Rounding Up Houston Texans' Offseason Buzz, Post-Minicamps
Plenty of questions still remained surrounding the Texans roster as they ended offseason practices to take some time off before the start of training camp.
Other than at quarterback and right tackle, coach Bill O'Brien hasn't said much as to who the starters will be, so plenty will be on the line when the team gets back together in late July. Stars such as J.J. Watt and Arian Foster obviously know they'll be starting, but few others can say the same thing.
With a new system and a large amount of turnover on the roster, much remains undecided.
Before the Texans hit the field again, here's a look at some of the news and rumors circling the team.
When Will Andre Johnson Show Up?
Now that Bill O'Brien has officially named a starting quarterback, the biggest and most intriguing question remaining surrounding the Texans is when Andre Johnson decides to return to the team and begin practicing.
Johnson's holdout—for lack of a better term—is a bit of a mystery because he hasn't specifically said what the issue is keeping him from practicing with his teammates. Just that he's not sure if this "is the place for him" still.
Is it the cumulative impact of all the losing seasons? Is it over money? Does he not want to go through another rebuilding process or not get along with the new coaching staff?
It doesn't have anything to do with not liking the new coaching staff from all reports because O'Brien has said they text and talk often.
Bill O’Brien said he still has stayed in contact with Andre Johnson. talking and texting. #Texans— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) June 17, 2014
Johnson mentioned going through another rebuilding process, and I understand a player at his age not wanting to deal with that, but I don't think that's the core issue. If his decision was only about winning and not believing the Texans could bounce back quickly, then I think he would have already asked for a trade, which he has not done.
Like most things in sports, this situation is about money in my opinion.
Unlike the last time Johnson was unhappy with his contract in 2010, I don't think the total dollar amount is the main issue. Johnson has to know that his contract and the money the team could save by letting him go will make him a prime candidate to be cut next season; this situation is about contract security in my opinion.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Texans could save about $20 million in base salary by cutting Johnson after the 2014 season. Depending on his performance, health or where the team is with their rebuilding process, cutting Johnson could make sense.
Johnson has to know if he does get cut, he's unlikely at his age to receive a contract equal to or even close to what he has now from a new team. My guess is if the Texans are willing to guarantee more of his contract, that would satisfy Andre Johnson and he would return to the team in time for training camp.
However, if that was something the team was willing to do, wouldn't they have already done it?
The Texans aren't expected to compete for a championship this season so I don't expect the fans will put pressure on the organization to cave in to Andre Johnson to get him back on the field quickly. In my opinion, the Texans have almost all of the leverage and will wait him out if forced to play it out that way.
If he is back by the start of training camp, I don't expect to see much of a drop-off even with having to learn a new offense. He's a veteran of over 10 years who will one day be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, so he'll be able to adjust and perform in a new system faster than other players.
Case Keenum Has Already Won the Backup Quarterback Job
I'm happy with the decision the team made to keep Case Keenum over T.J. Yates, but it was a surprise. Yates seemed like the quarterback who better fit the new offense under O'Brien, but that perception was wrong.
With Yates gone, I think Keenum being the Texans No. 2 starter behind Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lock.
What does TJ Yates’ release mean for the #Texans? QB Case Keenum has the inside track to back up Fitz. Tom Savage has a chance in time too.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 17, 2014
Going off just the quarterbacks the Texans have on the roster currently, the only one that could be considered their future is Tom Savage. That's not a guarantee that Savage will be successful or that the Texans won't draft a quarterback early next year when there's better talent at the top of the draft, but he's their best option at this point.
All that being said, Savage isn't ready 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
As this article from Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle confirms, I don't believe O'Brien will want to put Savage in a situation where he'll be asked to come in for relief duty in a blowout game or due to an injury before he's ready.
Savage struggled with reading and anticipating fast enough at the college level last season. Until the speed at which he goes through his progressions increases, he won't see the field. If he's not ready, he can't be the second-string quarterback and be forced into duty if something happens to Fitzpatrick.
Savage will get his chance, and it may come before the season is over, but he'll be the No. 3 quarterback to start the year.
Mike Thomas Will Be the Texans' Primary Slot Receiver
Bill O'Brien was unsure of what he had at the slot receiver position when he took over the team. That led many, including myself, to believe the Texans would look to address the need during the draft.
