Top Position Battles to Watch in Houston Texans Training Camp
The Houston Texans are an extremely talented team, and most of their positions are filled effectively by very skilled players.
The roster, however, is not perfect, and every position does not have a clear starter. There will be several important position battles occurring in the Texans' training camp, and players will have to prove they have what it takes to earn the job they believe they should have.
Here are the top position battles to watch for in the upcoming training camp, as well as in the preseason.
The Third and Final Starting Wide Receiver Job
DeVier Posey vs. Keshawn Martin vs. Lestar Jean
The Houston Texans ended the 2011 season with one gaping hole that needed to be fixed: the wide receiver position. Now, as the 2012 season begins to approach, there are a number of young receivers competing to fill that hole.
DeVier Posey was the Texans' third round selection, and is expected by many to claim the third starting position in the receiving corps. Posey was an elite receiver at Ohio State during his sophomore and junior seasons, totaling 1,676 yards and 15 touchdowns. Posey, however, was suspended for much of his senior season, and when he eventually returned he did not look like the player he used to be. One flaw that was evident in his whole college career, but especially prevalent in the few games of his senior season, was the fact that he struggled against the press.
Now, instead of facing college cornerbacks, he will be lined up against notably harder competition in the NFL, and the press at the line of scrimmage will be much harder to break. Posey will need to improve his skills significantly in the offseason if he wants to have success versus the much higher-quality NFL corners.
Keshawn Martin was selected in the fourth round to bring quality depth to the Texans' receiving core. However, Martin may play more of a special teams role this season, as he is not quite yet an able NFL receiver.
Martin struggles with catching the ball when defenders are playing him tightly, and his pass-catching ability is nearly void when he sees a defensive back ready to deliver a big hit on him. Sure, Martin is an explosive player who can change the outcome of a game on one play, but he will most likely be confined to doing that in the return game this season.
This leaves Lestar Jean, the only player who poses any threat at all to Posey's claim to the starting job. Jean was an undrafted free agent last season out of Florida Atlantic, and he was solely brought in to provide competition to other Texans wide receivers who had much better chances of making the roster.
Jean, however, went on to prove that he could become much more in the NFL than a player scrapping it out for a roster spot. He impressed nearly everyone at the Texans' training camp, and he was virtually uncoverable. He used his size to his advantage and beat out smaller cornerbacks to the ball nearly every single time.
Jean went on to make two big 20 yard catches in the team's first preseason game versus the New York Jets. Unfortunately, just when his potential seemed to be shining the brightest, Jean suffered a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Jean, now fully healthy, will get an equal chance to compete for the team's last starting receiver position, and has been described by Gary Kubiak as the first-option for the position.
Winner: Lestar Jean
Starting Nose Tackle
Shaun Cody vs. Earl Mitchell
The Houston Texans entered the offseason with one need in the defenses front-seven, a big, strong nose tackle. Due to salary cap problems, the Texans could not address the need in free agency, and they also chose not to fill the need in the draft.
This leaves the Texans with the same options they had last season: Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. The two nose tackles were both noticeably undersized for their position, even though it has been noted that Wade Phillips does not mind utilizing smaller, quicker nose tackles.
Cody was the starter for the Texans at the nose position all of last season, and while he did not impress, he certainly did not disappoint. Yes, he is an extremely small player for his position, but he did not hinder the Texans from becoming the fourth best rush defense in the NFL.
Mitchell, however, has dedicated himself this offseason to becoming a much more effective player for the Texans, and possibly earn the starting job. He added 21 pounds in the offseason, mostly all muscle, and has grown from 287 pounds to 308 pounds.
Mitchell was a solid player for the Texans last season, always performing when he was called upon to do so. He utilized his quickness, getting around offensive linemen and disturbing the opposing team's rushing attack. Now, with an extra 21 pounds in muscle, Mitchell has gained a significant amount of strength while retaining his same quickness that led him to success last season.
Winner: Earl Mitchell
Starting Right Guard
Antoine Caldwell vs. Brandon Brooks
One of the several free agency losses that struck the Houston Texans this offseason was right guard Mike Brisiel leaving the team for the Oakland Raiders. Immediately after Brisiel left, Caldwell was proclaimed his replacement, and for good reason.
Truthfully, Caldwell has had the skill and athleticism to take the starting job away from Brisiel years ago. He is simply the better offensive lineman when he plays to his full potential. The problem with Caldwell is that he has never been able to do that for extended periods of time.
Caldwell has been hampered by injuries throughout his short career, which actually prevented him from winning the starting job from Brisiel last offseason in a close competition. When Caldwell does start, he is so inconsistent that it is nearly impossible to distinguish how good of a player he is.
Sometimes, he appear to be an incredible player, and other times, he looks like he needs to greatly improve his skills to become an every-down player in the NFL. There is great hope for Caldwell, however, if he can put his past behind him and show just how talented of an offensive lineman he really is.
The Texans selected Brandon Brooks in the third round of the draft to fill depth on a depleted offensive line, but to also push Caldwell for the starting right guard job in training camp and the preseason.
