Breaking Down All the New Faces on the 2014 Houston Texans

Brian McDonaldContributor IJune 18, 2014

Breaking Down All the New Faces on the 2014 Houston Texans

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    With voluntary minicamp and OTAs in the rearview mirror and mandatory minicamp going on currently as I'm writing this article, we don't have a huge sample size, but we have had a long enough look at the new faces on the Texans roster to start drawing some conclusions.

    The Texans are dealing with a lot of roster turnover and a new system on both offense and defense, so the offseason practices that are usually treated as routine have taken on more importance this year under new head coach Bill O'Brien.

    Considering the only player O'Brien decided to bring back was tight end Garrett Graham, I think that's a pretty good indication of his opinion on the roster he took over when he was hired in January.

    Nearly every player on this list will be asked to start or at least be a contributor early on. O'Brien is trying to put his own stamp on this team, and one of the themes he's preached through OTAs and minicamp has been versatility.

    He wants players who can contribute at multiple positions or on special teams on top of their regular position, and that strategy was evident with the choices the Texans made with the players added during free agency and the draft.

Jadeveon Clowney

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Everything was going well until...

    The #Texans say 1st overall pick Jadeveon Clowney had sports hernia surgery yesterday. They believe he’ll be back by camp.

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 13, 2014

    Don't press the panic button just yet. The team says Jadeveon Clowney will be back by training camp, so if all he misses are a couple days of OTAs and minicamp he'll be fine.

    When on the field Clowney has played well, but defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel isn't ready to just hand him the starting job yet, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

    He’s going to earn his spot, in my eyes. … If he learns, then chances are that he’ll get playing time. If he doesn’t learn, then he probably won’t get as much playing time. And now then that’s where Mercilus, he’s going to be there and he’s going to play. Or if its Brooks, Brooks is going to play.

    Some people questioned how Clowney, who was a 4-3 defensive end in college, would fit in the Texans' 3-4 scheme. In what's become a common refrain, the Texans plan to take advantage of Clowney's freak combination of size and athleticism by playing him at multiple positions during OTAs and training camp.

    OLB, DE, 3 tech and nose are all positions the #Texans are working with Clowney on. He's learning it package by package.

    — Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) June 9, 2014

    That doesn't necessarily mean he'll play every spot during the season, but they want to give it a look and see how much he can handle.

    One thing that has been fun to watch is how Clowney has worked and interacted with his position coach, Mike Vrabel. The former New England Patriots linebacker under Romeo Crennel seems to know what buttons to push, and their relationship will be one to continue to watch. I think he'll get the most out of Clowney's immense talent.

    From Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, Vrabel answered questions about working with Clowney.

    I think his attitude, much like all of our guys, their attitude has been great. They've come in, they've tried to be vocal in the meeting rooms, not always right, but at least they have the confidence to try to make the calls, make the adjustments and make the corrections while we're in there. He's somebody that we're excited about because he has the natural ability, but he also has the attitude to want to learn. He doesn't think he has it all figured out.

    ...But meeting with him before the draft, I enjoyed my conversations with him. He was conscientious, he wanted to learn, he wanted to study. He knows a little bit about the history of the game, the great players who played. So our conversations went very smoothly through the draft, at the combine. We brought him here on a visit, him and I got to go to dinner, so that was an easy conversation. It was a kid that you would want to coach.

    Despite his nearly limitless potential, Clowney carried red flags with him in the eyes of some coming into the draft process.

    From Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans, despite the concerns about his desire and love for the game, Bill O'Brien says Clowney has been working hard.

    He’s really worked hard.  That position has worked extremely hard just like all the positions.  I think he’s a guy that’s come in here and really put in extra time so far.  He needs to keep doing it.  He’s put in extra time in the training room to work on his flexibility.  He’s put in extra time on the practice field.

    Despite the swirling wind of concerns surrounding the first overall pick, other than a minor setback with the sports hernia, everything has gone very well.

Xavier Su'a-Filo

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The selection of the UCLA offensive lineman should give the Texans more versatility on the line than they've had in the past. With over 40 starts combined between left guard, right guard and left tackle in college—mostly split between left guard and left tackle—I don't see any reason why Su'a-Filo couldn't be a guy who could start at every position except center in a pinch.

