The Texans hit the road for a preseason clash at Kansas City on Thursday night. Here are five things to watch at Arrowhead Stadium in the opener against the Chiefs.
1) Watson's Work- Deshaun Watson looked good during training camp at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, and now he'll likely get a little bit of action against a defense other than the Texans. Last year, he didn't enter the game until the start of the second quarter, but he attempted 25 passes and ran for a 15-yard score at Carolina.
While he wouldn't say whether or not Watson would play on Thursday, head coach Bill O'Brien did acknowledge it was "more likely" that the second-year signal-caller would get some reps.
Watson's not concerned with how much, or how little he'll play against Kansas City.
"It's not a big deal," Watson said. "I'm just trusting the process that OB and the organization have for me, and I know it's a good plan. So, I'm just kind of going with the flow and seeing what the game plan is for Thursday."
2) Look at O-line- The guards and right tackle who started the regular season opener last year aren't on the current Texans squad. The presumptive starting left tackle is in his second NFL season. With a slew of new faces up front, the new-look offensive line for the Texans will get its first test against a new defense. According to offensive line coach Mike Devlin, communication is a key.
"Offensive line play is about getting five guys on one page, talking the same language and understanding how they'll react in different situations," Devlin said. "Since the spring, all of them have really been working hard toward that. Now, this is the next level of it."
Julién Davenport has been the first-team left tackle, and Devlin said his competition in camp has been a good way to hone his skills.
"He has to go against (J.J.) Watt, (Whitney) Mercilus and (Jadeveon) Clowney when he comes back – our defense in general," Devlin said. "So, going against that should help him prepare. He's working hard at it. He's trying to take consistent steps, trying to use his length and learn."
3) RB's behind Miller- Lamar Miller has started at running back the last two seasons, and returned to camp about 10 yards leaner than the weight he played at in 2016 and 2017. Behind him, D'Onta Foreman missed all of OTAs, minicamp and training camp at The Greenbrier as he recovers from an Achilles injury.
A group of Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, Troymaine Pope, Terry Swanson and Lavon Coleman are competing for time at running back. Those five will likely see the lion's share of reps on Thursday night in Kansas City. They're a varied group, with Blue being a bigger back and Ervin being slippery.
Pope joined the organization at the end of last season, and the contests this August are incredibly important for him.
"I think it'll be interesting to see how a lot of those guys—Pope and many other guys—how they play in the games," O'Brien said.
4) Safeties first- The team added 2015 All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu this offseason in free agency, and used its first draft pick on Stanford safety Justin Reid in the third round. Those two will get a bit of time Thursday night against the Chiefs, and if they look they have during the early part of August in practice, the back end of the Texans defense will be improved.
Veteran corner Kareem Jackson moved to the safety position this offseason, and he's joined by the likes of Corey Moore, Kurtis Drummond, Treston Decoud and some others in the safety competition.
Mathieu in particular, has made an immediate impact on the unit, and not just with his play.
"He's a guy that has natural leadership skills," defensive backs coach Anthony Midget said. "He rubs off on the guys, holds the guys accountable, and he's been doing a good job."
Mathieu said the preseason games "are important for us as a group", and will give him and his defensive backfield mates plenty of valuable work together.
"Just getting out there, getting a feel for the calls, getting a feel for my teammates," Mathieu said. "Things are a lot different when it's a live game. We just try to go out there, obviously communicate well and make sure nobody gets in the end zone."
5) Kickoff differences- The big rules changes over the offseason came with regards to using the helmet. But pay attention also to the differences you'll see on kickoffs and kickoff returns. No longer will the team kicking off get a running start. They'll also have to be spread evenly across the field.
New special teams coordinator Brad Seely has been in the NFL for three decades, and his experience will be leaned upon heavily this preseason and beyond. O'Brien, as well as general manager Brian Gaine have stressed the importance of getting better on special teams, as it's been a need for the last few years.
Getting more explosive in the return game factors into that, and Seely explained the process of figuring out who will be back returning kicks and punts.
"We're still trying to figure out, No. 1, who catches it the best," Seely said. "That's No. 1. If you can't catch it, you can't play. Then, secondly, we find out what they can do after they get the ball in their hands. So, there's a host of guys. I think we'll see here, maybe by the next week we'll get it honed down where these are the guys we're going to work in the preseason games and these are the guys that are going to have a chance to compete for the job."
Check out some of the best shots from Sunday's practice at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.