Brooks is a massive freak-of-nature, who is set to become to largest player on the Texans' roster. 6'5" and 343 pounds, he is not only huge but surprisingly quick. He uses his size and strength to dominate his opponents at the point of attack, and he uses his speed to get blocks in the second level. He definitely has the skill-set to become a starter on one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Brooks, however, may be best suited to sit for a season and become acclimated with the complex zone blocking scheme that the Texans utilize. It would be much better for Brooks if he is not rushed into the much tougher NFL, especially since there is no reason for him to, and take a year to become accustomed with the intricacies of the Texans' offense. Of course he should receive valuable playing time as a primary backup, but it will be better for him and the Texans if Caldwell is named the starter at right guard.
Winner: Antoine Caldwell
Starting Middle Linebacker
Bradie James vs. Darryl Sharpton
When Demeco Ryans was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, the Texans lost a Pro Bowl linebacker, and perhaps even more important, a true leader.
Ryans was the heart and soul of the Texans' defense, and despite his struggles in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, his value in the leadership category cannot be replaced, despite how well any of the players selected to replace him perform.
However, the Texans must find a new starter, and the two main candidates for the job are Darryl Sharpton, a young player with a lot of potential, and Bradie James, a veteran linebacker who excelled in Phillips' defensive scheme in Dallas.
Sharpton was actually outplaying Ryans last season before he was placed on the injury reserve with a torn quad tendon. He was playing more snaps than Ryans, and it seemed that he transitioned much better than Ryans did to the 3-4 defensive scheme.
Sharpton was a solid tackle, always wrapping up the ball-carriers, and was very stout against the run. He proved that he has what it takes to be an NFL starter during his limited season last year.
While Sharpton would be a great choice to replace Ryans, Bradie James might be an even better one. The veteran departed from the Cowboys last season as the sixth leading tackler in franchise history, and he managed to lead the team in tackles for six straight seasons. James, however, became an afterthought to new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, and he lost his opportunity to become the franchise's all-time leading tackler.
One of the main components of James' success in Dallas was his ability to play extremely well in Wade Phillips' defensive scheme. His skills and abilities are perfectly suited to play in the 3-4 defense, and Phillips is hoping that James will excel in it in Houston, too.
Also, James was the unchallenged leader of the Cowboys' defense, and it may be possible for him to play that role in Houston as well. While it is true that James in joining a new team, and it is very possible that the Texans will not allow him to be a leader right away, great play speaks for itself.
If James can pick up where he left off in Dallas, he can earn the respect of the Texans' defense, and hopefully begin to repair the hole left by DeMeco Ryans in the leadership category.
Winner: Bradie James
Backup Tight End
James Casey vs. Garrett Graham
When Joel Dreessen left in free agency, it seemed that Garrett Graham was going to get his opportunity to prove his worth in the NFL. The Texans use the most two tight end sets out of any team in the league, and Graham would receive plenty of playing time as the backup tight end to Owen Daniels.
Head Coach Gary Kubiak, however, may have extinguished Graham's hope of moving depth chart this past week when he announced that James Casey would most likely be the team's starting fullback and the team's backup tight end in double tight end formations.
This is great news for Casey, as he will be able to showcase the threat he poses as a receiver even more than last year. He will get to be a receiving option on nearly every passing attempt, and he will also get to fulfill his love of being a lead blocker out of the fullback position.
As for Graham, he will have to fight desperately to claim the job that he once thought was all but his. If he excels in training camp and the preseason, he could certainly earn the backup job, but he will be faced with stiff competition.
Casey made several jaw-dropping catches as a fullback last season, including this incredible one versus the Saints. Casey is an extremely apt pass-catcher, and it is unlikely that he will lost the backup tight end role after Kubiak's endorsement.
Winner: James Casey
Third-String Running Back
Jonathan Grimes vs. Davin Meggett
If last season's third-string running back, Derrick Ward, chooses not to resign with the Texans, then the team will be hard-pressed to find a capable third-string ball-carrier. Javarris Williams is the only other back on the Texans' roster other than Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and one would think his experience would earn him the starting job.
Williams, however, has only played in four games in his three year career, and he has a total of six carries for six yards. He will probably be cut when the Texans narrow down their roster to 53 players.
This leaves the Texans with two other running backs on their current roster; Jonathan Grimes and Davin Meggett.
Grimes is a workhorse who has a never-ending motor. He will fight for every yard possible, and he has the speed to break out big-runs. He is a north-south runner who is the all-time leading rusher in FCS history.
Grimes can also produce as a receiver coming out of the backfield, and he has the ability to become a returner in the NFL.
Davin Meggett is the opposite of Grimes. He is a power-back who's purpose is to punish opposing defenders, and he can finish off runs effectively. However, Grimes Meggett has several issues that will likely keep him from beating out Grimes for the final roster spot. He is slow, not a receiving threat, a poorly skilled blocker, but perhaps most importantly, he lacks good vision.
Vision is one of the most important qualities a running back can have in the Texans' zone blocking scheme, and Meggett's lack of it will enable Grimes to take the third and final spot on the Texans' roster as a running back.
Winner: Jonathan Grimes