After nine days of training camp, we have learned so much more about the Houston Texans. Draft picks have stepped up, veterans have asserted themselves and undrafted free agents have surprised everyone.
Football is finally back and it's great to watch as the playoff-hardened Texans preparing to make yet another run at a Super Bowl.
The Texans will need many players to step up for their goal to be realized, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
Training camp gives us the first opportunity to truly see which players are stepping up and which are crumbling under the pressure.
Here are the eight things we have learned from training camp for the Texans so far.
The draft clock was winding down as Texans' fans were waiting anxiously for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to walk onto the stage and see him open the letter to announce the Houston pick.
After months of speculation, no one had any idea who the Texans were going to select—except for me, of course. Wide receiver was the favorite position, but who would it be? Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins or Keenan Allen?
The Texans picked Hopkins. After nine days of training camp, it seems like that was the perfect pick.
Due to Hopkins' skill set, many concluded that he was an NFL-ready receiver, but certainly no one expected him to be this dominant so early in his professional career. Hopkins has been incredible, according to Patrick Starr of Stateofthetexans.com. Gary Kubiak has even described him as exceptional.
I know some of you must be thinking, "Big deal, it's just training camp. I'll reserve my judgement until the regular season starts."
That is excellent logic. I would recommend following it, in fact. But Hopkins isn't just putting on dominating performances against scrubs. He's going up against the Texans' best—Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson—and beating them on a consistent basis.
If Hopkins can put on a show against those two cornerbacks, he can beat any cornerback in this league. Of course, he needs to get a firm grasp on the offense and that might cause him to struggle early on.
But all indications suggest Hopkins is ready to play now.
Remember how great the Texans' offense was in 2011 when Matt Schaub was healthy?
It was beautiful. Arian Foster would decimate defenses and then Schaub would pick them apart with the play-action pass.
That didn't happen last season, though, as Foster struggled to consistently pick up big yardage and the play-action game seemed ineffective.
What went wrong? Did Foster accumulate too many carries, forcing his body to wear down and render him ineffective? Was that the reason the play-action game wasn't respected or was it because Schaub just stunk it up, which would allow defenses' to stack the box and stop the running game?
None of the above.
The Texans' offensive line collapsed. It was a long and painful decline from greatness, but it happened, and it destroyed the Texans' offense. Derek Newton and Ben Jones, the starters on the right side of the line, were the catalysts.
They could not keep pass-rushers in front of them nor open holes in the running game. In turn, the offense—and the Texans as a whole—stopped succeeding.
But there is hope. Brandon Brooks has emerged as the Texans' starting right guard and his physicality will be much welcomed. In addition, Patrick Starr of Stateofthetexans.com, reports that Brooks has impressed so far during training camp.
Derek Newton has also shown big strides from last season as well, said Starr.
There is no guarantee, but training camp so far has shown that the Texans' right side of the offensive line is much improved.
If early observations are correct, then it is quite possible that the brutally efficient Texans' offense of 2011 will be making a return in 2013.
The third-string running back is never granted much notice until he is absolutely needed to play. When the Texans signed Justin Forsett to the be their third-string back, no one really payed much attention.
Sure, it was nice to have a proven player as a security blanket, but Arian Foster and Ben Tate were ahead of him on the depth chart. He would never see any meaningful playing time, right?
Tate was injured off and on throughout last season, elevating Forsett to the backup role. He played in many games for the Texans and was given carries in key games and in key scenarios.
So before you cast off the third-string running back competition with a nod of contempt, think twice. You never know when the third-string back could suddenly be vaulted into the starting position.
That is exactly why fans should be excited about Dennis Johnson.
Johnson has been one of the biggest surprises of Texans' training camp as of now, noted Patrick Starr of Stateofthetexans.com. Johnson has simply been spectacular. His vision, one-cut ability and pure strength make him a perfect candidate for the Texans' zone blocking scheme.
At the start of camp, Johnson was locked into a tight competition with Cierre Wood, Deji Karim and Ray Graham. But Johnson has been beyond impressive and if things continue the way they are going, he will be the Texans' third-string running back once the Texans arrive in San Diego for the start of the regular season.
Over the past several seasons, the Texans have had a simple philosophy when it came to keeping a third-string quarterback: Namely, what's the point?
