The Houston Texans have just completed their first week of training camp, and the team already has a midseason mentality.
The Super Bowl is the goal for the Texans, and every practice is dedicated to the team's ultimate goal: winning the franchise's first championship.
In order for the Texans to get there, though, several players will have to step up. And in that process, unfortunately, some players will fall from their previous standing.
Who is playing well and who isn't? Read on, and find out.
DeAndre Hopkins has had a fantastic start to training camp. And that is terrific news for the Texans and their fans.
Hopkins has caught everything thrown his way with the ease of a seasoned veteran, and he has been running crisp, sharp routes. Hopkins has the skill-set of a receiver beyond his years, and that is exactly what the Texans need.
Most rookie receivers are given an elongated learning curve, simply because it is extremely difficult for young receivers to transition to NFL playbooks and coverages.
Hopkins, though, will be expected to—no, required to—contribute right away. The Texans' offense needs someone to take pressure off Andre Johnson, and if that doesn't happen, the Texans could possibly face another tough season of an inconsistent passing game.
Hopkins has been great so far, though, going against Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. If he can compete against those two—who are among the best at their position—he can certainly produce in game situations.
The Texans will need him to.
What can be said about Sam Montgomery? The third-round rookie was expected to contribute to the defense this season, but he showed up to camp out-of-shape and not conditioned enough to participate in practice. And when he passed the conditioning test, he immediately injured his ankle, preventing him from playing and gaining valuable experience.
But perhaps Gary Kubiak sums up the Montgomery situation best:
“He’s way behind the team. Way behind. He’s behind conditioning wise and, now, he’s got an ankle that he can do nothing about. It’s not his fault, but he’s way behind. Got to get back out here.”
Montgomery hasn't had an ideal start to his NFL career, and if his ankle doesn't heal soon, he could have a rough start to the season.
Last season, Brandon Brooks showed up to the Texans' training camp as the heaviest player on the team. His skills and strength were easy to see, but he struggled in the oppressive Texas heat, and he was never able to get in shape enough to see consistent playing time.
This offseason has been a completely different story. Brooks showed up to OTAs at a startling 325 pounds—the best shape he has ever been in as a Texan.
And now that Brooks has shed his weight problem, he has been penciled in as the Texans' starter at right guard. Brooks is extremely athletic, and his natural quickness and strength allows him to handle pass-rushers with ease.
Brooks has been great in camp so far, and he has even gotten the best of J.J. Watt on several occasions. And if can handle Watt, he can handle anyone, right?
Hopefully that will be the case during the regular season.
For the first two seasons of his career, Lestar Jean was the star of Texans' training camp. He was absolutely incredible in practice; he seemed uncoverable.
But nothing ever worked out. Jean suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before the start of his rookie season, and his impressive training camp was put to waste.
The next season, though, Jean once again had a great training camp. And he was once again expected to contribute heavily during the regular season.
Jean never made much of an impact on the Texans' offense last season, despite many opportunities to do so. The fact of the matter is that Jean just isn't that good. He does a lot of things well, but he doesn't excel in one specific area as many stars do.
And now Jean is seeing potential playing time slip through his fingers. The Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins to start opposite Andre Johnson, Keshawn Martin has established himself as the slot receiver and Alan Bonner has flashed enticing play-making ability so far this offseason.
By the time DeVier Posey is activated off the PUP, Jean could find himself without a roster spot.
Every single offseason, Texans fans beg and cry for the team to draft a huge, space-eating nose tackle in one of the early rounds. And every single year, they're left disappointed.
But, alas, the answer to the nose tackle problem might not be far away. In fact, it might be on the roster right now. Ladies and gentlemen, Earl Mitchell could be the first nose tackle in years to make an actual impact on the field for the Texans' defense.
For years, Mitchell has toiled behind Shaun Cody as the backup nose tackle. He played often due to a frequent nose tackle rotation, but he was never granted an opportunity to truly establish himself as a play-maker.
Mitchell will have every opportunity this season, as the departure of Cody has vaulted him into the starting lineup.
Mitchell is poised to do big things for the Texans' defense this season. And while he is not monstrously big, he does fit Wade Phillips' mold of smaller, quicker nose tackles.
Mitchell is extremely athletic, and his quick feet allow him to burst through slower offensive linemen into the backfield. If Mitchell can establish some go-to pass-rushing moves, he could become a danger to opposing defenses.
His stock has never looked so promising. Buy now.
When Trevardo Williams was selected in the fourth-round on the NFL Draft, many fans instantly became enamored with his athletic ability.
And Williams certainly is athletic. In some ways, though, Williams' impressive athleticism will be one of the main reasons for his early-career struggles.
At the University of Connecticut, Williams was so fast that his coaches never bothered forcing him to develop any dependable pass-rushing moves. Williams' sole responsibility in the defense was to attempt to run around the offensive tackle and reach the quarterback.
No skills, just speed.
Unfortunately, that strategy will not work in the NFL. The only proven way to reach quarterbacks is to combine freak athleticism with an extremely varied skill-set (See: J.J. Watt).
Until Williams can develop a sound hands game, he will remain solely a special teams contributor.
The Texans entered into training camp with a wide-open competition for the third-string running back job. Dennis Johnson, Cierre Wood, Ray Graham and Deji Karim all had an equal opportunity to win the much-sought-after job.
But after the first week of training camp, Johnson appears to be running away with the job.
Johnson has been excellent so far, displaying all the qualities the Texans love in their running backs: vision, strength and agility.
Gary Kubiak, even, has become very impressed Johnson, and offered the following words of praise about the undrafted free agent:
He plays strong. For a little guy, he plays strong. When he thumps off people and stuff, he’s moving forward. I’ve been impressed with him, but you never know about backs out of college is can he play three downs? Can he protect the quarterback? He’s shown that he will and he’ll step in there and do that. He doesn’t have big size to do it, but it looks like he has the heart to do it.
Johnson will still have to prove himself during the rest of training camp and preseason, but if he can continue to play as well as he has been lately, the job will most likely be his.
Ever since the end of last season, Ben Jones' stock has been plummeting. He had a miserable end to the season last year; he was unable to slow down pass-rushers, and he wasn't able to open up much running room for Arian Foster.
He eventually lost playing time to Brandon Brooks at the very end of the season, and Brooks has now taken the starting right guard job from him.
But there is hope for Jones.
He is currently learning three interior offensive line positions, which is slowing him down a bit in training camp, but this will ultimately increase his value to the team.
Once Jones becomes comfortable with all of the positions he is being forced to learn, he will provide valuable depth to the Texans at both guard positions and center.
Jones' stock isn't looking very good currently, but there is hope for the future.