    LT, LG, RG were positions played by Xavier Su'a-Filo this year at UCLA. Rick Smith liked that. #Texans

    — Drew Dougherty (@DoughertyDrew) May 10, 2014

    His best position, because of his arm length and being a better run-blocker than pass protector, will be inside at guard, but having another guy who could move around if you needed him to is a huge plus.

    Rookie Xavier Su'a-Filo returned today for practice after finishing up his academic year at UCLA. #Texans

    — Deepi Sidhu (@DeepSlant) June 17, 2014

    At the time I'm writing this, Xavier Su'a-Filo just signed his deal a couple hours before, so there isn't a lot to report on his progress so far. Due to NFL rules and how his classes at UCLA were scheduled, he wasn't able to join the team until just a couple days ago. He'll be a little behind because of the delay he had in getting to Houston, but I don't think it will take him long to catch up.

    In his predraft evaluation, Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com broke down the strengths of Su'a-Filo's game we should expect to see on the field now that he's back with the team.

    Quick out of his stance. Effective pass blocker -- can bend his knees, extend and mirror in short area. Generates movement in the run game. Can work his hips and maneuver to gain positioning. Good foot athlete. Can pull, trap, combo block and step to the second level. Durable three-year starter. Has played guard and tackle.

    O'Brien says Xavier Su'a-Filo took an iPad with him back to UCLA to keep up with the offense. #Texans

    — PDS (@PatDStat) June 13, 2014

    From Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston, coach Bill O'Brien doesn't seem very concerned about the time Su'a-Filo missed that included all 10 days of OTAs.

    Through no fault of his own he’s had to miss some time because of the quarters system at UCLA. But he’s, like I said a few weeks ago, he’s a guy that in the draft, the preparation for the draft, we were impressed with his intelligence, his work ethic, his team-first attitude. I think just watching him today, you could tell that he had done some studying on his own while he was away. That was a good sign and he’s got to be able to continue to do it. 

    It may take him a couple days to work out the rust, but it's not like he missed time during training camp or the preseason; he can overcome this. When the season starts in early September, Xavier Su'a-Filo will be the Texans starting left guard.

C.J. Fiedorowicz

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Versatility.

    Bill O'Brien has preached that the trait of being versatile would be important in how the team put both its playbook and depth chart together.

    "Versatility is a key word in this process." Bill O'Brien #Texans

    — Dave Zangaro (@DZangaro) May 10, 2014

    O'Brien says every position except quarterback, punter, long snapper and kicker needs to be able to do more than one thing. #Texans

    — Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) May 27, 2014

    The injury to Owen Daniels last season hurt the Texans by not only missing his production—it also hurt the team with how well it could surprise opponents. Daniels wasn't a great blocker, but I would call him solid, and he was definitely the best two-way tight end the team had on the roster.

    Adding a two-way tight end prospect like C.J. Fiedorowicz to Garrett Graham, who is mostly a receiver, and Ryan Griffin, who is mostly a blocker, will gain back some of the surprise element for the Texans. Fiedorowicz has the physical talent to do anything a tight end might be asked to do, which will keep opponents guessing when he's out on the field.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans was impressed by Fiedorowicz during OTAs.

    The rookie tight end out of Iowa has been very impressive with this group of veterans. His versatility has been on display and as OTAs has progressed he has shown he can work inline, outside or in motion. His overall skill set gives the offense a new wrinkle that could give every offensive set he is in the option of run or pass effectively. Not known as a pass catcher in college, Fiedorowicz is a natural pass catcher and can create mismatches in the middle of the field like Texans linebacker are finding out right now.

    Fiedorowicz might not technically be listed as a starter, but as the Texans' second tight end I expect him to get a starter's amount of snaps with all the multiple tight end formations I expect the Texans to use this season under Bill O'Brien.

Louis Nix III

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Assuming he's healthy, Louis Nix III will be the Houston Texans' starting nose tackle at the beginning of the season. Unfortunately we're left to assume his health, because like they were in college, injuries have been an issue so far for Nix during OTAs.

    From the Houston Chronicle, Nix injured his ankle, but coach Bill O'Brien didn't seem too concerned about it in what came off to me as a sarcastic but funny comment.

    I think he’ll be fine. I don’t think it’s life-threatening.

