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Houston Texans: 5 Rookies to Watch in Training Camp

Ryan HuffContributor IIIMay 21, 2012

Houston Texans: 5 Rookies to Watch in Training Camp

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     With the Texans’ OTAs beginning today, it’s time to start preparing for the team’s 2012 training camp.

    The Texans have a number of potential breakout players from their new crop of rookies, many of whom will engage in battles for position against veteran players. What’s more, the Texans have been actively reconfiguring their depth on both sides of the ball in order to replace big names that are now absent (e.g. DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams) and continue forging a solid foundation in their schemes.

    Such a position—along with the performance last season that led the team to the playoffs—means the rookies can easily find themselves in the mix of veterans come game time. Among this group are five that stand out among the rest for various reasons, be it a battle for position, their collegiate performance or their readiness as professionals.

    The following are those five Texans rookies and the reasons they’re worth paying extra attention to at training camp.

Keshawn Martin

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    Of the receivers drafted by the Texans, Keshawn Martin looks to be the most versatile.

    He possesses not only quickness and the ability to manipulate and vary his speed to remain flexible—a flexibility that can press defenders back or allow him to outrun them. Martin also displays amazing footwork that not only allow him to elude defenders, but to move forward as well.

    There is concern, though, that his size and blocking ability won’t be a good fit for a starting slot receiver role—a position his speed and agility seem best suited for. Nevertheless, Martin—unlike the other rookie receivers—is likely to see immediate playing time as a punt returner, so we’ll definitely get to watch the rookie in action.

    Martin’s time at training camp will prove more about his abilities as a receiver and how the Texans might place him in the depth they’ve added since signing these rookies. The amount of offensive playing time he sees his first year will be proportional to the promise he shows as a route runner at the camp.

    What we see from Martin—the light, quick receiver—may also tell us a thing or two about the Texans’ offensive plans for the next few years.

Case Keenum

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    Yes, I’ve made the argument before: Case Keenum could have a strong showing early on as a professional.

    With Matt Schaub likely to sit out and T.J. Yates running most of the plays during training camp, this will be the time for the drag race between Keenum and veteran quarterback John Beck.

    Keenum’s physical stats and performance stats almost seem to be about different players. Scouts and critics worry that Keenum’s size—6’ and 208 lbs.—depreciate his stock. There’s also the fact that his success came from the shotgun in a quick-running spread offense, which no doubt boosted his stats quickly.

    Nevertheless, Keenum’s success is still present and looming overhead at training camp. There’s no denying that Keenum made throws and broke records, or that the University of Houston’s success that nearly blindsided us all owes much to Keenum’s abilities.

    In the end, Keenum, the same guy who impressed us greatly as a player, disappointed during the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine as a prospect. He’s been given the chance to show us how he can perform despite the odds, and his training camp performance will be a good indicator of his future on the Texans as a professional quarterback.

Dwight Jones

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    Dwight Jones called himself the “next Andre Johnson,” and the greater NFL community shook their heads and muttered, “Oh, hell.”

    And so we all got a glimpse of that thing that makes Jones a wild card—the proportionality of his confidence to his work ethic.

    Still, the guy can be a good player. He’s got just enough speed and good size to get past or over backs, and can overcome the faster corners with his jumping and natural catching ability. For what it’s worth, he saw great success in 2010 receiving passes from then-UNC quarterback T.J. Yates, who will be throwing the passes at training camp for the Texans this year. What’s good for Jones may also be good for Yates, who will also be looking to find his footing during camp.

    But Jones has made more news lately with his ability to throw parties and not be drafted. Granted, these have little to do with his potential—it just doesn’t help him much. Time at training camp will show what work ethic he brings to the NFL and how he’s willing to learn from Andre Johnson and the rest of the Texans.

    On a more practical level, Jones will have to show his ability to use his size and speed as a professional player. He’ll likely be expected to gain weight, so he’ll need to show he can maintain or improve his athleticism while doing so.

    I’m still more interested in seeing his work ethic at camp, though, which will likely make or break his professional career. If things go his way, he’ll be a player to watch in 2012 and 2013.

DeVier Posey

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    DeVier Posey is a big threat as a receiver. He has all the necessities; he can get open, make the catch and make the play. He’s also shown great instincts to match his abilities, as shown by highlight plays like this. When not making highlight reels, Posey is an exceptional route runner and has the agility to stick and cut defenders convincingly enough to make gains.

    Moreover, Posey was able to outperform his teammates in the three games he played after his 2011 suspension, which speaks to his work ethic and longevity if nothing else.

    The big concern comes with Posey’s ability to stay focused when running across the middle. Though he displays confidence on the outside, Posey almost seems too conscious of safeties and, as a result, he submits his routes to their coverage.

    The sum of this all will be found at training camp, where Posey will begin fighting for the spot as No. 3 receiver behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. However, Lestar Jean—last year’s rookie who went down with a knee injury during the preseason—promises to make a strong run for the same place.

    It will be interesting to see what he brings to the camp, how he runs opposite the other receivers and what kind of consistency he finally settles into, especially given the importance of that third receiver position for the Texans’ success in 2012. This race alone puts DeVier Posey in one of the most exciting training camp battles.

Whitney Mercilus

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    As the Texans’ first pick in the 2012 draft, Whitney Mercilus has a lot is riding on his performance.

    This is especially the case after the Texans lost Mario Williams and work to further establish defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. There must of been some uncertainty about the success of each in 2012, for the Texans brought in Mercilus.

    Mercilus stands at 6’3” and 261 lbs., and he clocked a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash at this year’s combine, making him the fourth fastest defensive end there. This size and speed are perfect for a pass-rusher that Phillips could use to keep pressure on quarterbacks—an athlete the coordinator undoubtedly wants.

    This size and speed equaled ability, at least at the collegiate level. At the University of Illinois, Mercilus was an absolute stand-out. The Ted Hendricks Award winner led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles.

    The concern, though, is how his collegiate performance will translate in the NFL. No doubt Mercilus has skill and tremendous potential. But are his size and speed supported by true playing instincts necessary for a professional game? There is concern that his athleticism will be hampered as he works to recognize the offense’s backfield.

    More time spent in the NFL will certainly allow Mercilus to develop his instincts. There’s also a chance that he won’t need to—that he’s more ready-made than these concerns suggest.

    What training camp will reveal is how NFL-ready he is and how much improvement, if any, he needs to make a solid transition. It will also tell us if he’ll be a better outside linebacker or defensive end in Phillips’ defense, especially against Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed.

    Mercilus’ battle against two of last year’s star players makes him the most interesting rookie to watch at this year’s training camp.

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