For the most part, that mindset is pretty accurate. There really is no reason to waste a roster spot on a player who will never—hopefully—see the field, especially when that spot can be granted to a linebacker, safety or fullback who could contribute on special teams.
But Case Keenum has continued his impressive offseason and has looked very sharp at training camp, according to Patrick Starr of Stateofthetexans.com. Keenum looks comfortable with the offense—as opposed to last season—and is letting his natural talents take over.
In all honesty, this is probably bad for the Texans. They really struggled on special teams last season, so they could probably use another contributor.
But Keenum is forcing their hand. If he can keep his hot streak alive, it would be criminal to cut him. Preseason will likely determine Keenum's fate and the coaching staff will be watching very carefully.
This likely doesn't surprise you, but Brian Cushing is ready to hit, according to Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas in her great chronicle of Cushing's return from injury.
It should come to no surprise that the most ferocious, fearless and tenacious player on the Texans' roster is itching to return to contact after being sidelined with an ACL injury for the majority of the past year.
The Texans are tentatively bringing Cushing back to full speed, as they should. They need to make sure Cushing is 100 percent when the regular season rolls around.
Cushing is so key to the Texans' defense in so many aways. He's an excellent run-stopper, he can shut down any tight end in coverage and he enables the pass rush to reach the quarterback.
The Texans need Cushing on the field. And, of course, they want to see him hit.
In 2010, Arian Foster broke onto the scene. The former undrafted college running back out of Tennessee emerged out of nowhere to lead the NFL in rushing.
Leading the way for the Texans' rushing champ was Vonta Leach, one of the most physical fullbacks in the entire league. Leach paved the way for Foster, opening huge holes that allowed Foster to put his impeccable vision and one-cut ability to work.
Unfortunately, that was a contract year for Leach. After such a spectacular season, he rightfully wanted a lot of money, but the Texans couldn't meet his demands so he left for Baltimore.
Since then, the Texans' main fullback has been James Casey, with a short stint by Lawrence Vickers.
While Casey was one of the most versatile threats on the team, he wasn't a power fullback. He couldn't physically impose himself on defenders and he wasn't anywhere close to Leach's level of blocking.
Although Foster still succeeded with Casey leading the way, he didn't come close to matching his amazing 2010 level of play.
But now the Texans have Greg Jones. The veteran fullback, who spent the majority of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, is a bruising hitter who loves attacking linebackers.
He's shown that love for hitting so far in training camp. He goes after defenders with a burning passion and is relentlessly brutal.
It's almost like Leach is back and that is wonderful news for Foster and the rest of the Texans' running backs.
D.J. Swearinger is many things. He's a ferocious hitter, effective in coverage, incredibly athletic and he's quite possibly the most confident player to ever put on a Texans' uniform.
Swearinger has been very solid in training camp so far. He is ready to to become the Texans' third safety and if Ed Reed is not ready for the season opener, Swearinger will be ready to start on defense.
A main reason why Swearinger has been so impressive so early in his career is his natural confidence. Many rookies play scared at the start of the careers and often are intimidated by veterans.
Not Swearinger, whose confidence stems from his infatuation with "swag." In this hilarious interview with Kara Cook of the Texans' website, Swearinger describes swagg and how it relates to the Texans (one of the best parts is when he is surprised by the very notion that Ben Jones has swagg.
Whether it's called swagg or confidence, Swearinger has it and he is ready to play for the Texans.
When the Texans selected Sam Montgomery and Brennan Williams in the third round of the NFL draft, they were expected to contribute right away.
Montgomery was supposed to instantly become the team's third outside linebacker and possibly end up being the starter if Brooks Reed moved to inside linebacker.
Williams was supposed to compete for—and possibly win—the starting right tackle job. He had a great opportunity, as well, since Derek Newton struggled heavily the season before.
But now, both rookies are falling behind. Both have missed significant times with injuries, and as rookies, any time missed on the field can be devastating to their development.
Yeah, it is [frustrating]. Don't get me wrong now, there's nothing they can do about it. When you're injured, you can't go if you can't go. But it's just tough because it's been a long off-season and we're counting on those guys to push players on this team and be in position to help us. Right now, it's just not happening right now. Hopefully, we can get them going and hopefully we can get them out here as soon as possible."
The Texans need the two rookies to get healthy soon. If they remain injured much longer, their much-needed contributions will most likely never be provided.