    Nix also missed time to attend his college graduation at Notre Dame.

    RT @JPalmerCSN: #Texans NT Louis Nix left this afternoon before practice to go back to South bend to attend his graduation from Notre Dame.

    — Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) May 17, 2014

    What will be intriguing to watch from Nix once he gets on the field is how he's able to impact a game in different ways. Their other nose tackles—Jerrell Powe and Ricardo Mathews—are both one-dimensional players only excelling in either run defense or as a pass-rusher but not both. Louis Nix is the type of rare talent who can do both.

    I think his ability as a pass-rusher has been undersold at this point by some. Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans saw some of that ability close up during OTAs once Nix returned from the ankle injury.

    Nix III looked good and showed some nice moves when the defensive line went to working on stunts. He has some good short area quickness for his size but his real value will show when the shoulder pads are put on and he has to play the run.

    The most important ability Nix will bring to this team is that of a run-stuffer, which the Texans never had under Wade Phillips and his 3-4 scheme. Weighing in around 330 pounds, Nix should be able to eat up blocks and get that job done without a problem.

    What I'm more interested to see early on is how he could potentially impact the Texans pass rush. If he's able to use his size and strength to push his blocker back into the backfield, he'll take away the option of stepping up into the pocket for the opposing quarterback.

    We've all seen Vince Wilfork excel in this area of the game for years now. The best quarterbacks in the league are usually very good at stepping up to avoid the outside rush and buying time while still looking downfield for an open receiver. If Nix takes away this option, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney could all be in for huge sack-total performances this season.

Tom Savage

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Tom Savage isn't ready yet and won't be the Texans starter in Week 1, but that doesn't mean the organization is disappointed with his development. He already is the most physically gifted quarterback on the roster and will eventually get his shot.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans has been impressed by Savage so far and believes he's on the right track.

    The Texans have something in quarterback Tom Savage and today once again he showed why he has everything needed from physical tools to make this offense run. Savage for the first time threw a deep ball intended for wide receiver Travis Labhart on a route in the middle of the field and overthrew him by 10 yards (not to mention the offense was starting at mid field). The ease that Savage threw the deep ball was a sight to see and how easy he made it look is something that has not been seen in Houston.

    Savage is looking solid in the offense and the staff is holding nothing back on teaching him the offense. He is expected to know what every other team quarterback knows about the offense. There is no road block for Savage in this offense and the quicker he can be successful the better chance for him to see the field.

    From Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, quarterback coach Charles Godsey says they're not holding anything back from Savage and want to see what he can do with the full offense.

    For a rookie quarterback, it’s very difficult. … And we’re not holding much back from him, either. I’m going to coach him hard. Coach (Bill) O’Brien is going to coach him hard. The rest of the coaches are, too. The thing that I like about Tom is that he just looks me back in the eye and he wants to give it more reps and he wants to learn.

    Godsey on Tom Savage: He's a hungry, young man and he wants to come in and learn on weekends. Most important quality for a QB. #Texans

    — Deepi Sidhu (@DeepSlant) June 12, 2014

    Savage has the raw potential required to play the position at a high level, but he's behind the other guys on the mental aspects of the position. His limited playing time and couple years off during college due to multiple transfers has hurt his development in that area. That isn't to say that he can't get there, but he's not there yet.

    #Texans HC Bill O'Brien reports that QB Tom Savage is a "little behind." Will need to improve his field vision & avoid locking in on WRs.

    — Ralph Mancini (@ReverendRalph) June 16, 2014

    Savage will start the season as the Texans' third-string quarterback in my opinion, but he won't be locked into that spot. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a gifted enough quarterback to be considered a real roadblock to Savage being promoted up the depth chart. Savage is already more physically talented than Fitzpatrick. Whenever the mental side catches up I expect him to be moved into the starting role.

Jeoffrey Pagan

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Not much to report on rookie Jeoffrey Pagan at this point unfortunately. The former Alabama player is still dealing with a shoulder injury and hasn't yet got on the field.

    As a sixth-round pick I wouldn't have expected Pagan to compete for a starting job anyway, but missing the early practices have killed any chance he did have of earning the job.

    Without seeing Pagan on the field yet in a Texans uniform, I'm forced to look back at scouting reports, like this one from Rob Rang, to get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses.

