Coming off a game where he led his team in receptions and yards, wide receiver Jacoby Jones is looking for another big night Saturday in Arizona.
With the Texans' preseason road opener just a day away, here are five key players, position battles and things to watch for in Saturday's preseason game versus the Arizona Cardinals.
Danny is driven: Veteran linebacker Danny Clark will see his first start as a Texan against Arizona, playing at first-team outside linebacker in place of Charlie Anderson. The Texans signed Clark to a free agent deal this offseason after he appeared in 16 games in a reserve role with the New Orleans Saints.
Clark, however, does boast significant starting experience, most notably in 2004 and 2005 in Oakland. Clark started all but one game during his two seasons with the Raiders, but he was released by Oakland after the 2005 season. Being cut by the Raiders still motivates Clark today.
"The toughest part was getting released out of Oakland when I'm the team captain, lead the team in tackles two years in a row, huge in the community, huge in the organization," Clark said. "I put my heart on the line for that organization and it didn't work out."
Clark learned from the experience that he has to work relentlessly to improve his game and do whatever is asked of him on the football field.
"At the end of the day, I can't get comfortable," Clark said. "I've got to fight for what I want."
Clark has looked like a man on a mission during training camp and has used every opportunity working with the second team and special teams unit to impress the coaching staff. Texans coach Gary Kubiak singled out Clark's special teams play during the preseason opener against Chicago, and the eighth-year pro out of Illinois will get his chance Saturday to do show what he can do as a starter.
Fighting for seconds: Although Kubiak announced at the beginning of training camp that wide receiver Kevin Walter was his starter at the second receiver position, the play of wide receiver Jacoby Jones has the young rookie right on Walter's heels for starting time at wideout.
While Walter struggled in the last preseason game, dropping a first down pass on quarterback Matt Schaub's first throw as a Texan and just missing on a potential touchdown reception the following series, Jones led the team in receptions against the Bears.
Even through one preseason game and a few weeks of training camp, Kubiak has begun to take notice of what the 6-2 rookie out of tiny Lane College brings to his offense.
"Coming from a small school, wondering how much information he could take and put in to use was the biggest question (for us)," Kubiak said. "That's been pretty easy for him. Other than the few occasional drops - which if he gets over those, the sky is the limit - he surprised us all. He was a tremendous draft choice and we're very fortunate to get him."
Kubiak announced late in the week that Jones already had been working out with the first-team offense in certain personnel packages, so expect him to see the field early Saturday.
Also, keep an eye out for wide receiver Andre' Davis, who had two catches for 17 yards against Chicago. Davis battled slight injuries during the early portions of training camp but looked good when healthy. Now appearing to be injury-free, he should be primed for a big game in Arizona.
Come see Mr. Z: While leading his Boise State team last January, quarterback Jared Zabransky was tremendously successful in his only other appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The stadium was the site of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, where he led his Broncos to a highlight-reel comeback victory over a heavily favored Oklahoma team. Zabranksky hopes to have similar success Saturday, when he will play in his first NFL game on the same field where his college career ended.
Kubiak announced that Zabransky will play all of the fourth quarter Saturday and he is anticipating the young quarterback's debut.
"I'm excited to see him get out there," Kubiak said Thursday. "He did some good things in practice yesterday, and today. He'll be probably pretty nervous, but it's a good opportunity for us to take a look at him."
Zabransky seems to have the leg up on fellow quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt in the competition for the third quarterback spot. Zabransky is still eligible for the practice squad, while Van Pelt's two years of NFL service have made him ineligible. Kubiak has historically favored keeping his third signal-caller on the practice squad, so that factor puts the rookie Zabransky at an advantage.
Coupled with Van Pelt's preseason opener, where his only completion in seven attempts came from a deflected pass he caught himself, Zabransky seemingly is in good position to make a statement on the field in Glendale – again.
Shuffled secondary: With the loss of defensive backs Glenn Earl and Jason Horton to season-ending injuries, the Texans were forced this week to scramble in order to piece together a new plan for their secondary. Safety Jason Simmons will get the start in Earl's spot at strong safety, while C.C. Brown will play free safety. Although Kubiak had other options, he felt that Simmons deserved the first crack at the job.
"We just moved Jason (Simmons) up and we're going to give Jason the opportunity," Kubiak said. "Jason played well the other night, so that's the way we're going to work, but we are also going to move around a little bit. (There has been) a little experimentation, but I think Jason deserves the opportunity to start, so we'll see."
Defensive back Von Hutchins recorded an interception against the Bears and was mentioned by some as a replacement for Earl, but he should continue to play in a reserve role on Saturday, primarily at cornerback but possibly for a short time at safety as well.
Also, be on the lookout for newly signed cornerback Tyrone Poole, who was dressed and practicing on Thursday and Friday. Poole has been with the team for only a short time, but he is a proven winner who has a good grasp of general coverage schemes and defenses. He has spent extra time after each of his practices working with defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, and he expects to see some playing time if he gets up to speed with the Texans' defensive playbook in time for Saturday.
Third RB needs to be special: With each of the team's 53 final active roster spots crucially valuable to the team's success, many players on the margin of making the team must impress on special teams to show coaches that they belong. With a crowded backfield, the Texans' running backs vying for the third spot will need to show something special on special teams Saturday, Kubiak said.
"There's absolutely no doubt about that," Kubiak said. "I was disappointed (last Saturday) the way some of our third backs ran. I thought there was more room on the field than we were getting and I told them that. Between Samkon (Gado), Wali (Lundy) and Darius (Walker), somebody has to step up and do something special."
One backfield member who has shined in a special teams role is fullback Patrick Pass. A major special teams contributor on three Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots teams, Pass had a tackle on the opening kickoff of the Chicago game and has impressed Kubiak in practice – so much so that he will see some time with the first-team offense Saturday.
"When you look at a guy like that, he can go back there if something happens in your backfield," Kubiak said. "His opportunity to make this team is as a fullback and as a special teams player."