The Texans open the 2019 preseason on the road against the Packers. Houston went 11-5 last year, and won the AFC South. Green Bay finished third in the NFC North with a 6-9-1 record. Here are five things to watch when the Texans and Packers kick off at 7 p.m. CT. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Who plays, who sits – Over the course of Bill O'Brien's tenure as head coach, the regular season starters rarely play more than a drive in the preseason opener. Last August in Kansas City, a dozen or so mainstays didn't even suit up for the first game.
Defensive end J.J. Watt tweaked his groin and left Monday's practice with the Packers, and didn't take part in Tuesday's work. He won't likely go on Thursday night.
"I don't really play in the first preseason game usually, so I don't know," Watt said. "I doubt they let me out there, but regardless it's going to be cool to go out on Lambeau Field and to step on the grass and to see the fans and just to live that moment."
O'Brien said "most of the guys that travelled will play in the game", but he wouldn't commit to a set number of snaps publicly, for any particular player. Staying injury-free, according to O'Brien, will make for a successful outcome.
"Let's come out of it healthy," O'Brien said. "It's hard to do that. Guys are playing hard. It's a competitive contact sport but we want guys to be healthy, we want guys to get good repetitions in different situations."
2) O-line combos – The Texans used a pick on offensive linemen in each of the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. Tytus Howard from Alabama State was their first choice at 23rd overall, while Northern Illinois' Max Scharping was a second-rounder selected 55th overall.
Both played tackle in college, and both have practiced in various spots along the line with the Texans. Howard missed a few practices late last week in Houston, but was on the field both Monday and Tuesday against the Packers. O'Brien was glad the rookie was back at work.
"He got rolled up on in a previous practice, so we just wanted to monitor him coming back," O'Brien said. "It was good to see him back out there."
Scharping grew up in Green Bay and played his high school ball at Southwest High School. His first professional game will take place in his hometown, and he'll enjoy the experience.
"I think you have to take a second any time you walk in before a game, just relax your nerves," Scharping said. "At the end of the day, like I said, it's my job, it's what I'm here to do. So, just trying to get better, play the best I can with the guys next to me."
O'Brien's praised Scharping for his even-keeled approach, and commitment to being a professional thusfar. Improvement remains the key.
"For any rookie, they have to continue to keep getting better day in and day out," O'Brien said. "He's that type of guy, he's got a very workman-like approach to how he does things and we're happy to have him."
3) Running back depth chart – Lamar Miller is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2018 and is atop the depth chart at running back. The spots behind him are up for grabs, as Taiwan Jones, Josh Ferguson, Buddy Howell, Damarea Crockett and Karan Higdon are all vying for spots on the 53-man roster. O'Brien stressed the importance of being versatile at that position.
"You've got to contribute on special teams," O'Brien said. "You're not just going to be on the 53 or on the 46 gameday just by being a running back at the back up positions. What's the skillset of the player? How much does he contribute on special teams?"
Miller won't likely play more than a series or two against the Packers, and he described what he'll do with the reserve running backs during his time on the sidelines.
"I try to coach the younger guys up, just to make sure they're taking full advantage of their opportunity and doing their right assignments," Miller said. "I try to go over there, get the iPad and tell them, 'On this run, make sure you're a little more patient,' or whatever the case may be. I just try to be a voice for those guys."
4) Return game – Speaking of special teams contributions, the Texans primary kickoff and punt returner from 2018 hasn't practiced at all during training camp. Receiver Deandre Carter has been sidelined with injury, so the return duties have been handled by a slew of Texans.
Getting clarity at that position is a priority for O'Brien, and Thursday night could help in that regard.
"We've got three or four candidates back there," O'Brien said. "Keke Coutee could do it, Stevie Mitchell could do it, Will Fuller can do it. Obviously, DeAndre Carter will be back, I think probably somewhere around Detroit, and we'll see. Even with DeAndre back there, he's a good punt returner but that's a job that has to be won."
5) Cornerback crew – There are many new faces at cornerback, but Johnathan Joseph remains. The veteran enters year number nine with the Texans, and won't likely get a big chunk of playing time Thursday night.
Rookie Lonnie Johnson, who was chosen in the second round, one pick ahead of Scharping, will get playing time according to O'Brien.
The group was tested well by practicing for two days against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. They won't get as much action against him in the game, but they'll still get plenty of work against his backups.
Check out some of the best shots from Day 10 of training camp and the second day of joint practices with the Packers in Green Bay.