    Built like a Coke machine - wide and heavy - and is just as difficult to move. Anchors well at the point of attack due to size and strength. Pops the offensive lineman with a strong initial punch and shows good patience to wait for the running back to come to him, before forcefully ripping free. Good recognition of where the ball is going and pursues with passion.

    Offers very little in terms of a pass rush, at least as an edge defender. Slow off the snap and does not possess the acceleration or flexibility to turn the corner as an edge rusher.

    Whenever Pagan does get healthy, he will be expected to rotate with Jared Crick, Tim Jamison and Ricardo Mathews at defensive end and maybe see time at defensive tackle when the Texans go to a nickel formation or some sort of sub-package.

Alfred Blue

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The selection of Alfred Blue made me scratch my head a bit when the Texans took him out of LSU in the sixth round. Blue was often injured and rarely started during his college career, so I wasn't sure exactly what the coaching staff saw in him from his limited game tape.

    Assuming they saw the same things back then that we saw recently during rookie minicamp and OTAs, Blue is a guy who looks like he'll fit this offense perfectly with good hands as a receiver and great vision as a runner.

    Patrick D. Starr from State of the Texans went as far as to compare Blue to Arian Foster.

    Rookie running back Alfred Blue is one to watch. He can do a little bit of it all and looks very comparable skill wise to what Foster can do. We are not saying they are currently on the same level but they are from the same mold as a player. One who can one cut and get up field and catch the football with ease.

    #Texans' O'Brien joked he's not ready to send Alfred Blue to the Pro Bowl yet but the RB has definitely impressed early on. #NFL

    — Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) May 28, 2014

    Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com saw some of those same strengths when evaluating Blue before the draft, but the sample size was so small it was hard to have a strong conviction either way.

    Nice vision, instincts and patience. Has good speed for a back his size -- opens up his stride in the clear. Strong runner -- heavy on contact. Powers through arm tackles and runs with forward lean. Wields an effective stiff-arm. Looks to have good hands in limited exposure. Flashes playmaking ability. Has tread on his tires -- averaged just 52 carries per season at LSU.

    Outside of his physical talent, the last point from Nawrocki about the tread left on his tires was a good one. Blue had just 209 career carries during his time at LSU—just six more than teammate Jeremy Hill had last season alone. The limited use of Blue will turn out to be a positive if he can remain healthy.

    With a good training camp performance I think Alfred Blue will not only make this roster, but be the Texans' second-string back behind Arian Foster.

Jay Prosch

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    Associated Press

    Sixth-round pick Jay Prosch plays a position of dying value and importance in today's NFL, but what he does, he does really well, and he'll make an impact on this team. Even fullbacks as good as Prosch don't get much attention, but he was a huge part of why Auburn was able to rush for an average of just over 328 yards per game last year.

    Despite being rated as the top fullback available in the draft by CBS Sports, he was still ranked as just a fifth- or sixth-round prospect because of how little the position is used today. However, if your offensive coordinator has a role for and knows how to use a fullback properly, then a guy like Prosch is capable of being an impact player.

    Dane Brugler of CBS Sports with a scouting breakdown of Prosch.

    ...brute take-on strength and natural power to run over defenders at the POA or steer them in the direction he wants...understands leverage and pad level, staying low and keeping his feet moving...looks to finish his man, blocking through the echo of the whistle...little hesitation to his game with alert eyes and the awareness to quickly find his target and attack.

    Despite the great impact he can make as a run-blocker, fullbacks today have to be able to do more. As Dane Brugler goes on to point out, Prosch can also contribute as a receiver, pass protector and on special teams.

    ...enough anchor strength and shuffle quickness to hold up as a pass protector...good focus as a pass-catcher with enough body flexibility to adjust and make grabs away from his body...impact player on ST coverage...tough and durable and hates to leave the field...self-starter with a team-first attitude and ideal character on and off the field.

    Like with some of the new linebackers, when they start hitting during training camp will be the big test for the rookie from Auburn, as Bill O'Brien points out in this article from Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston.

    I think anytime you’re in the draft and you have a situation where you can help your team personnel-wise on offense by drafting a fullback like Prosch, and we also have Toben Opurum here too. I think that helps your football team. Training camp will be the true test for a fullback. It will help the toughness of your football team, it helps on special teams.  A two-back running game is always a good thing. I think anytime you can line up in 21 personnel and run the football, and play action, it is a good thing.

