Burning Questions for Houston Texans Training Camp
After an offseason of long, tormented waiting—albeit, the recent Dwight Howard signing has alleviated some of the need for football for Houston fans—the NFL season is almost upon us.
While most of the Texans roster is set in stone, many questions still surround the team that is ready to compete for a Super Bowl.
There are position battles to watch, injury comebacks to observe and rookies to fawn over. Here are the Texans' most burning questions heading into training camp.
When Will Ed Reed Finally Get Healthy?
After having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip on April 30th, Ed Reed's status for training camp has been up in the air.
Reed should be ready for training camp, but there has been no confirmation from him as to when he'll actually be cleared to play. For all we know, he might not be healthy enough until after the regular season starts.
If Reed were to miss some or all of training camp, it actually would not be the end of the world. In fact, it would provide an excellent opportunity for D.J. Swearinger—the future at the safety position for the Texans—to work with the first team defense.
It would be more beneficial, however, for Reed to get a chance to play with his Texans teammates. Chemistry is extremely important on defense, and Reed's extended absence from playing should definitely be a cause for concern.
Only time will tell whether or not Reed will be ready to go once training camp begins.
Surely Someone Will Emerge as the Texans Starting Right Tackle, Right? RIGHT?
To say the Texans' situation at right tackle is bleak would be an understatement.
Derek Newton started at the position for the entirety of last season, and let's just say his performance was very underwhelming. Actually, let's go further: he was downright terrible. He couldn't block pass-rushers, dooming passing plays before they even got started, and he unable to open up holes for Arian Foster.
And right now, the Texans would be ecstatic to have Newton healthy enough to start the 2013 season. During the offseason, Newton underwent major knee surgery, and he is still not yet fully recovered. He should be able to return for training camp, but there is no telling whether or not he'll be fully healthy and ready to compete at a high level.
And the Texans prospects at right tackle become even more concerning after Newton. Ryan Harris is currently the Texans' second-best right tackle, and he split playing time with Newton last season in an inefficient rotation that prevented the Texans' offensive line from ever truly developing a rhythm with each other.
The right tackle rotation must be avoided. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like a single player will rise up to claim the starting job outright. Rookie Brennan Williams is just too inexperienced, Harris is not good enough and Newton's health and consistency are major concerns.
How Will DeAndre Hopkins Perform?
When the Texans selected DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of the NFL Draft, he instantly became one of the most exciting and intriguing players on the Texans' roster.
For years, the Texans have filled the No. 2 spot behind Andre Johnson with mediocre receivers who contributed on an extremely inconsistent basis. (See: Kevin Walter)
Now, though, the Texans have finally committed to drastically improving the wide receiver corps. If Hopkins can perform to the level of hype surrounding him, he will be able to produce for the Texans right away.
Furthermore, if Hopkins could draw double-teams off of Johnson, then the Texans' passing attack would become much more dangerous and explosive.
Training camp will be an excellent indication of Hopkins' ability to play right away.
Will Brian Cushing Be Able to Play Like His Old Self?
The Texans' star linebacker was poised for yet another great season. Now, however, he will be forced to claw his way back into football shape.
Cushing will be cleared to play on July 17th, which will be in time for training camp. This is a fact.
What is not a fact, however, is whether or not Cushing will return to his old form. ACL tears usually warrant two-year recoveries, but recent athletes like Adrian Peterson have proven that one could return to a high level of play even within a year of suffering an ACL tear.
Cushing has been relentless in rehabbing his knee, and if anyone could return fully healthy from an ACL tear within a year, it's Cushing.
Where Will Brooks Reed Line Up?
Brooks Reed is naturally an outside linebacker. That is the position he was drafted to play. That is the position he has played since he entered the league two seasons ago.
Due to a lack of depth at inside linebacker, however, many have debated whether or not Reed should be moved to the inside. And the Texans' coaching staff only added fuel to this fire by playing Reed at inside linebacker all throughout OTAs.
Reed moving to the inside makes sense. The Texans desperately need a solid inside linebacker to play next to Brian Cushing, and Reed's skill set fits that of an inside 'backer. He is a great defender, he can cover tight ends, he has solid vision and he possesses sideline-to-sideline speed.
It will be very interesting to see where the Texans have Reed line up during training camp. However, unless either Sam Montgomery or Trevardo Williams proves capable of starting outside linebacker, then Reed's move to the inside will never happen.
Who Will Win the Third-String Running Back Competition?
Currently, the Texans have a wide-open hole at the third-string running back slot.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate have a tight control on the starting and primary backup jobs, respectively. But behind them, a contingent of virtual unknowns are competing for the third-string job and a roster spot.
The competitors are Dennis Johnson, Ray Graham, Cierre Wood and Deji Karim, and each of them have just as good a shot as the others of winning the job.
Each back presents his own individual skill set that can provide benefits for the Texans offense. The competition might get narrowed down during training camp, but we likely won't know the true winner until we get to see how the backs perform in preseason.
Will Sam Montgomery or Trevardo Williams Emerge as the More NFL-Ready Linebacker
One of the most fierce competitions during training camp will take place between Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams.
Both players were drafted to play outside linebacker, and they both have an equal chance of out-competing the other and claiming a higher spot on the depth chart.
Montgomery is the more refined player, but Williams is the much more athletic one. If Williams could quickly develop an NFL-caliber skill set—which is very unlikely—he could certainly jump ahead of Montgomery.
If both rookies prove themselves to be ready to play at a high level, though, then the coaching staff might consider it safe to move Brooks Reed to inside linebacker. It will certainly be worthwhile to monitor Montgomery and Williams during training camp.
Which Nose Tackle Will Backup Earl Mitchell?
Earl Mitchell will be the starting nose tackle for the Texans come opening kickoff. That much is certain. What is not certain, however, is who will be backing up Mitchell.
Terrell McClain, Ra'Shon "Sunny" Harris and Chris Jones will be locked into a fierce competition for the backup job all throughout training camp.
McClain is the favorite right now, but Harris provides some upside, and Jones was one of the Texans' sixth-round draft picks. Jones, also, has a never-ending motor that will certainly impress the coaching staff.
As training camp progresses, the favorite to claim the backup job will become much more obvious.
Will Arian Foster Struggle with Injuries?
Arian Foster is one of the most overworked running backs in the league—and for good reason. He keeps the Texans offense moving; without him, it would be miserable to watch the offense operate.
However, Foster carried the ball a whopping 351 times last season, which is enough to put his durability at serious risk.
Already, Foster has suffered an injury. He strained his calf early on in OTAs, and it is not yet known whether or not he'll be ready for the start of training camp.
Was this just a fluke injury? Or was it a sign of things to come?
Hopefully Foster has not yet been overworked to the point of no return—he likely has not been. The Texans, though, must find a way to limit his carries to a more reasonable level next season. Hint: Ben Tate.
Will Case Keenum Play Well Enough to Earn a Roster Spot?
Typically, the Texans never keep more than two quarterbacks on the final roster. Management sees no reason to. The team would rather have an extra special teams' contributor than a quarterback who will never get to see the field.
Case Keenum, however, might change their minds. He has reportedly had a strong offseason and seems to have a much better understanding of the Texans offense than he did a year ago.
It will be fight for Keenum to make the final roster, but if he can perform at a high level during training camp, then the coaching staff might be forced to award him a spot.