The team didn't go in that direction, and that has everything to do with the surprise they've found in veteran Mike Thomas, in my opinion. The former Jaguar joined the Texans in December in a signing that almost went unnoticed, but his performance during offseason practices has received attention.
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
Patrick Starr of State of the Texans has been impressed by Thomas during offseason practices:
Thomas has the veteran presence that the younger ones will follow and he has done a good job of balancing his role on the field. While still pushing for a spot on the team, there is visible evidence on the field of him talking to the younger players and giving pointers.
Thomas is pushing for the slot wide receiver position and is doing it once again by running crisp routes and catching everything. At 5-8 and 198 lbs., Thomas fits the mold of the position and it appears he is the leading candidate for the position.
Thomas has shown in the past to have great hands and be good in space, which could make him an impact player like other receivers who have lined up in the slot under Bill O'Brien.
From who the team has talked about competing for the gig, it sounds like they're going to treat the position as its own entity—that meaning the player who plays in the slot will be someone who possesses the traits of a good slot receiver instead of the job going to just the third guy on the depth chart. Kubiak didn't treat the position with the importance it appears O'Brien will.
Thomas will be pushed by Alan Bonner, who was selected by the Texans in the sixth round last season before missing the entire year due to an injury. Both should have a role on this team, but I expect the veteran with prior NFL success to get the nod to start the season.
DeVier Posey Will See More Snaps This Season
The player who has most benefited from the absence of Andre Johnson has been DeVier Posey. The former third-round pick of the Texans saw just limited action over his first two seasons and was slowed last year while recovering from an injury, but Posey has received more snaps during offseason practices.
From Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston, O'Brien has liked the progress Posey has shown so far:
Having just gotten here in January and just knowing Posey from what I’ve seen so far, I see a lot of good things. I think that DeVier has learned the offense well and I think just like every player here, every single guy here, you can always look to be more consistent on the field but Posey’s definitely improved.
Players often make their biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2, but Posey never got that chance after he missed offseason practices last year while recovering from the Achilles surgery he had after his rookie season.
Posey will still be behind Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins on the depth chart, but with good health, increased reps and a new coaching staff willing to let their evaluation start from scratch, he has a chance to earn more snaps during the regular season.
"I have seen a lot of good things." O'Brien on DeVier Posey. #Texans— PDS (@PatDStat) June 18, 2014
The biggest factor on how many snaps Posey receives will be determined as we get into the preseason and see what different types of formations O'Brien uses most often. It wouldn't shock me if he uses formations with either two tight ends and one running back or one tight end, one running back and one fullback.
In those formations, there would only be two wide receivers on the field, which would result in Posey remaining on the sideline. If the Texans use more four-wide-receiver sets or work Posey in the slot occasionally then he could be in for a big year. In that scenario I wouldn't be shocked to see Posey put up numbers similar to what Deion Branch did in 2011 under O'Brien as the Patriots' fourth option.
Even as the fourth option, Branch ended the year with 51 receptions for 702 yards and five touchdowns, per Pro-Football-Reference. Those numbers would all easily be career highs for Posey.
Posey will have a role on this team and I think it will be bigger than the one he's had the previous two seasons. The only question is, how much bigger?
C.J. Fiedorowicz Will Pass Up Ryan Griffin on the Depth Chart at Tight End
The Texans didn't draft C.J. Fiedorowicz in the third round to sit him on the bench. Ryan Griffin had a solid rookie season after having his role expanded once Owen Daniels went down with an injury, but I believe how he performs during training camp will be weighted more than his performance last season under a different system.
Fiedorowicz has the potential to be a special dual-threat tight end. Garrett Graham is a good receiver but a below-average blocker while Griffin is just the opposite; Fiedorowicz has the potential to excel in both areas.
Was impressed with TE C.J. Fiedorowicz and his athleticism for his size. At 6-5 and 265 lbs. he is a type of TE the #Texans have never had.— PDS (@PatDStat) May 16, 2014
From Marc Vandermeer of HoustonTexans.com, Fiedorowicz thinks he'll be a dual-threat tight end in the NFL: "I came in as a duel threat guy and I feel like I do have the tools to show that. I’m going to do everything I can…to prove that I’m a duel threat tight end. I think that is important in the NFL nowadays."
Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans has been impressed by his performance so far:
The rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz has a chance to be a good player at the next level and today he showed that he has untapped potential as a pass catcher. His sheer size alone gives him an advantage over any linebacker or safety that tries to cover him and he gives the quarterbacks a big target in the middle of the field.
He has shown that he can muscle his way through routes and the smaller defenders have had tough times figuring out how to cover the 6-5 and 265 lbs. moving target.
Fiedorowicz joins a system that turned another big, physical dual-threat tight end in Rob Gronkowski into a star. Gronkowski caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011 under Bill O'Brien.
Expecting Fiedorowicz to hit those totals anytime soon would be crazy, but he has a rare physical skill set. A physical skill set better than the other two tight ends on the Texans roster.
The only thing that will prevent his ascension up the depth chart will be his learning curve as a rookie.
Jared Crick Will Start at the Defensive End Spot Opposite of J.J. Watt
There will be a new face starting at the defensive end spot opposite of J.J. Watt this season. I expect that face to belong to former Nebraska star Jared Crick.
I was very high on Crick coming out of college, where he dominated as a sophomore and junior before an injury during his senior season hurt his draft stock. To get an interior defensive lineman who racked up 9.5 sacks two years in a row, per Sports-Reference.com, was a huge steal in my opinion.
So far Crick hasn't made much of an impact with the Texans, but he was blocked by a Pro Bowl-caliber veteran and a first-round pick, so him not seeing much playing time wasn't very surprising.
With one of those roadblocks out of the way, could this be his moment to shine?
Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans thinks Crick will get the first opportunity to start at the defensive spot vacated by Antonio Smith:
Jared Crick will be leaned on early at the opposite defensive end of J.J. Watt; he is pushing 285 lbs. for the position. There has been a concerted effort by Crick over the offseason to get quicker with better footwork for this season. It is clear he is moving better while not losing the strength needed to play in the trenches. He should be a big contributor on defense this upcoming season and will have to be a stout two gap playing defensive end.
From Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle, O'Brien likes the hard work Jared Crick has put in so far: "Jared has really worked hard this offseason. He's been here every day, quite a bit on his own, working in the weight room and the film room. You can tell that he's a good team guy. Like (defensive line coach) Bill Kollar would say, 'He's grinding it out.'"
The Texans will mix up their looks, so I don't expect Crick to man the position on every down, but I would be surprised if he doesn't receive the majority of the snaps. I just don't see much competition on the roster.
Tim Jamison and Ricardo Mathews are nice players, but I don't think either has the skill to be anything more than a rotational player or solid depth. The Texans' sixth-round pick Jeoffrey Pagan is an interesting player but hasn't practiced yet while recovering from a shoulder surgery he had after his last season at Alabama.
For the time being at least, Crick will be the starter.
Akeem Dent Will Not Start for the Houston Texans
Unless an injury changes the situation, the newly acquired Akeem Dent will fill a reserve role at inside linebacker and play on special teams, but he will not be a starter. The addition of Dent should be viewed as an indictment of the depth at the position, but not at the top with their starters.
Dent will be behind the other linebackers during training camp while learning a new system coming from the 4-3 defense the Falcons have run the last couple seasons. He won't be able to overcome that learning curve quickly enough to pass up either Brian Cushing or Brooks Reed, in my opinion.
O'Brien said Akeem Dent will come in and "battle" for an inside linebacker and special teams spot. #Texans— PDS (@PatDStat) June 19, 2014
I don't think Dent will pass up Jeff Tarpinian, either, who is the Texans' best coverage linebacker and will be on the field in their sub packages during passing situations.
In an article looking at the Falcons team needs before the 2013 season, Pro Football Focus described Dent as a solid run defender who wasn't as strong in other areas: "Akeem Dent showed some promise in run defense, playing more than 550 snaps in his second season, but failed to make an impact in the passing game, as he struggled in coverage and proved to be an ineffective blitzer."
Dent plays the run pretty well but struggles in coverage; the Texans already have a roster filled with those types of linebackers.
Ask yourself this: If Dent was the type of player capable of coming in and making a big impact as a starting inside linebacker, would the Falcons have traded him for a backup quarterback?
The former Falcon improves their depth but won't crack the starting lineup.