    From the same CSN Houston article, Prosch is looking forward to blocking for Arian Foster.

    He’s obviously a very good running back and just being able to watch him do things like avoid linebackers on routes and the way he moves and things like that are great for me to see because I can try to take skills that he has and incorporate them in my game. It’s been great for me and obviously, he’s a great guy.

    Arian Foster had his best season in 2010 when he had Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach blocking for him. Leach left as a free agent after the 2010 season, and since that point, Foster's yards-per-attempt and yards-per-game average have both dropped each season over the three years without his former lead fullback.

    The Texans have finally found a replacement for Leach in my opinion.

    How often he'll be on the field is yet to be determined, and we likely won't know that until we see the Texans in preseason action. But whether it be on offense or special teams, Prosch will make an impact in Year 1.

Andre Hal

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Texans desperately needed to add a cornerback in this year's draft after the departure of Brice McCain and not selecting one the year before in the 2013 draft. If healthy, Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson should be solid on the outside, but big questions surrounded who would play in the slot.

    John Harris of HoustonTexans.com called former Vanderbilt corner Andre Hal a steal and someone who is a good fit for what the Texans want to do.

    The guys over at the Battle Red Blog also were high on Andre Hal and even went so far as to call him the best cornerback in the draft.

    I won't go that far, but I do like Hal's potential.

    Beating out veterans like Brandon Harris before the team even puts the pads on is an unreasonable expectation for a seventh-round pick, but Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans saw flashes of good play from Hal during rookie minicamp.

    The rookie cornerback has a better day two and looks like he has taken his play up a level.  Hal played much more physical with receivers off the line of scrimmage and looked to be directing traffic on the field with his communication to his teammates. Hal will get his real test with bigger wide receivers arrive to camp and at the moment there is not a receiver over 6-0 in rookie camp at the moment.

    What will be worth watching once the Texans go to training camp in July will be how many snaps and reps he receives. As a seventh-round pick with several veterans ahead of him, it wouldn't surprise me if his reps were limited, so he'll have to make the most out of the few he does receive.

    Hal also contributed as a return man in college. If he's able to show some of that versatility to the coaches during camp that will greatly increase his chances of not only making the roster but getting on the field.

Max Bullough

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    You can't say any undrafted free agent has a great chance to make the team, but I will say this: If Max Bullough from Michigan State makes the final roster out of training camp, it should not be viewed as a surprise.

    The former Michigan State linebacker is a throwback thumper in run defense and could end up as the team's third inside linebacker before the season is over; I thought he had fifth-round talent.

    So why did he fall out of the draft?

    Bullough struggles in pass coverage, so he'll be just a two-down player in the NFL and perhaps just a one-down player with the Texans if they play in their nickel package as often as they've talked about. His strength in run defense has value, and he'll have a role on this team, but it appears that role has been devalued.

    Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com pointed out some of the same strengths and weaknesses as I did in his predraft scouting report.

    Keys and diagnoses quickly, understands run fits and spills willingly. Physical -- good take-on/tackle strengh between the tackles. Pursues hard. Good tackler when he's able to square up ball carriers.

    Average athlete. Not explosive. Tight hips (exposed in space). Limited foot speed, lateral agility and range. Can be late to the perimeter. Struggles in man coverage and is stiff dropping/turning in coverage. Non-explosive athlete:

    The real test for Bullough will come in training camp when they put the pads on. He'll excel in run defense but won't be able to show that strength until they start hitting. Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed are ahead of him now and will stay ahead of him on the depth chart. The question for Bullough will be if he can beat out Justin Tuggle.

    Cushing and Reed will be their every-down linebackers. Jeff Tarpinian is their best cover linebacker, so he'll play on third down and in the sub-packages. Then it comes down to Bullough or Tuggle if the Texans decide to only keep four, which is possible, but I think they'll keep five with the fifth inside linebacker contributing on special teams.

    If Bullough is able to impress the coaches with his run defense and shines on special teams, he will make the team.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    As you all know by now Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed by the Houston Texans to be a veteran leader and the short-term answer at quarterback until a younger player was ready to take over. The team finally made it official at the start of mandatory minicamp.

