With rookie minicamp out of the way, the rookies of the Houston Texans will turn their attention to OTAs. The rookies drafted during the first four rounds are almost guaranteed roster spots, but the players drafted in rounds six, seven or signed as free agents need to preform at a high level to impress the coaching staff.
From Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle, head coach Bill O'Brien talks about the transition from college to the pros for the rookies on the Texans roster.
The talent level is so much higher. The speed of the game, the multiple looks that you see on defense and on offense and all of the things you have to learn. In college, it’s hard because those guys have to go to class, so you only have them for a certain amount of time during the day. Here you have the guys from 7:30 all the way until tonight around 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock at night. So you’re able to give them a ton of information and then go out and practice it and correct and then go out and do it again the next day and the next day.
I think the overall jump, it’s not one position is harder than another to make the jump, the overall jump of a college player to the pros is very difficult
Motivating Jadeveon Clowney
All eyes were on the first overall pick during rookie minicamp, and Clowney didn't disappoint, according to Patrick Starr from State of the Texans.
Really like how Clowney has looked his first two days. He is like a sponge asking questions to Crennel and Vrabel when he can. #Texans— PDS (@PatDStat) May 17, 2014
At 6-5 Clowney moves like a WR off the edge. Players his size should not be able to move as easy as he can. #Texans
— PDS (@PatDStat) May 17, 2014
Clowney has showed a nice progression in two days. Especially in his technique. There has been emphasis on working his hands. #Texans
— PDS (@PatDStat) May 17, 2014
A lot has been said about the relationship between Clowney and former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who is his position coach. Motivating Clowney was a concern for some during the process leading up to the draft, but many think Vrabel is capable of getting the most out of the talented rookie.
Mike Vrabel quickly became a star recruiter at Ohio State b/c he could connect, get thru to kids. I bet he gets a lot out of Clowney.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 9, 2014
Starr even went so far to say that Clowney played the role of a leader during rookie minicamp.
Flanked by linebacker Coach Mike Vrabel, Clowney has shown some leadership qualities with his teammates and most importantly asking questions to coaches. He is first in drills and there is a concerted effort on Clowney’s part to learn his technique needed to play outside linebacker.
Having a man who was a recent NFL player and has experience dealing with elite prospects in college will be a huge benefit for the Texans while Clowney transitions into the NFL.
When Will Tom Savage Be Ready?
Those of you who have followed my articles on here know I wasn't high on the selection of Tom Savage in the fourth round. Savage has all the physical talent required to play the position, but I was skeptical because I didn't see him excel in the other areas of the game during college.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is only a stopgap, so how quickly Savage develops will be an important storyline to follow.
According to Starr, Savage obviously has a lot to learn but showed promise during minicamp.
Savage has the strongest arm that the Texans have seen in a long time and his ability to get to point A to point B with his throwing motion allows him to throw passes with velocity and in a hurry. His ability to drive the ball is impressive and he throws a “heavy” ball. Wide receivers learned the hard way trying to catch the football and there is an audible pop when Savage’s passes hit receivers hands.
He is still rough around the edges and there is still a learning curve but he made some NFL type throws today on the field. There was more good than bad when Savage threw the ball and there were maybe a handful of passes that hit the ground the entire day. Savage took control of the huddle and was already adjusting his formations on the field and it did not look like it was Savage’s first NFL practice.
I expect Fitzpatrick to be the starter early on, but if Savage improves quicker than expected, it would benefit the team to get him on the field. Fitzpatrick is not the Texans' future; giving him the majority of snaps in OTAs and then into training camp and the regular season will be a waste of time.
The Texans' playoff hopes are doubtful this year, so one of their top goals should be to determine what Savage is capable of, and they can't find that out with him on the sidelines. They have to find out what Savage is or isn't capable of this season so that they can make an informed decision on the position next year before the draft.
Who Will Be the Fourth Tight End?
Unless something unforeseen happens, the Texans already know who their top three tight ends will be going into the season. Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz will be on the roster, but the future of their undrafted free agents at the position are less certain.
The Texans are likely to use many multiple tight end formations, per the Houston Chronicle (subscription required) in their offense, so my guess is that they will keep four players at the position. Tight ends also usually make solid special teams players, so the position has extra value.
The two players expected to compete for that spot as the team's fourth tight end are Chris Coyle and Anthony Denham. The two players combined to catch only 53 passes last year, so neither player should be expected to come in and make an impact in year one.
