 yards and a pair of touchdowns in August, and hasn't thrown an interception. He'll play the first half while Yates will handle the offense after the intermission. It'll be tough to unseat Yates as Matt Schaub's backup, because the third-year pro has gone 27-of-39 for 308 yards, three touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 118.3. Still, sometimes a sterling performance in the final preseason game can shuffle the proverbial deck, according to head coach Gary Kubiak.
"There's usually eight-to-10 guys that make the football team on this game," Kubiak said on Tuesday. "It's interesting because it's very close. They go out there and they're going to get to play a ton of snaps, and they'll separate themselves. They'll show you."
Keenum grew up in Abilene, Texas, so Thursday's game has him excited in more ways than one.
"That's the closest I'll ever play to my hometown," Keenum said. "That's a really good opportunity for me, to go prepare as a starter and start the game. I know it's a short week, but we'll cram it in and get it going. We'll go out there and see what happens."
2. Peek at Posey- Wide receiver DeVier Posey will see his first bit of game action since exiting the playoff loss at New England with an achilles injury. He returned to practice with his teammates last week, after spending all of training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
"It'll probably be a brief appearance, but he needs to just get out there and get his feet wet so to speak," Kubiak said. "He'll probably play about 12 plays. Get hit. Get tackled. All that confidence he's been working on, just make sure he's ready to go."
Seeing how Posey holds up, and how prosperous he can be in the limited action will give Kubiak and the Texans another gauge on how the receiving corps will look for 2013.
3. Outside crowd- The outside linebacker spot is crowded behind starters Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus. Because the latter had a hamstring injury and missed the first three preseason contests, and won't play against the Cowboys either, the club called upon the likes of undrafted rookies Justin Tuggle and Willie Jefferson to start. Rookie draft picks Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams also saw some action, in addition to third-year pro Bryan Braman.
With the 53-man roster cut looming on Saturday, the foursome of Montgomery, Williams, Tuggle and Jefferson might be playing for their respective jobs against Dallas. In all, that quartet has a combined three sacks.
4. Running back backups- After Arian Foster and Ben Tate, it's looked like fourth-year vet Deji Karim locked up the third spot. Undrafted rookie Ray Graham was cut on Tuesday, which means fellow undrafted rookies Cierre Wood and Dennis Johnson might suit up for the final time as Texans.
Wood was a bright spot in the first preseason game at Minnesota, and has gone for 5.3 yards a pop on 16 carries. Johnson, meanwhile, has rushed 16 times for 50 yards, but has seen a lot of action as a punt and kickoff returner. Both are likely longshots to make the roster, but depending on how they play against the Cowboys, they might earn a spot on the practice squad.
5. Look at Lechler- In Tuesday's roster trimdown from 90 to 75 players, the Texans discarded backup punter Andrew Shapiro. The undrafted rookie punted 11 times for a respectable 42.6 yard average. But All-Pro Shane Lechler blasted a pair of punts Sunday against the Saints.
Unless the Texans' offense goes for it, or Kubiak decides to attempt field goals, Lechler will get some more work on 4th down against Dallas.
His two punts versus New Orleans were masterful. The first pinned the Saints at their own 2-yard line, and the second was a 60-yarder that flipped field position for the Texans.
After the thrid preseason game, Lechler said he felt ready, but wouldn't mind punting again on Thursday.
"You can't emulate the same things in the practice field as you can on game day," Lechler said. "So it felt good, but one or two more probably wouldn't hurt me."