    Bill O'Brien; Ryan Fitzpatrick is #Texans starter at QB.

    — Drew Dougherty (@DoughertyDrew) June 17, 2014

    Fitzpatrick is the by far the most tenured veteran on the roster with 77 career starts compared to eight starts combined from the other two quarterbacks. Not surprisingly, he's been able to learn and get comfortable with not only a new offense, but an offense that has been described as difficult to learn much faster than the other quarterbacks.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick on #Texans' new offense under Bill O'Brien: "You've got to be a smart player to play in this offense." #NFL

    — Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) May 28, 2014

    When you hear Bill O'Brien talk about Fitzpatrick, the language is different than when he talks about the other quarterbacks on the roster. He's been much more openly complimentary of Fitzpatrick, often praising his experience and intelligence. Compare that to the other quarterbacks who he mostly describes as working hard but not wanting to overload them.

    From the Houston Chronicle, O'Brien wants a smart quarterback and an accurate passer who is capable of making reads and recognizing coverages on his own and who won't turn the ball over.

    It's about decision-making. Not forcing the ball and understanding that you have a really good back out of the backfield in Foster that you can always check it down to. … We believe in our system. But at the end of the day, Ryan, he needs to go out there and make good decisions and make sure he is doing what is best for the team.

    From Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Greg Cossel of NFL Films liked the signing of Fitzpatrick and thinks he has a chance to play well under Coach O'Brien.

    A quarterback like Fitzpatrick can sometimes be exposed, which is why he's Ryan Fitzpatrick and not Tom Brady. But for the most part, I think Bill sees a guy that he can really manipulate, in a positive sense, and control … and get the most out of him.

    Greg Cossel said Ryan Fitzpatrick has potential to excel with Bill O'Brien, George Godsey in a smart offense that establishes "gray areas."

    — Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) June 6, 2014

    Call me a skeptic, but I don't buy it.

    They keep talking about Ryan Fitzpatrick as a smart decision-maker who doesn't turn the ball over or force passes, but the numbers indicate otherwise. Fitzpatrick has only started 16 games twice over his nine-year career; he threw 39 interceptions in those two seasons.

    Matt Schaub's worst two-year interception total of his career is 27.

    Over his other seven seasons where he wasn't the starter for the full year, Fitzpatrick threw for a total of 58 touchdowns to 54 interceptions.

    Does that sound like a smart, accurate quarterback who doesn't make mistakes to you?

    Curb your expectations. He's on the wrong side of 30 for a football player, and this will be his 10th year in the league; he's not going to make a sudden improvement and become a different type of player.

Mike Thomas

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    Associated Press

    After a strong 2010 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mike Thomas has wondered through the wilderness for several years before signing with the Texans back in December. Expectations of his potential impact were low after he was cut by two teams in two just two weeks last August, but Thomas could turn out to be a steal.

    In 2010 Thomas led the Jaguars in both receptions and receiving yards. Thomas also spent time as the Jaguars return man that season and returned a punt for a touchdown late in the season against the Indianapolis Colts.

    I can't explain his slide from solid NFL receiver to out of the league. Since 2010, when he caught 66 passes for 820 yards, Thomas totaled just 62 receptions for 523 yards over the next two seasons before not playing at all last season.

    In Houston, Mike Thomas will get another chance to be an impact player in an offense that has seen other slot receivers put up impressive numbers.

    From Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston, that fact is well known by Mike Thomas.

    You have guys … you know, Wes Welker was obviously a big part of that and (Danny) Amendola (who played his first season in New England last year) and some of the other guys. They use pretty much anybody they can find in New England to get the job done. So I definitely have had that thought and have looked at it and imagined.

    Mike Thomas will never be Wes Welker and won't put up the numbers that Julian Edelman did last year, but he is capable of excelling in this offense. 

    B4 O'Brien said he didn't see a slot WR on #Texans. Said after a few practices, few guys have the skills to fill role including Mike Thomas

    — James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) May 7, 2014

    In my opinion Mike Thomas has already beaten last year's primary slot receiver, Keshawn Martin. That leaves Alan Bonner as his only competitor, but Bonner has no NFL experience, so I think he's likely to start the season as a reserve.

