Bill O’Brien likes to say that an NFL team is different each year. Which, if you think about it, is on the money considering personnel, coaching changes and injuries. And in the case of the Texans they’ll be going with their fifth different opening day starting quarterback in five years. Yet there’s plenty of carryover from three-consecutive winning seasons to help Houston build on last year’s run.
O’Brien knows he has an excellent defense coming back. Despite what’s written by most media, defense has been his calling card as an NFL coach. His three teams have three of the four best points-allowed totals in the history of the franchise. And they’ve all won.
It’s on offense where he wants to make the biggest leap in improvement. Last year’s squad gave him his best overall season, reaching the divisional round, despite scoring close to 100 fewer points than his 2014 team.
Think about what that many points would have meant in ’16, spread out over the course of the season. Now, a lot goes into that. Like the 2014 team forcing a gazillion turnovers, creating excellent scoring opportunities and, oh yeah, scoring on defense. But you get my drift.
Now that minicamp is over, it’s safe to say this is the most raw quarterback talent O’Brien has had to work with. Tom Savage has looked sharp. Brandon Weeden still throws one of the prettiest balls in the business and has proven to be a benefit off the bench. And Deshaun Watson clearly progressed throughout offseason practices, showing he could be on the fast track to success.
The media is going to fan the flames of a ‘quarterback competition’ between Savage and Watson, as expected. It’s the starter, Savage who has the experience, and the coaches who have all the pertinent info on how things are really going as far as understanding the system, handling pre-snap life on the line of scrimmage and executing properly. But you certainly have all layers of the depth chart moving in the right direction.
It’s encouraging to see some of the second-year players, like Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Stephen Anderson and Tyler Ervin look more polished. And don’t count out Wendell Williams who turned a few heads this spring. Ervin could be an interesting threat out of the backfield as a pass catcher and occasional runner.
We all know that Lamar Miller did a ton of hard work at running back in ‘16. D’Onta Foreman should be a big help, but we’ll have to wait until the pads go on to see more. It’s safe to say that in gym-shorts practices he at least looks like he belongs.
Let’s not get too bogged down in offensive line talk until they can actually block people. The sight of the spring is David Quessenberry picking right up where he left off, pre-cancer, as an intriguing prospect. Kendall Lamm is getting a long look to gauge how he might deal with playing time at right tackle. And if you didn’t know better, you might think center Nick Martin is a multi-year vet with a boatload of experience. But he’s still longing for his first regular season snap.
On defense, John Harris and I talked on the air about how easy it is to take J.J. Watt for granted. He’s back, and then some. The coaches noticed right away how many passes he was knocking down. He can’t sack anyone in May and June but he can certainly utilize the bat-down part of his arsenal. Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt in the same front, even at spring practice, is a sight to behold.
Yes this unit lost some key contributors from last season. But there are plenty of players waiting in the wings for their shot. And the addition of Watt being back in the line up will make opposing offensive coordinators work overtime on how to protect their quarterbacks.
This is just a step. Nine weeks of conditioning and practices are finished. When the team checks into the Greenbrier, they’ll have six weeks to get ready for Jacksonville and a lot can and will happen. But the Texans are on the right track to get better in 2017.