Here are five things to watch when the Texans (10-6 last season, 1st AFC South) take on the Minnesota Vikings (3-13, 4th NFC North) in their preseason finale at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is on Thursday at 6 p.m. CT.
1. QB battle: John Beck will start and play the first half against Minnesota. Case Keenum will play the second half. The sixth-year veteran and undrafted rookie from the University of Houston are competing for the Texans' third quarterback spot.
Beck, 31, has started seven games in his five-year NFL career. He signed with the Texans in May after two seasons in a similar offense with the Washington Redskins. He is 4-of-6 passing for 46 yards (89.6 rating) this preseason in his one appearance at Carolina.
Keenum, 24, is 3-of-6 for 53 yards (80.5 rating) this preseason. The NCAA's career passing leader has played in two games but only had a chance to throw three passes in both of them.
The Texans could opt to keep just two quarterbacks and put Keenum on the practice squad. It's unlikely they will keep Beck on the active roster and Keenum on the practice squad because in-season practice reps are too limited to give a third and fourth quarterback an ample amount of throws.
The Texans' decision will come down to not only how Beck and Keenum play on Thursday but whether Texans coach Gary Kubiak wants to keep an experienced veteran or a rookie with a potentially bright future.
2. Holliday's hopes: After returning a kick for a touchdown in the Texans' first two preseason games, Trindon Holliday fumbled twice last Saturday at New Orleans. He will get all of the Texans' return opportunities on Thursday as he tries to lock up a spot on the final 53-man roster.
The Texans have not kept a pure return specialist on the roster since 2007 with Jerome Mathis.
"I've been very pleased with what Trindon has done, but he can't turn the ball over," Kubiak said on Sunday. "Trindon's deal, first off, he can help this football team. With the way he's played this preseason, he should be very proud of his preseason and what he's done. The question is going to be, when we go and set this roster next week, we've got to look at the big picture. Is there a room for just a returner? That question is not going away. He's definitely doing everything he can to answer that question."
If the Texans don't keep Holliday, they have other return options in rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin and safeties Shiloh Keo and Danieal Manning. But Holliday (5-5, 169) has world-class speed and special return ability, as he showed with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at Carolina and an 87-yard punt return for a score against San Francisco. Holliday also had a 62-yard kickoff return at New Orleans, but that was sandwiched between a fumbled kickoff that the Saints returned for a touchdown and a muffed punt that Holliday recovered as he fell out of bounds.
Holliday may have shown enough already to make the team, but a solid, mistake-free performance on Thursday could go a long way in ensuring him of a roster spot.
3. DB decisions: One of the Texans' toughest cut areas will be at defensive back, both at the cornerback and safety positions.
The Texans had 11 defensive backs – seven cornerbacks and four safeties – in Week 1 of last season. They currently have 13 on the roster.
Beyond Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Brice McCain at cornerback, 2011 second-round pick Brandon Harris is probably the only other lock to make the team. That leaves veteran Alan Ball, special teams standout Sherrick McManis and 2011 fourth-round pick Roc Carmichael.
At safety, the Texans have four quality players competing behind Manning and Glover Quin in Troy Nolan, Quintin Demps, Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant. Nolan has been the Texans' top backup safety for the past two years. Demps had two interceptions last season after being cut and then re-signed midseason, prompting Wade Phillips to say the Texans should have never let him go. Keo was a 2011 fifth-round pick who can be a difference-maker on special teams. Pleasant is an undrafted rookie who the Texans almost drafted in the spring and who has impressed the coaches from day one.
4. 3 or 4 RBs?: Because undrafted rookie Jonathan Grimes has played so well this preseason, the Texans could keep four running backs on their 53-man roster.
It would be a major shock if Justin Forsett does not make the team as the Texans' third running back. The fifth-year veteran had an impressive training camp after signing from the Seattle Seahawks and has experience, a good understanding of the offensive system and excellent pass-catching, big-play and special teams ability.
Grimes, the all-time leader in rushing (4,541 yards) and all-purpose yards (7,955) at William & Mary, has 15 carries for 81 yards (5.4 average) and a touchdown this preseason. He also has four catches for 41 yards (10.3 average). The Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Year in 2011, he fits the Texans' zone scheme with his one-cut-and-go running style.
"Both of those guys, Forsett and Grimes, have played well for us, and they've both played well on special teams," Kubiak said on Tuesday. "Grimes has been playing a lot of special teams throughout the course of camp. Forsett did last week and showed up in New Orleans. They're two good football players, so it's a nice problem to have."
The Texans kept four running backs last year, but that was when Arian Foster suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason and missed two of the first three games. Foster and Ben Tate are both healthy now. If Grimes doesn't make the team, he could be an ideal candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.
5. Norris or not: Fullback Moran Norris will play the entire game on Thursday as the Texans evaluate whether or not to keep him on the roster. The 34-year-old Norris is the team's only fullback behind starter James Casey, a versatile player who also lines up at tight end and several other positions.
A 12th-year veteran and Houston native, Norris played with the Texans from 2002-05 before stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions. The Texans have always employed a traditional lead-blocking fullback like Norris (6-1, 255) under Kubiak, including Lawrence Vickers in 2011 and Vonta Leach from 2006-10.
"Moran is going to play in this game the whole game," Kubiak said. "It's a big game for him because we're trying to make a decision. Obviously, James is our starter and we're very pleased with how far James has come as a player. He's had an excellent preseason. We're trying to make a decision on Moran, if we think that he can help us. He's going to get that opportunity Thursday, so we'll see how he plays. He's played a lot in this league. It's been a little bit of a catch-up from what we do, so to speak, so I hope to find out some more on Thursday."
The Texans kept two fullbacks and three tight ends last year. Those numbers could be one fullback (Casey) and two tight ends (Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham) if they don't keep Norris. Undrafted rookies Phillip Supernaw and Logan Brock are also vying to make the team at tight end.