When the Texans mini-camp concludes this week, we will enter the 'home stretch' of the offseason – that is, the last six weeks or so before training camp opens.
It's the players' last chance to spend significant quality time with family and friends or sneak in that last-minute vacation before the grind of preseason begins. For fans, it's the last stretch of desert sand to crawl across until we reach the oasis of the new season.
This is the time when fans start to look at the roster and do some mental math in terms of filling out the final roster of 53. The Texans' roster currently sits at a tad over 90 players if you include the NFL Europe exempt players.
That means by the time fantasy drafts are wrapping up on Sept. 1, there will be close to 40 players currently on the roster who can call themselves former Texans. Yes, it's a tough business.
Between now and then is six weeks of looking at the calendar before training camp and the preseason takes us through the August heat.
Aug. 28: Roster cutdown to 75 players.
Sept. 1: Roster cutdown to 53 players.
The Texans, like all NFL teams, can establish an eight (8) player practice squad.
The practice squad typically consists of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a practice squad:
- Players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and
- Free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s) So how do the Texans stack up? What can we expect to see happen between now and Aug. 31? Where are they deep and where are they not? I'm not going to try to predict the final 53 down to the last player, but I will throw some things out there so we can have something to talk about during the stretch.
Here's what the Texans took into Week 1 of the 2006 season:
5 WR, 9 OL, 4 TE, 2 QB, 4 RB, 1 FB
9 DL, 6 LB, 6 CB, 4 S
1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So let's play the game that the 2007 version of the Texans will be staffed in a similar fashion.
**Wide Receiver (5)
The first thing that catches most eyes about the Texans roster is the WR position. Much has been written, and rightfully so, about the need for the Texans to add a bona fide WR2 to the roster. Will Kevin Walter step up to that role this season? Who knows, maybe he will become the next Ed McCaffrey but if coach Kubiak wants to meet his goal of this roster being "hard to make," then there's a lot of work that needs to be done at the WR position.
Things weren't much better last season as the Texans went into Week 1 with Andre Johnson, Eric Moulds, Kevin Walter, Derrick Lewis, and Edell Shepherd as the 5 WRs. Of course a year ago, we thought Moulds was going to work out better than he did.
By Week 17 last season, Johnson, Moulds, and Walter remained on the 53 while David Anderson and Charlie Adams came off the practice squad and free agency to take the 4/5 spots.
Noticeably missing last year, except for a few games, and equally questionable this year, is Jerome Mathis. Whether Mathis can overcome his injury problems remains to be seen, but this is indeed a critical crossroads for him if he wants to continue his career as an NFL player.
Some are saying that Jacoby Jones can't be expected to make much noise in his first season, given his small college background, but when you spend a 3rd round pick on a WR, wherever he's from, then the expectations should be that he can be a viable #3 NFL receiver. I recall a 7th rounder out of Hofstra last year that made everyone turn their heads, so it can be done.
Free agent acquisition Andre' Davis has been relatively quiet this offseason. Hopefully he can adjust to the heat and make an impact.
Of course, by the time you read this, free agent Keenan McCardell could be a Texan.
McCardell is the oldest player in the league and his value is highly debatable. He's not going to win a Super Bowl here, in my opinion - and he's going to be hard pressed to get to the 1,000-reception milestone in his career - so it will come down to what's important to him, i.e., playing at home, winning a championship, padding his career stats, money, or some combination of the above. He's not going to catch 80 balls here this year if he signs - he'd be lucky to get 50. He was vocal about not being used more last year at San Diego while his team was on its way to 14-2.
But if the Smith's and McCardell's had dinner as reported, obviously there's interest on both sides. I just don't want to eat another Moulds-like contract next year.
**Offensive Line (9)
I don't think the Texans offensive line is as bad as what's been repeated and repeated and repeated by the talking heads who a) probably don't watch a lot of Texans games but yet, b) are still somehow able to make a living writing or talking about the NFL. How can I get a gig like that?
Kubiak and GM Rick Smith have drafted four offensive linemen and signed two more in free agency in their two seasons at the helm, so the depth is finally beginning to improve.
If the Texans keep 9 O-linemen as they did last year, then Pitts, Salaam, Black, Flanagan, McKinney, Weary, Winston, Spencer (if healthy) all most likely make the squad. Both Flanagan and McKinney are getting up there in years, as is Salaam, so it will be interesting to watch how rookies Kasey Studdard and Brandon Frye will fit into the mix. Undrafted rookie Enoka Lucas is strong and fiery and he should keep the interior guys on their toes.
Matt and Sage. Enough said.
**Running Back and Fullback (5)
Finally it seems as if running back is a deep position. Ahman Green, Ron Dayne and Vonta Leach should be locks if they remain healthy. If Chris Taylor can master double duty at RB and FB, it could spell trouble for Jameel Cook. Wali Lundy, Samkon Gado, and Darius Walker could be competing for one position if Taylor continues to emerge.
**Tight End (4)
Not much competition here. Owen Daniels should have a big year. Mark Bruener and Jeb Putzier should make the final 53 if healthy. I had to go back and look at who was the fourth TE to make the squad last year and it was Bennie Joppru. This could be a position where the Texans carry only three in order to gain a number somewhere else.
**Defensive Line (9)
If this isn't a strength of the Texans this year, fans have every right to be ornery. Early reports out of camp are that the coaching tandem of Jethro Franklin and Frank Bush are working wonders. Let's hope so. There's nothing more that I want to see than our DL making things difficult for Peyton Manning, Vince, and whoever Jacksonville puts back there.
I'm guessing that Anthony Weaver, Amobi Okoye, Mario Williams, ND Kalu, Anthony Maddox, Travis Johnson, Thomas Johnson, Jason Babin, and Jeff Zgonina will be the nine, although Alfred Malone and Earl Cochran have shown that they can play, so there will be some competition.
Next to wide receiver, this is the position I look at and still go "eh…"
Yeah, we have one of the best young linebackers in the league in the middle and we signed Danny Clark and Shawn Barber, but this is a unit still lacking in talent from top to bottom. Morlon Greenwood is quietly effective, Shantee Orr has his moments, and Charlie Anderson is athletic as all get out, but this isn't a dominating unit. Hopefully with that 'great' DL in front of them, they won't have to be dominating. Will Barber unseat Greenwood? Will rookies Zach Diles and Jon Abbate make an impact? They are both great stories and will be fun to follow through camp.
Rookie Fred Bennett was brought in to help a unit that could also benefit from improved defensive line play. Dunta Robinson and Petey Faggins are the starters. Jamar Fletcher will play some nickel, replacing Lewis Sanders. Then it's a numbers game for the last two spots between Roc Alexander, Von Hutchins, Dexter McCleon, and Dexter Wynn. Don't be surprised to see a corner or two moved to safety to shore up a weakness in numbers at that position. This is not a deep enough unit to rule out another free agent signing during roster cutdowns in August.
Glenn Earl, C.C. Brown, Jason Simmons and rookie Brandon Harrison should be the four, but we'll have to see how the competition shakes out from some of the CBs turned safety.
Kris Brown, Chad Stanley and Bryan Pittman appear to be on track to return. Free agent punter Eric Wilbur from Florida has a strong leg and could push Stanley, especially if he can master the inside-the-20 game.
You can email Alan Burge at: firstname.lastname@example.org