Training camp only lasts about three weeks, but the pace of change can be glacial. The Houston Texans are nearing the end of their time at camp and have already played a preseason game. In that short time, we are creeping toward answers on the most important questions facing the club.
Here's an update on the biggest issues in Houston since last week.
Keshawn Martin Looks Like the 3rd Wideout
The competition for the third wide receiver spot has been one of the most visible in Texans camp in part because this is a team with few obvious holes.
Martin pushed his way to the top of the depth chart last week, and looked strong in the preseason opener against the Panthers. In many ways, this has become a two-horse race with Lestar Jean also getting a lot of playing time.
The player left out in the cold seems to be third-round pick DeVier Posey who was only targeted on a single play in Saturday night's game. That's in keeping with the long-standing word on Posey that he's a developmental project, drafted more for the future than the present.
Despite good work from Martin, the competition is still not settled. Jean showed good athleticism against the Panthers, prompting Gary Kubiak to say of him,
“[He] Did some really good stuff. Needs to get consistent because he has a chance to be a heck of a player. But made some tough catches last night for us, did a pretty good job in the running game, made a couple tackles on special teams but needs to continue to get consistent with what he’s doing because he has a chance to be a big-time player in this league, not just a good player. So we’re going to push him, trying to find that next level.”
Any time a coach mentions a player's contributions in other areas of the game, it obviously bodes well for their long-term role with the team. Jean will likely find a way to stay in the mix for Houston one way or another.
The Offensive Line is Stable
The Texans had to turn over the entire right side of their line this offseason, and everyone has their eyes on Rashad Butler at tackle and Antoine Caldwell to see how they will hold up. On the whole, the early returns have been decent.
Kubiak sounded pleased with their play early on.
“I think that Butler and Caldwell played like they were more veterans than the other two, which you would expect, but I think they all did some good things. The young kid (G Brandon Brooks) came in and I thought he did some good things, especially in pass-pro. I thought (T Derek) Newton was a little inconsistent but continues to flash. It’s going to be a good battle. We played those guys probably more than any of our older players last night and that will be on a continuous basis over the next couple weeks. I think they kind of played the way I expected them to play.”
From the sounds of Kubiak's analysis, the Texans aren't likely to make any big changes along the front. The team ran the ball effectively against Carolina (4.5 YPC), and kept a clean pocket for Matt Schaub for the most part, though there was pressure from the left on his interception.
There are still a lot of questions about how the Texans' line will hold up over the course of the season, but for now, the "build from within" plan appears to be working.
Whitney Mercilus is Good, But Where Will He Play?
Teams face difficult decisions in the draft. It's always hard to balance immediate needs with the desire to build long-term roster stability.
The Texans passed up more pressing needs at wideout and tight end to take the talented pass-rusher from Illinois in the first round.
Mercilus has looked fantastic in camp and the preseason, and it's difficult to argue that the Texans got a good player.
The only question for 2012 is if he can get on the field much considering the depth the team has at linebacker.
Wade Phillips was asked if Mercilus will see more action in Week 2 after a 1.5 sack performance in his debut. He said, "We’ll play him more and more with the first group to see how he does. I think he’ll do well.”
Mercilus needs to see action against first-team players if the team is going to get an accurate assessment of his abilities. He knows how much it matters to put that film down on the record.
“It’s very important because it shows that you can actually play; you’re dependable and accountable definitely when it comes time for the season. It shows to the coaches that they can trust you in doing the things that are right.”
If he gets more playing time early in Week 2 of the preseason, we'll know the coaching staff is dedicated to finding ways to take advantage of his considerable ability in the here and now.
Having too many outstanding pass-rushers is like having a wallet too small for all your fifties.
They are problems, but no one is feeling sorry for you.
All quotes courtesy of the Houston Texans PR department.