With the Texans' preseason opener against the Chiefs less than 24 hours away, here are five key trends, themes and position battles to watch Saturday night when the Texans take the field in Kansas City:
- Stepping up for Reeves: In the absence of franchise cornerback Dunta Robinson, the Texans' secondary was already shorthanded when cornerback Jacques Reeves fractured his left leg during practice on Aug. 4. So with third-year player Fred Bennett the closest thing to a veteran among the Texans' cornerback ranks, rookies Brice McCain and Glover Quin will be relied upon heavily to shut down the Chiefs' aerial attack.
Head coach Gary Kubiak indicated on Thursday that McCain would be the starter at corner, but that he and Quin would share time throughout the first half. A sixth-round pick out of Utah, McCain has impressed during camp with his speed and ball-hawking ability. His ability to stay healthy has given him a slight edge so far over Quin, who has missed a handful of practice sessions due to a tweaked hamstring.
Behind Bennett, McCain and Quin, cornerbacks Matteral Richardson, David Pittman and Mark Parson also will see playing time against the Chiefs.
- Diles back at weakside 'backer: With Wednesday's news of linebacker Brian Cushing's left knee sprain, the picture at linebacker for the Texans' preseason opener immediately was shuffled. Zac Diles, who had been competing with Xavier Adibi for the starting position at weakside linebacker, was shifted over to Cushing's spot on the strong side. Diles and Adibi join middle linebacking stalwart DeMeco Ryans to round out the team's starting three for Saturday.
Kubiak has indicated that some of his younger first team players such as Adibi and Diles will get additional snaps in comparison to their fellow starters, so Saturday's game will provide an excellent opportunity for both linebackers. The chance to start should be particularly rewarding for Diles, who started eight games at the same strong sidelinebacker position that he will play Saturday before missing the remainder of the 2008 season with a broken leg.
With Diles shifting over to Cushing's position, linebackers Kevin Bentley, Buster Davis and Chaun Thompson also should have extra opportunities to make a strong impression against the Chiefs.
- Bush's debut: Most teams avoid showing too much of their playbooks during the preseason, but when the Texans face off against the Chiefs, their opponents already will be all too familiar with the defensive tendencies of new Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush.
That's because new Chiefs defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is a longtime mentor to Bush, who worked under Pendergast from 2004-06 with the Arizona Cardinals. Pendergast, who followed Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley to Kansas City when Haley took the Chiefs' top job in February, is still a close friend of Bush's, and Bush has said that he'll stick close to his vest in playcaling on Saturday. But he also added that he didn't expect to see a radically different defense on the other side of the field due to his strong familiarity with Pendergast.
Saturday's game also will mark the first time that Bush has called the shots as an NFL defensive coordinator after 19 seasons as an assistant coach in the league.
- Orlovsky and Grossman: Bush won't be the only Texan making a debut in a new job. Newly signed quarterback Dan Orlovsky will take his first snaps as a Texans player after singing a free agent deal with the team this offseason. Orlovsky is expected to play much of the second and third quarters, while quarterback Rex Grossman will man the helm of the Texans' offense during the fourth quarter.
After making the decision to deal backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels in the offseason, the Texans made signing Orlovsky a key priority during free agency. The fifth-year pro out of Connecticut gained significant experience with Detroit last season, starting seven games for the Lions. Grossman, meanwhile, brings Super Bowl experience to the Texans' roster. A starter for the Chicago Bears during Super Bowl XLI, Grossman signed on with the Texans just weeks before camp but has shown tremendous promise as he has adapted to the team's West Coast-style offense.
- Who will carry behind Slaton?: With Texans starters only expected to see 12-15 snaps on Saturday, the real action at running back will be courtesy of Chris Brown and Ryan Moats, who should see the lion's share of carries against the Chiefs. Brown was signed with high hopes before the 2008 season but missed the entire season with a back injury, while Moats signed on last season and turned in some impressive performances late in the year.
With undrafted free agent Arian Foster unlikely to play Saturday due to a leg injury, Brown and Moats will be the primary ballcarriers for the Texans against the Chiefs. Newly signed running back Andre Hall also is expected to see some time late.