The Texans wrap up the preseason slate with a Thursday-nighter against the Cowboys. These two teams will play at NRG Stadium again in Week 5.
Lives will change drastically in the next few days. Many will change so drastically because of what happens on the field Thursday evening. 90 players are on each NFL roster right now, and that number will get cleaved to 53 by late Saturday afternoon. For many, a big play here or there will be a life raft of sorts for a job as a professional football player, and perhaps set in motion a longer NFL career. For others, Thursday night will be the final chapter in a football playing career.
Here are five things to watch when Houston hosts Dallas in the fourth and final preseason game of 2018.
1) Rankin progress- Offensive lineman Martinas Rankin saw his first game action last week at Los Angeles, logging 37 snaps up front. Against the Cowboys, he'll most likely get some work at both tackle positions, and perhaps even a little at guard.
The third round pick from Mississippi State played quite a bit in front of quarterback Brandon Weeden, who's impressed by what he saw in Rankin's debut.
"He's a big guy, he's athletic, he's a prototypical build so yeah, I'm excited," Weeden said. "He's a versatile player."
That versatility is one of the most attractive aspects of Rankin's game. He can play all five positions on the line, and is willing to do so.
"Whatever the coaches need me to do, I'm always going to do it, whether that's playing outside or playing inside," Rankin said. "It doesn't matter to me. I just like to play football. I just love the game."
For head coach Bill O'Brien, Rankin's football smarts are a huge part of why he'll likely be a part of the Texans line in the coming years.
"He's a very smart guy," O'Brien said. "We liked, obviously, things he did in college and we'll see how well that translates to the pros."
2) A Lil (bit of) Keke?- Rookie receiver Keke Coutee returned to practice last week, but didn't suit up against the Rams in the third preseason game. Thursday, however, there's a chance he'll see some game action.
"I'm very excited to play my first NFL game," Coutee said. "I've been out a couple weeks, and I'm very pumped up for it."
Coutee was impressive during OTAs and minicamp, and continued that progress through the start of training camp at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. But a leg injury kept him out for a few weeks. Getting some work in a game situation is welcome to the former Texas Tech Red Raider, and he described the two main differences he noticed from the college game to the NFL.
"Every guy's fast," Coutee said. "Everybody's knowledge is through the roof. So the game picks up a lot more than college. Just being able to play smart and play fast is the big difference."
Coutee's abilities have impressed his fellow pass-catchers.
"He's real explosive," receiver Will Fuller, V, said. "I haven't seen him drop a pass since he's been here. He's got some sure hands, and I like playing with him as well. He brings another dimension to our offense with his explosiveness."
3) Wideout work- Coutee aside, the rest of the receivers who aren't named DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller, V are vying for roster spots.
Bruce Ellington, Braxton Miller and Vyncint Smith have caught touchdown passes this season. Sammie Coates and Jester Weah have shown flashes of promise as well.
O'Brien detailed what he wants to see from his pass-catchers.
"I think with receivers, it's always about two things: it's getting open and catching the ball," O'Brien said. "I think if they can just keep improving on those things, knowledge of assignments, being able to make plays with the ball in their hand, we'll see how it all plays out. It's a very competitive position."
4) Return game- The Texans are looking to get a bit more clarity in the return game, as a combined five different players have brought back either a punt or kickoff. Tyler Ervin, Braxton Miller, Sammie Coates Troymaine Pope and Quan Bray have all gone back on special teams as returners this August. Even though he hasn't logged any returns this preseason, Fuller has experience taking back punts as well.
Who emerges out of that cluster of players might be impacted by the results of Thursday night.
Thank you to our Traveling Texans that represented the team in the city of Los Angeles.
5) Speaking of Special Teams…- In addition to eyeballing the returners, check out who shines in kickoff and punt coverage. In many cases, standing out on these units might be the final category where players can gain separation and stay on the roster.
With fierce roster battles at receiver, in the secondary, linebacker and tight end, the ability to make an impact on special teams is huge.
"Receivers three through however many you decide to keep, they need to contribute on special teams in some way, shape or form," O'Brien said. "You can say that about outside linebacker, inside linebacker, any positon – corner – any position with the exception of maybe O-line and D-line. So, I think special teams is one of the biggest considerations when it comes to basically, let's just say, player 20 through 53."
The Houston Texans roster in photos.