The first round of the Houston Texans' organized team activities (OTAs) had a Dickensian quality to them. Rather than being about squalor and poverty in 19th century England, it was more reminiscent of “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Like that Charles Dickens novel, which revolves around parallel events in Paris and London during the French Revolution, our brief tale from last week is about players who are linked by their future with the team.
In a sense, it was poverty-stricken because several position groups on the defending AFC South champions' roster are lacking in sure-fire starters. That may be overly dramatic, though, considering the coaching staff is in the earliest stages of the player evaluation process.
But the expectations for 2013 have a “make-or-break” feel to them, and that sort of drama may be closer to determining how unsettled their depth chart really is.
One look at this impressive video along with his 18 touchdowns at Clemson last season should be enough to automatically put rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins in the starting lineup.
His 10-inch hands make this feat look routine. If he can make it look this easy on the field, his place alongside Andre Johnson in the starting lineup is a done deal.
The depth chart on the team’s website lists Keshawn Martin as the “WR2,” meaning that he is their official No. 2 receiver. For him to stay there, though, he first has to convince Gary Kubiak that the 16 drops in 28 targets during his rookie campaign are a thing of the past.
Kubiak appreciated what he observed in Martin and other second-year players during OTAs:
“It’s fun for me right now to sit here and watch (WR) Keshawn (Martin), to watch (CB) Roc (Carmichael), (DE) Delano (Johnson), (G) Brandon Brooks all of the sudden become pros at a very young age. If we’re going to keep going, be consistent at what we’re doing, guys like that have to step up and contribute right away. I like what I see.” (Battle Red Blog)
Their relative ranking could become a non-issue once the season starts. Should each play up to his potential, there will be plenty of reps to go around.
Reed tallied 1,401 snaps at age 34 in 2012. His 27-year-old counterpart with the Texans, Glover Quin, registered 1,163. Even if the former Raven had been perfectly healthy, it was not anticipated that he would approach either figure in 2013.
When Quin departed for the Detroit Lions, the need to draft a similar type of player became critical. Swearinger was a top-five safety on virtually every published draft board this year.
At South Carolina, he was an anti-personnel weapon whose guidance system was most often set to “Destroy Runner.” In the pros, he will learn that receivers require equal attention.
Houston Chronicle blogger Lance Zierlein compared him to another headbanger at his position who is better at defending the run than the pass:
@rcyriac He's a lighter version of Bernard Pollard.Pollard said he was going to "knock the p*ss out of people".They had that before.— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) May 22, 2013
Having Reed in camp would be beneficial in helping Swearinger with this transition, but rehabbing his repaired joint in the Rocky Mountains is more important right now:
Eventually, both safeties will get together for the necessary transfer of knowledge and tactics, but the transformation of Swearinger to full-fledged NFL strong safety will take time.
The Texans play six defensive backs over 60 percent of the time, which places three safeties in various coverage packages. It cannot happen soon enough when the only other experience on the roster at the position is in the form of Danieal Manning and Shiloh Keo.
Rookie defenders Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams will be spoken about in the same breath for the rest of the preseason, as they were the Texans third- (Montgomery) and fourth-round (Williams) picks this year, respectively. They both also play outside linebacker, and they will both be counted to pitch in sooner than anyone had expected.
The need to restock this area was obvious before the draft, as noted by Texans beat writer John McClain, and ESPN AFC South columnist Paul Kuharsky goes into further detail on how it all might shake out before the season begins.
There is less experience in the OLB unit than anywhere else on this team. Brooks Reed is the graybeard in this group, and he is only in his third year. A possible switch for Reed to inside linebacker could change the course of Bryan Braman’s career.
Braman could catapult all the way up from special teams to the starting lineup on the strong side of the formation. This may be inevitable, unless one of these rookies has the skills to take the job from him.
The problem is that the tight end becomes the responsibility of this player. Montgomery and Williams have neither the experience nor the agility to stay with the tight end for more than a few steps. The first five games of 2013 have the Texans facing Antonio Gates, Delanie Walker, Dennis Pitta, Vernon Davis and Zach Miller.
Maybe Wade Phillips could run some zone blitzes and have J.J. Watt drop into coverage. As ridiculous as that sounds, facing this murderers row of TEs could call for drastic measures.
Williams had second-round ability but dropped into the third round of the draft in April due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Then, during the Texans’ rookie minicamp, he suffered a “non-surgical knee injury,” according to Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.
This has placed the draftee out of North Carolina further behind the curve in an area where the team was already hurting. Derek Newton, the starter at right tackle for most of 2012, was unable to participate in OTAs due a knee injury that called for surgery in the offseason.
Quessenberry seemed like a curious selection in the sixth round, and he might even be better suited to play guard. With Williams out, though, he filled in at RT on the second team and seemed to fit right in.
Someone that looked a luxury pick turned himself into a necessary ingredient by being in the “right” place at the right time at OTAs.
The presence of Deji Karim on the field in a Houston Texans uniform is a startling irony—his 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as member of the Indianapolis Colts altered the momentum of the final game of the Texans’ 2012 season.
Houston had just grabbed a 16-14 lead by taking the second-half kickoff on a 12-play drive for the go-ahead score. They were poised to take control when Karim took the wind out of their sails.
The following drive by the Texans netted minus-6 yards, and the game was effectively over. The opportunity to beat the Colts on the road for the first time in franchise history was squandered, as was the top playoff seed in the AFC.
Now, Karim is competing for a spot as the third running back on the Texans roster. The “Field” is the UDFA running backs that could leapfrog Karim onto the active roster: Ray Graham (Pittsburgh), Dennis Johnson (Arkansas) and Cierre Woods (Notre Dame).
The main advantage that the veteran holds over the rookies is his three years in the league. His work carrying the ball has been undistinguished—he has just 98 career rushing attempts—and most of his success has come on kickoff returns.
The job will probably fall to the veteran, unless he is so atrocious that the team is forced to go to the waiver wire for a replacement. The most promising rookie could end up on the practice squad, just like Jonathan Grimes did last season.