Andre Brown

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Which Andre Brown shows up will go a long way in determining his role in this offense.

    Out of a total of 80 possible games Brown could have played in since being drafted in 2009, he's only played in 22 of those games. In the only season in which Brown played at least 10 games, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry.

    Is Brown that player we saw excel over a brief stretch of only 73 carries in 2012, or is he the guy who averaged only 35 carries—an average met or bested by several quarterbacks and fullbacks—over the other four years of his NFL career? 

    If Andre Brown is healthy he will have an active role in this offense. Arian Foster will turn 28 years old before the season starts and is coming back off back surgery, so it would be wise for the Texans to limit his carries.

    Considering how injury plagued the running back position was for the Texans last season, I find it odd they would add another player who has spent more time in the training room than on the playing field. If Brown does stay healthy, I think he's capable of posting similar numbers to what Justin Forsett did for the Texans as their third-string back in 2012.

    I'm sure some of you thought Brown would be the replacement for Ben Tate, who signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent, but Alfred Blue will be the Texans second back in my opinion.

    That doesn't mean that Brown can't or won't produce; I just like what Alfred Blue offers a little more.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans has liked what he's seen from Andre Brown so far during offseason practices.

    Running Back Andre Brown is a strong runner and showed he has some explosion on the field. He adds some speed out of the backfield that the Texans have not had in previous years. If he can stay healthy he will be a good complement of Arian Foster during the season. Brown can ask contribute with the return game when needed.

    Brown has talent and could potentially make an impact. I have no doubt about that; he will make the roster.

    What I do have plenty of doubt about is his ability to remain healthy. He hasn't lasted an entire season even once through his five-year career.

    Hope this will be year one.

Ricardo Mathews

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Ricardo Mathews signed with the Texans this offseason after spending four years with the Indianapolis Colts.

    Mathews has too many players ahead of him to be expected to make a big impact, but that doesn't mean he won't have a role on this team. His spot isn't guaranteed, but I think he'll make the roster with a good performance during training camp.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans liked what he saw from Mathews as a pass-rusher during OTAs.

    Ricardo Mathews has shown in two days why he could possibly be a solid free agent signing this offseason. Today while running stunts he does it at a faster pace and can create a push from the middle at 300 lbs. He will be counted on to make things happen in pass situations. He should not to be overlooked heading into training camp.

    Unless injuries change the situation, I expect the Texans to start J.J. Watt, rookie Louis Nix and former fourth-round pick Jared Crick on the defensive line. With the Texans expected to play in their nickel or sub-package and not their base package for the majority of plays, I don't expect them to keep more than six defensive linemen with possibly as few as five.

    Mathews will be thrown in the competition with Tim Jamison, rookie Jeoffrey Pagan and free-agent signing Jerrell Powe; at least one of those players will not make the roster unless a roster spot is cleared up by putting one of them on IR.

    Pagan has struggled with an injury, so maybe he'll be that guy to make room so they can keep all of them. If that doesn't happen, I think Mathews would be the odd man out unless he clearly outplays the other guys during training camp.

    I've reached that conclusion through a process of elimination.

    Tim Jamison has played well in his limited role here in Houston, so I think the coaching staff will want to give him a chance. Jeoffrey Pagan was one of their draft picks this year, so they'll want to give him at least one year to develop. And Powe played under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in Kansas City, so he has experience in this system.

    That situation would leave Mathews without a job here in Houston, and that's if the Texans keep six defensive linemen, which I'm not convinced is a certainty.

Jerrell Powe

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The Texans had obvious reasons to bring in Jerrell Powe as a free agent and give him a shot, but it wasn't because of his production level.

    Romeo Crennel was Powe's defensive coordinator and later his head coach in Kansas City during his first two seasons in the league, so his familiarity with the defense along with the Texans' need at the position were the big factors.

    Powe only has one career NFL start and was cut by the Chiefs last season, but Crennel did seem to get the most out of whatever talent he possesses.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans looked over the tape and broke down his strengths and weaknesses after Powe signed with the team in March.

    Powe averaged 12.5 snaps in his 11 appearances before getting a full game in week 17 of 2013.  At this point Powe is a back up nose tackle and if competition is added during the off-season for the position, he will be fighting to stay on this roster when the season kicks off.

