Projecting Houston Texans' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
Perhaps surprisingly, having great players across the board is not as amazing as it seems to be. It actually has one major downfall.
The offseason position battles become much more boring.
There are no quarterbacks attempting to prove that they, in fact, can lead the team to victory. There are no defensive linemen fighting for their lives, and starting positions, in the trenches.
Oh well. I guess that's the downfall to having a hoard of talented players.
Regardless, several players will have the opportunity to increase their standing with the Texans this offseason, and here are five of what will be the most heated roster battles.
Third-String Running Back
Ray Graham vs. Cierre Wood vs. Dennis Johnson
Last year, heading into the regular season one of the most discussed topics was which undrafted running back would win the third-string job.
In the end, neither Jonathan Grimes nor Davin Meggett managed to secure the sought-after job. The Texans signed Justin Forsett, effectively sealing the fates of Grimes and Meggett.
This offseason, Ray Graham, Cierre Wood and Dennis Johnson will be hoping the Texans have no plans to bring in a veteran free agent for training camp. Currently, those three undrafted free agents are the only candidates to backup Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
It will certainly be a passionate battle, as not only will the three backs be competing for playing time, they will also be competing for their livelihood. The two backs that don't win the job will be cut and forced onto the free-agent market, where it might be tough to find a job.
Each back presents his own strengths and weaknesses. Graham is explosive—his one-cut ability allows him to pick a hole and immediately pick up significant yardage. However, his injury history brings his durability into question. As a third-string running back, though, there shouldn't be too many worries about his body holding up.
Wood is very agile; his shiftiness allows him to easily shake off defenders and then accelerate to pick up big yardage. But he is not strong, and his pass-protecting ability is a major question mark.
Johnson might be the most intriguing of the three backs. Standing at 5'6", he looks like a Maurice Jones-Drew clone, and he certainly plays like one. Possessing extremely thick legs, Johnson is tough to bring down. He also has impressive field vision that allows him to find the correct hole and cutback lane in a way that is very reminiscent of Foster.
It should be an interesting, heated battle. Definitely one of the most exciting ones.
Winner: Ray Graham
Backup Outside Linebacker (or Starting Oustide Linebacker)
Sam Montgomery vs. Trevardo Williams
Nothing improves a player quite like competition, and the Texans fully bought into that belief on draft day.
Competition brings out a player's true colors, exposing them to the rest of the world. When placed in a fierce competition, hard workers will rise and lazy players will descend quickly.
When the Texans drafted Sam Montgomery, many questions had arisen about his work ethic.
Yes, Montgomery was an incredible defensive end who played with a seemingly endless motor at LSU. His athletic ability should have landed him in the late-first or second round. But many critics claimed that Montgomery had no motivation to succeed, and he helped fuel these claims by innocently confiding to the media that "effort was not needed" against LSU's lesser opponents.
So, after selecting Montgomery, the Texans immediately drafted another outside linebacker in the next round in Trevardo Williams, setting up what will be a competitive offseason roster battle.
Of the two linebackers, Montgomery is much more talented. He possesses a multitude of pass-rush moves, he is stout against the run and is an excellent tackler.
Williams is the superior athlete; he is much faster and more agile. This, however, was actually what hurt his draft stock. In college, he was never asked to develop much of a pass-rushing skill set. He was so quick that he was instructed to just run right by the offensive lineman on every play.
This strategy certainly benefited Connecticut's defense. He accumulated 30.5 sacks in his career for the Huskies, and his athleticism got him noticed by NFL scouts, but it became clear that his rawness as a player would prevent him from getting drafted early.
Williams, whether he is ready or not to play in the NFL, will push Montgomery in the offseason. And that is extremely important. We will learn either that Montgomery is a hard worker or that his critics were correct and that he lacks the motivation to sacrifice himself for the team.
My guess is that Montgomery rises to the occasion.
Depending on whether Brooks Reed moves from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, Montgomery and Williams will either be competing for the primary backup role or a starting job.
Winner: Sam Montgomery
Starting Right Guard
Brandon Brooks vs. Ben Jones
Oh, a competition that definitely involves a starting job! This is exciting!
Hold your horses people; the play of Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks was anything but exciting last season. In fact, their rookie performances were downright miserable.
Jones, the starter for the majority of the season, was particularly disappointing. He was a mediocre pass-blocker who had no ability to stop superior pass-rushers. He also struggled to move opposing defenders when blocking for Arian Foster.
Yeah, it was that bad.
Brooks received much less playing time, so his sample size is much smaller. But when Brooks did get on the field, his play was far from spectacular.
Brooks, however, is now the favorite to take over the starting right guard job for the Texans. Why? Because he slimmed down to 325 pounds this offseason, which will greatly improve is already impressive athleticism.
Brooks is large, strong, quick, and physically superior to Jones. If he can develop his skills, he should be able to easily claim the starting job.
Winner: Brandon Brooks
Starting Right Tackle
Derek Newton vs. Brennan Williams
In most circumstances, Brennan Williams wouldn't have much of a chance of replacing Derek Newton as the team's starting right tackle.
While Newton was far from impressive last season, he did show flashes of potential. He's athletic, and his skill set does fit Houston's zone-blocking scheme.
Williams, like Newton, is very athletic, and he has a natural ability to reach blocks at the second level, a required component of the zone-blocking scheme. He's a solid pass-blocker, but overall he's raw, and his hand technique requires a lot of improvement.
Williams could use a season or two to fully develop. However, this opportunity to watch and learn as an understudy will not be granted to him, as Newton underwent major knee surgery at the beginning of the offseason. There's is no telling how healthy he will be once the regular season rolls around.
Unfortunately, Williams will be thrust into a competition for the starting job. However, reports claim that Newton will absolutely be ready for the regular season, so it is quite likely that he will remain the starter.
Winner: Derek Newton
Randy Bullock vs. Whomever the Texans Decide to Bring In.
Randy Bullock will most likely be the starting kicker for the Texans in 2013. This doesn't mean, though, that the Texans will not bring in a veteran kicker to compete with Bullock in the offseason.
In fact, most teams almost always bring in extra kickers for training camp so their starting kickers can get the occasional rest.
The kicker competition will not be exciting because it will determine who the starting Texans kicker will be. Rather, it will be exciting because it will give Texan fans a chance to see the fifth-round pick Bullock in action and give them a preview of the man who should be their starting kicker for years to come.