Much has been said and written about the Texans defense catching fire and finishing number one in the NFL in yards and points per game over the last nine outings of 2015. The immediate goal of 2016 is to start the season the way they finished the regular season last year.
When they take the field against the Bears on September 11 there will likely be several key differences from opening day last year.
1, Benardrick McKinney
He started his first game in week three of 2015 but didn't really get rolling until the win over Tennessee that began the big turnaround. The back half of his rookie season included some nice moments featuring a big sack in the first-ever win at Indy. If he makes the appointed 'year-one-to-year-two' improvement, it could be a special season for the linebacker.
2. Andre Hal
The 7-2 finish began with a game that had Hal and Quintin Demps both starting together for the first time. In his 11 starts, he had four picks, 10 passes defensed and a touchdown. And the team had an 8-3 record in those games (Okay, I know this is a correlation….but just sayin'). This is a player who is capable of big things in his third year overall and second as a safety.
3. The defensive end not named J.J.
Jared Crick started every game last season and he's in Denver now. So, who replaces him? It looks like it could be Christian Covington, who had as many sacks as Crick (2) or Devon Still, who is eager to fully focus on football now that his daughter is cancer free. Or it could be a player to be named later.
4. Jadeveon Clowney 22 months after Microfracture surgery
You sometimes forget all the hard work he did rehabbing from surgery just to get to the opening day starting line. You shouldn't. Yes it took until week seven to get his first sack. But once he did, he racked up four-and-a-half in eight games. Opposing offensive coordinators must account for him. If he's healthy, he'll be a force.
Bands need it. Couples need it and teams certainly do too. The trouble is, you don't just throw the ingredients together and expect everything to shine immediately. Maybe that works for couples but not bands and sports teams. Clearly, this group needed time to marinate. Once they did, they put up the top numbers in the NFL and will attempt to do the same when the season gets started.
ILB Benardrick McKinney's career as a Texan and Mississippi State Bulldog is profiled here in pictures.