The Houston Texans are still three-plus weeks away from training camp, which opens on July 26. The design of the 2013 edition of this team is still in its opening stages.
The players that have been added and re-signed over the last few months will greatly influence the quality of the finished product. It is too early to determine how sound this design will be once the start of the regular season begins.
Enough information has been revealed by OTAs, minicamps and the news media to ascertain which players could be positive additions, and which might have a questionable effect on the success of the 2013 season.
It was no secret going into the draft that the Texans were in desperate need of an impact receiver. Hopkins was the second receiver selected, and will obviously play second fiddle to the great Andre Johnson.
His fantasy projections vary from 47 catches and 764 yards per Pro Football Focus to 50 catches and 762 yards from CBS Sports. Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright were first-round choices in 2012 and caught 64 balls each, placing Hopkins’ numbers within reach.
The first half of the 2013 schedule is the toughest and could limit his involvement in the offense. If he comes through when given the targets, his numbers will increase as the season goes on.
Houston’s wideouts caught a grand total of eight touchdowns last season, so the bar has been set pretty low. There is too much at stake for this first-round pick to be kept under wraps on an offense that clearly needs to open up.
Who can doubt the past accomplishments of Reed? Who can be certain they are not all in the past by now?
The whole issue of how much he knew about his injured hip is problematic to say the least. Even more questionable is when he’ll make his first appearance on the field:
"I don’t know when I’ll be back," Reed said. "I know what my goal is and I know what the team goal is. But I know being here and just talking to everybody and even when you see Mr. Bob (McNair) there, it’s about being smart and getting the longevity out of it. The season is a grind, man"
This would not be so worrisome if the interim plan did not consist of playing rookie D.J. Swearinger or veteran Shiloh Keo, who is better suited at covering kicks than slant patterns.
When he does return, what have you got? A player, who is in the final stages of his career, that allowed a 63.1 percent completion rate in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required for Premium Stats).
Heading into the aforementioned training camp, Houston has one experienced, healthy participant at right offensive tackle.
Not only is Harris hale, hearty and ready to go, he is doing it for the rollback price of $715,000. This is $29,000 less than his compensation for 2012 (Spotrac.com, subscription required for salary history).
Derek Newton could return in good enough shape to take back the starting role. Rookie Brennan Williams may overcome the injuries that have plagued over that last year, including some unnamed malady that occurred during the rookie minicamp.
The situation is so unsettled, sixth-round draftee David Quessenberry might end up in the mix. No matter, Harris will be there to do the job whenever he gets the call.
Right tackle was enough of a sore spot for the Texans that GM Rick Smith felt compelled to draft not one, but two players at the position.
Williams was the team’s first of two choices in the third round, and David Quessenberry was picked up in the sixth round. If chosen in the top three rounds, you are expected to contend for a starting job somewhere along the line.
The situation was so undecided in 2012 that Derek Newton and Ryan Harris divided up the duty. Draft guru Rob Rang liked the choice of the former Tar Heel so much he called him a Texas-sized steal:
"Based largely on his untapped potential, Williams entered his senior season at North Carolina earning first-round grades from some scouts. While rough around the edges due to the fact that he'd played behind some talented linemen at UNC, the massive and highly athletic Williams was improving as he gained experience."
Then he tore the labrum in his shoulder and his pre-draft stock dropped. Another injury struck during his first week as a pro. He remains unsigned right now, and could be stashed on the PUP or physically unable to perform list if his condition does not improve.
This highlight video for Johnson is as long as he is short. He racked up a bundle of big plays for a part-time player, scoring on runs, receptions and kickoff returns.
A prototype back for the Texans’ one-cut system is not usually listed at 5’7” and 196 pounds. He did show the ability at Arkansas to take one cut and turn it into a big gain, making his running style a fit for the system even if his size does not.
Justin Forsett, the third back in 2012, was also compact at 5’8” and 195 pounds. Deji Karim, the other applicant for the No. 3 runner this season, is similarly sized.
It would be something of an upset if Johnson were to get the job over an experienced vet like Karim. The practice squad is a possible destination for the undrafted free agent.
Labeling Jones as overrated is no reflection on his ability as a player. It’s more about the life of a fullback in today’s NFL.
Football Outsiders recorded 605 snaps for James Casey, the Texans’ fullback last season. This amounted to 54 percent of the total snaps for their offense, and was the second-highest figure in the league for that position.
Casey was on the field much of the time due to his role as a receiver out of the backfield. Jones is here to be a lead blocker and not to catch passes.
His snap count will be closer to the 413 Houston got out of Vonta Leach in 2010 (Pro Football Focus, subscription required for Premium Stats). It could be even less if Gary Kubiak decides to go with a solo running back in multiple receiver sets.
Jones could be a terror in short-yardage alignments, particularly inside the red zone. Those opportunities arise only a handful of times per game, reducing his presence on the field.
Too many fans and pundits were getting worked up over having a true inline fullback on the roster. It will take more than a bulldozer opening holes for Arian Foster to harken back to his league-leading form of the Leach days.
Gary Kubiak loves to hold on to the football. That applies to winning the time of possession battle, not just an aversion to turnovers. Houston ranked second in 2011 and first in 2012.
To keep the clock ticking, the passing game for the Texans consists of a lot of nibbles and not many big bites. Advanced NFL Stats calculated that Matt Schaub averaged a net 5.7 yards per pass attempt in 2012, the second-lowest number of any playoff quarterback.
This reflects a heavy reliance on tight ends to advance the ball. More to the point, 12 of the team’s 22 touchdown passes went to Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and James Casey.
If Schaub isn’t targeting a tight end, he’s checking down to one. Casey jumped ship for a big payday with the Philadelphia Eagles, so some big dude with soft hands is going to have to take his place.
Griffin has Rob Gronkowski size at 6’6” and 261 pounds. He still managed to average 16.7 yards on 29 receptions during his senior season at Connecticut.
Daniels and Graham are not known for their blocking prowess, but Griffin has the kind of frame that could handle more bulk without losing quickness. The Texans would then have a player than could man some jumbo packages around the goal line. He has the potential to be something different at that spot, instead of the usual residents in recent years.
No athlete likes to be called a “tweener.” The term implies they lack the right combination of physical attributes to excel at their sport.
Montgomery may fall into that unfortunate category. He played defensive end for LSU as one of those speedy linemen the SEC in known for. Unfortunately, his 262 pounds is not enough mass to make the transition to the next level.
The thought was to move him to outside linebacker. His skills were fine when pursuit was required in just one direction. However, during his week at the Senior Bowl the coaches kept him at DE because of an “an inability to play in space.”
The Texans’ head scout Mike Maccagnan saw things differently:
"He has real good quickness, good ability to ‘convert to power’ is a term we use, a power-oriented rusher. But he also has real good speed and quickness to get on the edge and bend and turn the corner."
A series of bad interviews at the combine also hurt his draft chances. Paul Kuharsky mentioned this in his AFC South blog for ESPN, but failed to cite any specifics. It all sounds like little more than locker room gossip.
Still, when the question marks start to pile up, this sort of prospect can start to feel the pressure. Montgomery has chosen Antonio Smith as his mentor, one of the most lighthearted souls on the squad. Then the question becomes, “Can the Texans handle two Ninja Assassins on the same team?”