There isn't a Texans fan on the planet that can't recite the most important players on this team. It's not as if the Texans lack for star power when guys like JJ Watt, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, Vince Wilfork and others parade out onto the practice field in a week or so.
But, the success of every team, no matter the level, rests on the shoulders of the ones you don't know. The ones that don't get a ton of acclaim, but wins aren't possible without them. Sometimes it's not even an individual, perhaps it's a group of players. Every team has what I label as X-factors that help determine the outcome of a season.
A perfect example of an X-factor was former Texans NT Ryan Pickett. He was signed in late September of 2014 to give immediate assistance to the interior run defense. It was extremely difficult to project how "Big Grease" could impact the defense. But, from his first snap of the season against Buffalo through the end of the season, Pickett was the rock in the middle of the run defense.
So, who or what will be the X factors in the 2015 season? Here are my top five X factors heading into training camp.
5. Sub-package RUN defense
The use of sub-packages is to quell throwing offenses, right? Well, yeah, that's why five, six or even seven defensive backs are on the field. But, early in last season, teams took advantage of the Texans' sub-package run defense and exploited some run fits in those packages. As the year wore on, the Texans were much better on third down v. both pass and run. Not many teams succeeded running the ball against either base or sub-package units later in the year and the results were in the Ws down the stretch. This will be a key again as the Texans continue to thrive with multiple sub-package looks on the field.
4. WR Cecil Shorts/WR Nate Washington
The two free agent wide receiver signees will get a ton of attention, I'd imagine during training camp, so I feel a little awkward mentioning them. But, to me it's more how they'll be used or how they can be used that has me intrigued. During OTAs and minicamp, Washington showed he still has some juice in his legs and can get to any spot on the field, especially deep down field. If he's able to take the top off the secondary downfield, that's a massive plus in this offense. Shorts, on the other hand, could line up at a number of different spots which could ultimately open up some advantageous matchups for him all over the field.
3. DE Jeoffrey Pagan
We all know Watt and most people grew to appreciate Jared Crick last year, as well. The one player that quietly earned more and more snaps as the year wore on was the former Alabama product. Now as a second year player at 3-4 DE, he has something that neither Watt nor Crick possess - size. His ability to play head up on a tackle and hold his ground at that DE position is a key in the run defense. As such, he could truly play a key role on 1st and 2nd down as the season progresses.
2. OLB John Simon
The former Buckeye DE was a favorite of mine when he played at Ohio State and that hasn't changed in the slightest. He arrived on a Tuesday morning at 3 am less than 72 hours before playing Indianapolis on Thursday night last year and found a way to impact that, and many other games the rest of the season. But, an ankle injury slowed a bit during the season, yet he powered through the 2014 campaign on special teams and at OLB/DE. Regardless of Jadeveon Clowney's health, Simon is a definite key heading into the season at OLB. Whether it's on defense or on the core for special teams, Simon's impact will be felt in 2015.
1. C Ben Jones/LG Xavier Su'a-Filo
When the Texans waived Chris Myers this off-season, it created a domino effect on the offensive line. Jones prepped to move three feet to his right, while the player known as X to his teammates prepared for a move into the starting front five. Many people have talked about this transition in the off-season but to me, the important aspect is how this configuration aids the Texans' overall offensive paradigm. Ben's strength at the point of attack, combined with Xavier's desire to mash in the run game, could really open up the run game playbook going forward. Many fans' eyes will be focused on the middle of the OL during training camp with the hope that they won't hear much from them in 2015. And, for OL, silence is a good thing.
Take a look at the top 100 photos from Houston Texans OTAs and minicamps.