    Defensive line coach Bill Kollar is known for motivation and could be a big key in Powe’s development with the Texans. Also, Powe rejoining his former defensive coordinator could also prove big to get him back on track as a player.

    With how often the Texans have talked about playing in their nickel or sub-package, Powe is most likely a reserve player and a one-down, run-situation player. The player in front of him at nose tackle is rookie third-round pick Louis Nix III who has had injury issues in the past, so Powe will likely see some playing time.

    His role will be limited, but I do expect Powe to make the team.

Kendrick Lewis

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Lewis is another former Romeo Crennel player from his time in Kansas City. Bringing in veteran players with experience in the defense can be a huge benefit while trying to teach it to the other players, which certainly was a factor when deciding to sign Kendrick Lewis.

    Lewis isn't from Houston originally but has spent time in the city when he came here from New Orleans in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina.

    From Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle, Lewis is trying to make new memories in Houston, which he calls his second hometown, while trying to forget the painful memories from his past.

    I think about it every time - this isn't the first time I have passed here. I have family who stayed here. Every time I pass here, I think about it. I try not to think about it, because it was such a devastating situation. But it does bring back memories.

    This city showed us major love. A family took my grandmother in that didn't know us from Adam. They treated her like family. They fed us; they took us in. When my grandmother was able to get on her feet and move to get out of her house, she did. But as much as she needed them, they were there for her. It was amazing how great this city was.

    With his experience in Houston and under Romeo Crennel, Lewis choosing the Texans this offseason was far from a surprise. On the field Lewis is guy who has played well at times but has more than a couple question marks surrounding him.

    Patrick D. Starr from State of the Texans broke down his tape and came away thinking that Lewis could have an important role on this team.

    Lewis had some of his best football under Romeo Crennel in his first two seasons in the NFL. If the Texans can find the player prior to his shoulder injury, Lewis will be pushing for the third safety spot... If he is not completely healed like he showed at times in 2013, Lewis will be behind Eddie Pleasant when the training camp arrives.

    Lewis could also help in the slot if needed, where he showed some promise there. He could be a good piece to help install Crennel’s defense, and having Lewis around could be a decent filler for the 2014 season.

    Lewis has shown success in the cover two scheme, but he has been used as a true center fielder for the Chiefs the past four seasons. His starting experience is something to take note, for as much criticism he took for his poor play, he was still starting for the Chiefs.

    After getting to see him up close, I think the Texans got more with the signing of Lewis than most originally believed. I expect Lewis to be their starting free safety for Week 1 against the Washington Redskins.

    Lewis is better in coverage than he is in run support, which should make him a perfect fit to team up with D.J. Swearinger who is just the opposite. Playing Lewis as the deep cover safety will not only help the corners, but allow Swearinger to play in the box more often where he's more comfortable and can make an impact in run defense.

Chris Clemons

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    I was very high on the signing of Chris Clemons—honestly thought the Texans got a huge steal. I thought it was even possible they got an upgrade by potentially inserting Clemons into the lineup over Danieal Manning who they cut around the same time.

    Pro Football Focus called Clemons a secret superstar a year ago.

    While Clemons improved his coverage from 2010, he also drastically improved his run defense. This season he had 33 more solo tackles than in 2010 and his tackling efficiency increased dramatically from 6.5 (56th in 2010) to 12.3 (sixth in 2012). He did all this while playing 78% of his snaps from over eight yards away from the line of scrimmage.

    Even though he enjoyed a successful season as the starter, Clemons still left a lot to be desired. His ball hawking skills on the back end were still subpar. Clemons had two picks (both off Mark Sanchez) and one pass defended. While he has the speed to cap the defense, he rarely used that speed to make plays on the ball. This will be his biggest obstacle moving forward on the path to being a not so secret superstar.

    However, it hasn't turned out like I thought it would through veteran minicamp and OTAs.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans thinks Clemons has already been passed over on the depth chart.

    Safety Chris Clemons has been very quiet in terms of flashing on the field. Competing for the starting free safety position with Kendrick Lewis, he has been passed up by Lewis.

    The Texans are likely to play the majority of their snaps on defense out of nickel or sub-packages, so Clemons, despite being their third safety, will still receive plenty of playing time and have an important role for the Texans.

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