After months of waiting his turn, quarterback Jared Zabransky finally gets his chance to shine against Tampa Bay.
On the eve of the Texans' preseason finale, here are five key players, position battles and things to watch for in Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Schaub back on the bench: Quarterback Matt Schaub will not see the field in the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and, for the first time in his NFL career, it's not because he's a backup quarterback. In a twist for Schaub, he will stay on the sidelines because his coaches are saving him for his first regular season game as a starter. Backup Sage Rosenfels will get the nod as starter against the Bucs, but will be limited as well.
"I don't think you'll see Sage play that long," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think you'll see Sage play a couple of series, a quarter at the most. I want to look at (Jared) Zabransky and see if he has a future with our football team."
Time to shine in the sunshine state:Jared Zabransky finally will get extensive playing time after receiving limited opportunities throughout training camp and the first three preseason games. If there was ever a chance for the undrafted rookie from Boise State to show his stuff, this is it.
"I'm excited about it," Zabransky said. "I'm ready for a good chance to go out and show what I can do. If you're a three or a four (on the depth chart) in training camp, you've got to take advantage of what you're able to do physically. And then mentally, when you're not in, you've got to take your mental reps, too. You've got to be ready when your number's called."
This game could prove to be instrumental in determining Zabransky's future with the team.
"That's the only way you find out about guys like this, giving them an opportunity," Kubiak said. "He's going to have to go in there against a good defensive football team, a Monte Kiffin defense, a visiting stadium. I'm interested to see how he handles himself. Our decision is simple. Do we think he has a chance some day to be a player in this league? If he does, we have to find a way to keep him on this football team."
Reserves full speed ahead: Zabransky won't be the only player getting a boost in playing time as the Texans prepare for the regular season opener against Kansas City.
"There is probably a good chance that some of (the starters), if they go, they're not going to go very long," Kubiak said. "We're going to play a lot of young guys in this game. They know they're fixing to get to play probably more than they've played the whole preseason. They've been good. They've worked well. We need to work and get a chance to look at the some of these tough decisions we have to make."
Wide receiver shuffle:Some of those tough decisions will involve the Texans' wide receivers. The Texans currently have eight on roster. Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are locks to make the team, and Kubiak recently noted the ability of Jerome Mathis to return and cover kicks on special teams, so he also seems likely to secure a spot on the final roster. That would leave one or two roster spots for receivers Bethel Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Andre' Davis and David Anderson as the Texans will cut back to either five or six receivers in the coming days.
"We're going to look at those guys extremely hard in this game," Kubiak said. "They're going to all play a lot. That includes Keenan, getting a big look at him, especially throughout the first half. We have some very difficult decisions. Bethel is going to return kicks. We're going to do everything we can to let those guys sort that out themselves, but that will be a difficult decision."
Doomsday Friday: After trimming the roster to 75 this week, Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have 22 more players to remove from the roster by Saturday. The Tampa Bay game will provide them with the final bits of information they need in the decision-making process.
"We don't have to do it until Saturday, but we feel pretty good about our evaluations process thus far," Smith said. "We want to get it done on Friday because that gives us a head start to prepare for Kansas City.
"All the way across the board on our football team, we have some tough decisions to make. The thing that we're trying to do is put the best 53 guys on the final roster however that's configured, whether it's four tight ends or three tight ends or five receivers or six receivers. We'll make those decisions after this game on Thursday."