The Texans are finished with Mini-camp, and start training camp at the end of July.
The Texans finished their three-day mini-camp on June 16, concluding the first major part of the offseason with organized team activities (OTAs) also in the books. Here are five questions that remain going forward as the Texans approach the 2010 season.
1. Who will emerge at running back?At season's end in 2009, undrafted rookie free agent Arian Foster closed out the campaign with 246 yards on 39 carries in the final two contests. Steve Slaton, who was good for more than 1,200 yards as a rookie in 2008, missed the final five games of 2009 with a neck injury. Those two were atop the depth chart during OTAs, and they garnered the lion's share of carries.
Rookie second-round draft pick Ben Tate was injured for much of the work in May and June and didn't see the practice field until the end of OTAs.
Foster was consistent throughout the spring and is looking to continue the success he enjoyed at the end of last season, while Slaton aims to prove that 2009's fumbling problems were an aberration. Tate will need to make strides during training camp to prove he's worthy of shouldering the big load.
Slaton entered last season as the starter, and head coach Gary Kubiak was impressed by his work this offseason.
"He and Foster have had probably been as good in the OTAs as any player we've had," Kubiak said. "With Steve, he goes and gets checked out in two weeks. Everything from our standpoint we're told should be okay, and just get him back and used to contact again will be the key for Steve."
Kubiak said that if the medical reports on Slaton are good, the third-year back will be able to participate fully in training camp.
"If they cut him loose, we'll go to work," Kubiak said. "We need to get his confidence back about getting hit and stuff."
The team released running back Ryan Moats on June 10.
2. Which rookies can make an instant impact?On a consistent basis throughout OTAs and mini-camp, Kubiak singled out cornerback Kareem Jackson and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell as the rookies doing the best job.
The first-rounder Jackson arrived under the expectation that he'll start immediately. According to Kubiak, he met those expectations from the outset.
"When you're the number one and you get thrown in as a starter right away, you've got a lot to prove to a lot of people," Kubiak said. "He's well on his way to doing that. He's been very good."
Jackson worked in practice against the likes of Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones, so the wide range of receiver-types he saw provided a good spectrum to test his skills against.
As for Mitchell, Kubiak loved the rookie's high motor.
"I think Earl, first off, he's an effort player," Kubiak said. "He's all about going to the ball and working hard. I think Earl is going to be part of our rotation if he continues what he's doing in pads and what he has done throughout these OTAs. For him to become part of our rotation is pushing somebody's job, so it makes it very competitive with that group."
3. Which kicker will win the job?The Texans signed 10-year veteran Neil Rackers in early April to compete with incumbent Kris Brown.
Rackers was limited in the early part of OTAs due to a nagging injury, but he squared off with Brown toward the latter part of OTAs.
"I think they've been pretty equal throughout the OTAs with what we've asked them to do," Kubiak said. "I've just got to find a way every day to create competition on the practice field because there is no way to do it in the preseason games. It's a nice problem to have."
4. What will the interior offensive line look like?
The tackle spots - Duane Brown on the left, Eric Winston on the right - seem to be secure, but there's a lot of competition on the interior of the Texans' offensive line.
The starters from the end of last season - left guard Kasey Studdard, center Chris Myers and right guard Antoine Caldwell - are all being challenged for their spots. Free agent acquisition Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel, who's returning from a foot injury that knocked him from the starting right guard spot in Week 4 last year, are leading the push for playing time.
"We're going to have to do a good job of mix-and-matching those guys so that it's very fair from a competitive standpoint," Kubiak said. "We'll have to probably make a decision about Week 3 of preseason of which way we're going to go so that they can settle down and work together."
5. Will Jacoby Jones make a leap at wide receiver?The fourth-year wideout was praised throughout the offseason, and some think he's poised to increase his playing time. With Johnson and Walter ahead of him as starters, Jones will need to continue to show improvement if he's to earn more opportunities.
Kubiak likes the influence that Johnson has had on Jones, the talented pass-catcher who led the Texans with 16.2 yards per catch in 2009.
"I think it helps a lot," Kubiak said. "You're looking at a very talented young man. If he just gets everything in line, he should play for a long time. There are a lot of great things in life that can happen for him, and there is not a better example to look at than Andre. A lot of players don't have those guys to look up to, so he better take advantage of it."