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Camp questions

It's been quiet around here. Almost too quiet. But that will change shortly.

No, we're not talking about Tropical Storm Claudette making landfall on the Texas coast. We're referring to the eerie quiet inside Reliant Stadium for the better part of the past month. But starting next week, the coaches will start trickling in. Then come the players. And thus begins…the circus.

Two-a-days. Sprints. Sled drills. Bunking with a roommate who snores.

Ah, the trappings of training camp are nearly upon us. And while the players would probably barter some significant coin for a few more precious days off, training camp can't come soon enough for Texans fans. Let's face it, you can only take so much baseball, senior golf and WNBA.


Zach Wiegert is one of many offnesive line additions.

Lately, you've felt the urgent need to debate whether Tony Hollings was a smart pick, Zach Wiegert was a wise signing or Matt Stevens looks cool with his new tatoos. You want to see how bulked up David Carr has become, how fast Andre Johnson is in the open field and how Charlie Clemons has adjusted to the outside.

Gone is the hoopla of Houston's expansion rebirth. Now the Texans are just like their 31 NFL counterparts -- entering camp with the goal of improving on last season. Before the players report next week, we've put together a list of five important questions for the Texans heading into the 2003 season. And we want your input. Click here to voice your opinion. We'll post selected responses.

1. Will the offensive line improve?

This will be a hot topic throughout training camp and with good reason. First off, Carr was sacked a league-record 76 times last season, which is the main reason he hit the weight room so hard the past six months. Second, the Texans addressed the offensive line more than any other position in the off-season.

Houston signed Wiegert, who can play either position on the right side. The Texans traded for Greg Randall, who started at right tackle for the Patriots during their Super Bowl run. Houston also drafted Seth Wand, a 6-7 tackle who impressed at the Senior Bowl.

And, of course, the lead domino is this line shuffle is five-time Pro Bowler Tony Boselli, who is looking to return from shoulder surgery. If Boselli can go, the left tackle slot is solidified and Texans head coach Dom Capers can try to work incumbent left tackle Chester Pitts somewhere else on the line. If Boselli can't go, Pitts goes back to left tackle.

The Texans will need to know about Boselli sooner rather than later. Chemistry is essential to any offensive line and Capers has always said he wants his five best guys out there.

2. Can Stacey Mack jump-start the running game?

The Texans ranked 31st in the league in rushing last season and their running backs accounted for just three rushing touchdowns. Enter Mack, who scored 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons in Jacksonville as Fred Taylor's backup. Now Mack wants to show the league that he can thrive as a feature back.

Both James Allen and Jonathan Wells also return for the Texans. And Houston picked up two intriguing rookies who could also elevate the ground game. Fourth-round pick Domanick Davis should be the club's primary kick returner but he can also be an effective third-down back. The Texans selected Hollings in the supplemental draft last week. If his right knee has healed, he could also be a factor this season, though the Texans will no doubt bring him along slowly.

3. Can the Texans' three receivers stretch the field?

Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer cut his NFL teeth with the Run 'N Shoot so imagine his frustration in the press box last season as the Texans started six rookies and moved the ball at a glacial pace.


Bradford averaged 15.5 yards per catch in 2002.

But Carr should get more time to throw this season and he'll have a legitimate receiving trio to target. First-round pick Johnson showed he was the real deal in mini-camp. Corey Bradford made numerous big catches last season before an ankle injury slowed him a bit. And Jabar Gaffney caught 41 balls as a rookie. He could thrive in the slot this season.

Don't forget tight ends Billy Miller and Bennie Joppru. Carr certainly hasn't. In all, he has five pretty solid options for a second-year quarterback.

4. Can Houston's defense stay injury-free again?

The Texans entered their expansion season with the notion that their veteran defense would keep them in games while the offense endured its growing pains.

Mission accomplished. Houston played outstanding defense all season, especially in the stunning win at Pittsburgh. Two players -- cornerback Aaron Glenn and defensive end Gary Walker -- made the Pro Bowl.

But the starting unit missed just one game due to injury (strong safety Eric Brown at Cleveland). Ten starters return with Clemons replacing departed linebacker Jeff Posey. Can the injury luck continue? If so, the Texans will continue to be a tough out.

5. How many games will the Texans win?

Capers cringes every time this question comes up but, let's face it, the NFL is a results business. Fans want to know. Will the Texans win more than four games? Can they creep up to .500?

Trouble is, with a start-up franchise, sometimes improvement can't be measured solely in wins and losses. The Texans have stated from the start that their goal is to be competitive by year three. So what does that mean for year two?

Well, the Texans will indeed be an improved club. On paper, the offense is clearly better. The defense is comfortable in the 3-4. And the Texans are solid on special teams, a staple of Capers' previous teams.

But the 2003 schedule is pretty brutal. The schedule rotation was not kind to the Texans, who play the AFC East and NFC South, arguably the two best divisions in football. Houston starts the season with consecutive road contests at Miami and New Orleans. Inside the division, Tennessee and Indianapolis are looking to return to the playoffs and the Jaguars vastly improved their defense.

         In all,
         it's a tough 16-game road to hoe. But it might pay off down the
         road. It will be a major surprise if the Texans reach the playoffs
         this season. But the 2003 campaign might just serve as a springboard
         for a run in 2004.
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