People want nothing more than a bright shiny new toy. I mean, c'mon, who didn't want a brand new toy every time you went to the mall?
The new toys ALWAYS get more attention.
Well, the same applies, to a degree, for rookies. Everyone wants to see what the new guys bring to the organization. The unknown always piques interest, right? So, heading into training camp, here are the five new toy, errr, rookie storylines I'll be watching starting on Saturday.
5. A rookie starter?
I haven't done the crack research on all 32 teams, but I'd make an educated guess that of the 32 teams in the league at least half of them start a rookie on opening day. The Patriots started a rookie at center in 2014. The Texans started Jadeveon Clowney and C.J. Fiedorowicz in week one v. Washington. On paper, the Texans would appear to be in the "not going to have a rookie starter" in week one, but, again, that's on paper.
First rounder Kevin Johnson has two excellent vets in front of him. Benardrick McKinney is amongst a gaggle of inside linebackers competing for one of two spots.
Jaelen Strong might seemingly have the most opportunity given the remodeling at the receiver position. However, he didn't get to work out much during the spring (more on him later), so the rookie that truly opened eyes was Michigan State WR Keith Mumphery. In OTAs and minicamp, he got a ton of reps and grew seemingly more comfortable with those reps. That said, he's still a 5th round rookie and needs to make the team before becoming a starter. A rookie will emerge during training camp to start v. Kansas City but which one will it be?
Former Arizona State star Jaelen Strong returned to Houston, self-admittedly, in much better shape
than he was during OTAs and minicamp. In the spring, a few nagging injuries slowed him and limited him so he didn't get an opportunity to face the veteran defensive backs on this squad. During rookie minicamp, Strong and first rounder Kevin Johnson battled all weekend.
As such, how will Strong fare competing against Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and company? He was dominant in the Pac-12 against college defensive backs, but the cover corners in this camp will teach him a whole different textbook.
**3. Canadian Bacon
In June of 2014 as I was leafing through some football magazines at the grocery store, I stumbled on one that actually had a 2015 mock draft. Now, this was well before the 2014 season commenced, but this magazine had Rice DT Christian Covington going in the second round. I thought I was the only one paying attention to the former Canadian HS star but a kneecap injury sidelined him for nearly half of 2014. Covington still declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, but the injury kept him from fulfilling that magazine's 2nd round prediction.
The Texans saw him available in the 6th round and drafted the former Owl star. He's 100% and fully
recovered from the kneecap injury but, in my opinion, the question becomes where does he play? During OTAs and minicamp, he played more over the nose, but he can also play out at the 3-4 DE spot. His quickness was evident but now that the pads will go on in training camp, how does his quickness and strength translate and, most importantly, at what position? I'll definitely be watching No. 95 closely during training camp.
2. ...but you're saying there's a chance
Two undrafted players from the 2014 class made the final 53 man roster - OLB Jason Ankrah from Nebraska and TE/WR Anthony Denham from Utah. A.J Bouye and Justin Tuggle made the 2013 roster from the undrafted college free agent pool. Eddie Pleasant made the 53-man roster in 2012 after being undrafted. All in all, the Texans 53 man roster heading into the 2014 finale v. Jacksonville included 15 undrafted players.
And, of course, there's that Arian Foster guy who's pretty good.
I mention all of that because there's a better than 50% chance that one of these undrafted rookies, at a minimum, earns a roster spot coming out of camp. Could it be one WR/Returner Chandler Worthy out of Troy? What about either of the two safety candidates Corey Moore from Georgia or Michigan State's Kurtis Drummond? Which long, lean and stout linebacker has a chance - Norfolk State's Lynden Trail, Ole Miss Carlos Thompson or Oregon's Tony Washington? Could Arizona's Dan Pettinato impress with his relentless play at the point of attack?
Regardless of which player it is, one of these undrafted players will make the squad.
1. Inside or out
Kevin Johnson was drafted at No. 16 in the 2015 NFL Draft and the expectations are quite high.
However, with Kareem Jackson re-signed and Johnathan Joseph extended, there's no immediate need for Johnson to start day one. But, the Texans play a ton of three cornerbacks in their various defensive sub-packages. As such, Johnson is in a staunch competition for that third spot with Darryl Morris, who had an excellent spring, Jumal Rolle and A.J Bouye, who missed most of the spring rehabbing from an injury.
So, if Johnson does win that job, does he move inside to play the "nickel/slot" CB position that Kareem played in 2014 or does he stay on the outside while Kareem remains on the inside? Ultimately, Johnson strikes me a perimeter corner but he's a tough competitor who is up for any challenge. It's a good problem to have, if that's possible, but I'd imagine training camp will allow defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to experiment a bit with his charges to find the most advantageous fit and if/when Johnson fits into that picture.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.