With the offseason program completely done, the next task on the 2017 season to-do list is training camp at The Greenbrier. For many, including yours truly, it's the first time to be away for training camp and that makes the three weeks an intriguing voyage on a number of different levels.
Yet, the sole purpose of going to The Greenbrier is to find the 53 men that'll lead this team into the season and get them ready for that 17 (plus?) game marathon. Now, we know about J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins, but what off the radar players will be worth watching come July? Here are a few to watch.
- Inside linebacker Shakeel Rashad - The second year former undrafted linebacker from North Carolina has impressed all offseason. He really took every advantage of his opportunity with more reps than ever before in the offseason. With Brian Cushing rehabbing and Max Bullough waived, Rashad spent a ton of time with the first group and shined in drills. He has every intangible you'd want in a player and he can run too. It's just a matter of maintaining that momentum when the pads go on in camp.
2. Cornerback Treston Decoud - Due to the NFL's graduation rule, we haven't had a chance to see him other than a short viewing at rookie minicamp. He's got size, length and a ton of confidence. Other rookies at his position got a bit of a jump on him, but he can make up time with a solid trip to West Virginia.
- Offensive tackle Kendall Lamm - I can't tell you how many times I've been asked about the right tackle position for this team in 2017. It's at least five times a week and I have the same answer every time "Greenbrier". That's where the competition will commence... or continue. Lamm, though, knows he has to break out this year. He talked about that very thing with Marc Vandermeer and myself a month ago and is ready for the opportunity to shine.
- Linebacker Dylan Cole - When I studied him for this past NFL draft, I thought he'd make a squad no matter where he went, not anticipating that he'd end up in Houston. He's got a little squattier build, but, man, he can run. I never questioned his ability to run through ball carriers in college, so if he can deliver that same pop with his reps on defense, he'll get a shot to find a home on special teams at a minimum.
- Outside linebacker Dayon Pratt - This man is long and I can't wait to see him battle in one-on-ones during pass rush drills. He's not a blur off the edge, but due to his length, he's difficult to get hands on consistently. He has a finishing burst that can get him on this roster if he shows that he can handle all that goes with playing that outside spot during preseason games.
- Offensive weapon Tyler Ervin - We've talked a lot about Ervin during the offseason workouts because he's caught everything thrown his way. I don't know if he's a running back anymore but that's not a bad thing. He reminds me more and more of the Patriots' James White who had 14 catches in the Super Bowl. He seemed much more confident every single day and his speed and receiving skills could be two important assets for this offense in 2017.
- Safety Kurtis Drummond - I've said for years that I'm a huge Drummond fan, dating back to his time at Michigan State. He was the leader of one of the best college secondaries I ever saw and it's clear why. His football IQ and ability to make a play will get him on the field, if he can consistently build on a strong offseason.
- Running back D'Onta Foreman - I just want to see what kind of runner he's going to be in the NFL and whether he can flourish in all the team's run schemes. But, most importantly, how does he pass protect during camp and preseason games? Success in that one area is what will get him time on the field, beyond his potential backup carries behind Lamar Miller.
- Cornerback Robert Nelson - With Kevin Johnson and Decoud back in the fold during training camp, Nelson will have significant competition at that spot in camp. Can he make plays consistently to stay on the field, in particular in sub-package situations? His ability to burst on the ball is nearly without peer, so the new number 21 has to take that next step that last year's number 21 made.
As soon as I hit send, other players will come to mind that I should've mentioned. Either way, there's enough summer to hit them all, so to speak. It's almost here, everyone.
Check out some of the best shots from the second day of veteran minicamp.