Last week, I wrote about some big priorities in training camp. Today we delve a little deeper into some important items on the agenda.
What?! You missed last week's column? Let's review…
The obvious priority is health. Don't think that rest for veterans, players coming off of injuries and how, in general, the Texans can keep guys upright isn't a huge topic of conversation for Bill O'Brien and his staff. But saying the Texans need to stay healthy is like saying they need to outscore their opponents. We know this.
Then it's about the offensive line. Coaches always say they won't know what they have until they "get the guys in pads." Well, here we go. It's time to put the best starting five together. Continuity is king on the O-Line. So, the sooner the better.
And the secondary has a lot of options with versatile players filling the roles. Even without Andre Hal, the Texans have good talent at safety. And the coaches want to test the depth at corner to see what they have behind Johnathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson and Aaron Colvin, as Kareem Jackson moves to safety.
Now the rest…
Find out who the best and most reliable four tight ends are:
As you may recall, last season, the Texans faced playing a Week 2 game with zero tight ends. They ended up elevating Evan Baylis, but he barely saw the field (oh, they won anyway, by the way). Two players were drafted to a position group that may only see three members on the 53-man roster.
Ryan Griffin is back after a concussion-shortened season. Two years ago, he had an eye-opening 50-reception season. He can be very good but he has to remain on the field in order to produce. Stephen Anderson has good receiving skills and will fight off challenges from rookies Jordan Aikens and Jordan Thomas. If the Texans keep four tight ends, this is your likely group. But there's a second layer of participants who want to crash the party including MyCole Pruit, who played in one game last season, and Matt Lengel, a big presence who spent time with the Browns and Patriots.
Determine exactly what the playmaking depth is at running back:
Lamar Miller is reliable and effective but Houston also needs the added firepower of D'Onta Foreman, who made some excellent plays in '17 and is trying to come back from an Achilles injury. Alfred Blue returns with his special teams prowess and ability to give the team a lift in a spot start or off the bench. Troymaine Pope has caught the eye of the staff. We'll see where Tyler Ervin is in his return from injury as well. You get the idea. A lot of potential here but much healing needs to be 100 percent complete before you can definitively see the entire picture. Rookies Terry Swanson and Lavon Coleman will be watched closely.
Preparing for the new kickoff rule as special teams gets upgraded:
Everyone wants to see how the rule will play out in game action. And the teams that have their act together might get some bonus yards in early games while the rest play catch-up. Intrasquad activity is hardly the place to see what you're really made of in kick and punt return and coverage units. Camp is yet another big step in being ready. Plus, the Texans need a leap in production in many areas of 'teams' anyway. [Side note: Watching NFL squads practice special teams is like watching NBA teams practice free throws. It's not a lot of fun but it's crucial stuff.]
Don't start hyperventilating that I didn't bring up wide receivers, d-line, linebackers and, of course, quarterbacks. We'll be talking about them plenty as camp begins Thursday. In fact, general manager Brian Gaine will join us live on Texans Radio on many of our morning practice shows (8-10 a.m., weekdays, Sports Radio 610). I'll talk to you from the Greenbrier.
Check out photos of the 2018 NFL Play 60 Character Camp hosted at the Houston Methodist Training Center.