According to Starr, tight end coach John Perry has been working with Coyle and the other rookie tight ends to show them what it takes to be a pro.
He (Perry) is a great coach and I have learned a lot from him within the two days. Whether is working on technique or routes, he is a great teacher. He allows us to figure out things on our own and then he will give us certain pointers here and there that will help us achieve what we are trying to do to the absolute best of our ability. If it is us running our routes or a blocking technique, he helps us a lot.
Starr also believes that the biggest question about Denham is if he's capable of being a reliable blocker at the NFL level.
Tight end Anthony Denham struggled today with the idea on trying to have to block at the NFL level. At Utah he was slot threat and in the NFL his a “tweener” with his 6-4 and 235 lbs. frame. His pass catching ability is his strong point, but finding his true position could be another story.
Whichever player makes the team won't be asked to do much this season if everything goes as planned with their top three players at the position. However, the same was said last year about sixth-round pick Griffin, who was forced into a larger role after an injury to Owen Daniels. Injuries are part of the game, so their fourth tight end better keep himself physically and mentally ready to play.
Could Marcus Williams Beat Out Several Veterans?
Williams was a playmaker in college with 21 career interceptions. The Texans desperately need a playmaker to emerge in the secondary after intercepting only seven passes last year, the worst total in the NFL.
The Texans had a need at cornerback going into the draft after not selecting a cornerback during the 2013 NFL draft, cutting Brice McCain and potentially going into 2015 without starter Kareem Jackson, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. The team selected Andre Hal from Vanderbilt in the seventh round, who will compete with Williams and 2011 second-round pick Brandon Harris for playing time as slot corners in the nickel package.
Most would expect an undrafted free agent from a small school to be a long shot to make an NFL roster, but his North Dakota State team won three FCS national championships, so he has big-game experience. Three of his other teammates also were either drafted or signed by NFL teams. That's more than a powerhouse school like Texas.
From Starr, Williams is focused on making the most of this opportunity.
That was a great time there, but to be honest I am trying to move forward. College was then, I had a great career there and loved everything I did there. Now I am just trying to focus on what I have to do here. This is a big opportunity for me and I am going to be as coachable as I can and learn the playbook as fast as I can.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com likes his chance of making an NFL team and having a solid career.
With his size (5-10, 198) and speed (4.5 speed), I think Williams has a pretty good shot to make it as an NFL cornerback. He's a good tackler, and he can play in space.
Williams has good size for the position and was a playmaker during college. Don't be shocked if he beats out several veterans for playing time during OTAs, training camp and the preseason. Most expect Harris to be the Texans slot corner, but I think Williams and Hal will push him.
Rookies on Special Teams
From Jayson Braddock of Sportstalk 790 and Roto Experts, expect rookies selected outside of the early rounds to make their impact on special teams.
Lonnie Ballentine / Alfred Blue / Jay Prosch should all play pivotal roles on special teams & contribute on offense or defense 2nd.— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 18, 2014
Those players listed above will spend their time on the coverage units, but other rookies could see playing time at other positions on special teams. Cornerbacks Hal and Williams have experience as returners and had three kick returns for touchdowns combined during their college careers. Keshawn Martin had a decent season last year as a return man, but he doesn't have a stranglehold on the position in my opinion.
Undrafted local product Chris Boswell from Rice is also expected to push for playing time after kicker Randy Bullock struggled last season. From James Palmer of CSN Houston, Texans general manager Rick Smith said Boswell is familiar with his competition.
"He's actually worked out wt Bullock a little bit so he knows his competition" Rick Smith on Rice's Chris Boswell competing 4 #Texans K spot— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) May 12, 2014
The previous coaching staff was very high on Bullock coming out of college as was evident by his selection in the fifth round, but after struggling last year, I wouldn't expect the current staff to have that same level of loyalty. CBS Sports had Boswell rated as its top kicker available in the draft, so Bullock should view the signing as a challenge to his job. For his sake, hopefully he handles the pressure of competition better than he did the pressure of late-game situations last year.
The Texans lost more starters and key role players through free agency and trade than they were able to replace over the last three seasons. Due to that turnover, the roster isn't clogged with veteran incumbents at every position, so several rookies will have a chance to not only get playing time, but become a starter very quickly.