Houston Texans Preview: 10 Concerns Going into Training Camp
With July’s official arrival, the air is thick with the feeling of impending training camps. In Houston the excitement is almost too much to bear, all because Texans are a team on the verge of something special.
This season the Texans are predicted to be contenders for the AFC South championship. There are even rumors of a deep playoff run, as well as a possible Super Bowl appearance. Texans fans are clamoring for the chance to finally celebrate their team, a team that has spent the last nine years steeped in mediocrity.
Due to such high expectations, the 2010 season’s training camp is full of promise, intrigue, and as usual some deep concerns.
The following is a look at a few of these concerns that if properly addressed could launch the Texans into the regular season with their destinies in their own hands.
Welcome to the Big Leagues
First, seven-year veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson’s timely departure from the organization is both a deficit and an opportunity at the same time.
The Texans lose a stubborn hard-hitting corner, which they looked to replace from the depths of the 2010 draft.
With the 20th pick in the first round of the draft the Texans turned their noses at two corners analysts and scouts had ranked second and third behind Florida’s Joe Haden. The team passed on Boise State's ball-hawking corner Kyle Wilson, as well as the hard-hitting monster from Rutgers, Devin McCourty. They shocked many fans by picking Alabama’s Kareem Jackson and donning him as the second corner taken in the first round.
In Alabama, Jackson was coached up under Nick Saban, and the Texans feel they have a very sound corner slated to start right out of the box.
Jackson’s progress during training camp needs to be on hyper speed. His first regular season game will be against arguably the best quarterback-receiver tandem in the league, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne.
One thing is for certain: After the opening game against the Colts at Reliant Stadium, Jackson can say the worst of it is behind him. That is of course until they play the Colts in “their house” during Week Eight.
Tight End Tangle
Now a look at the health and contract concerns with 2008 fantasy darkhorse tight end Owen Daniels.
Halfway through the 2009 season during the 31-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, Daniels suffered a season ending tear in anterior cruciate ligament. The result of which was a major contributor to a four game losing streak that followed for franchise.
The outstanding tight end promises to be ready for training camp, while the Texans are more reluctant to place him on the field.
Not only is his knee a concern but also the status of his contract is in question.
If Daniels would have stayed healthy the entire 2009 season, he would be looking at a huge increase in his salary. However, the injury he suffered prevents him from any real leverage until he can prove his knee is 100 percent.
Since the Texans' policy is not to negotiate contracts once regular season begins, training camp is going to be crucial for Daniels to prove he is back to pre-injury productivity levels. Needless to say it is financially beneficial for him to be on the field during camp, and beneficial for the Texans to keep him limited until season begins.
All of this aside, this team is better with Daniels in the game, and training camp is where his ability to participate will be evaluated.
Strong side linebacker is a position where you want the meanest, toughest, most aggressive son of a gun you can find. The Texans have that in sophomore linebacker from USC, Brian Cushing.
The concern is that he basically has fallen down, tripped and taken himself out of the play for the first four games of the season.
His four-game suspension for testing positive to a “non-steroidal banned substance” has left a huge gap for opposing teams to run through.
This training camp the Texans are going to have to determine how to fill the hole.
Linebacker Zack Diles the starting weak side linebacker would seem most likely, however the Texans like his chances for an appearance at the Pro Bowl for the weak side position this year. He will stay where he is and someone else will have to step up and make an impact.
As soon as news of the suspension hit the media the Texans, once again, signed free agent Danny Clark after a two-year stint in New York with the Giants.
Clark a nine-year vet is an experienced leader who will be competing with third year linebacker Xavier Adibi, rookie from Miami Darryl Sharpton, and special teams standout Kevin Bentley to take the spot while Cushing rides the couch.
Yea right…that guy is going to be in the gym, and I pity Giants when he returns for the fifth game of the season.
This battle will unfold during training camp, and could vastly affect the outcome of the Texans first four games of the 2010 season.
Chink In The Armor
The 2009 season for the Texans was breakthrough on multiple levels. However, the one that stands out the most was the franchise record total season passing yards. Pro Bowl MVP Matt Schaub was a machine, racking up 4,770 yards and 29 touchdown passes.
Going into the 2009 training camp a major concern was Schaub’s ability to stay healthy the entire season.
Has that really changed going into the 2010 season?
He wore a harness that held his shoulder in socket for the second half the last season.
If Schaub is unable to stay upright the teams hopes would fall on the shoulders of backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky.
This will be Orlovsky’s second season with the Texans where he was beat out last season by quarterback Rex Grossman after being cut in Chicago.
Houston fans just don’t have the same confidence in Orlovsky as the coaches at this point.
This training camp will be Orlovsky’s opportunity to give the fans a worm fuzzy feeling desperately needed, because for now it seems that if Schaub goes so will his team
D-Fence not D-Popsicle Sticks
When you have to face Peyton Manning twice a year, a major concern will always be the ability of the defensive line to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
This has been a sore spot for the Texans since inception nine years ago.
How many players have been thrown at this problem, only to fall short of a solution in the past four years?
Frank Okam, Travis Johnson, Tim Bulman, Sean Cody, DelJuan Robinson, and Amobi Okoye are just some of the promising talent that this team has acquired to give the defensive secondary a chance to make plays by getting in the face of opposing quarterbacks.
Okoye is going into his fourth year with the organization, and is still one of the youngest players on the team.
Drafted in 2007 out of Louisville 10th overall at the ripe old age of 19, his productivity has dropped off since his rookie season, and some sources are beginning to mummer bust.
This season he enters training camp noticeably lighter than the previous seasons, in hopes that this will increase his ability to get off the ball and penetrate the back field alloying him to wreck havoc.
Coaches have expressed concern that Okoye should not shed any more weight.
Don’t forget, not only do the Texans face Manning twice a season, they also face Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
They need an interior defense stout enough to plug holes as well.
Training camp will be an opportunity to see if the youngest defensive lineman in the league can finally out play the oldest, 40-year-old Jeff Zgonina who is retuning for his 18th season in the NFL.
Drive Your Feet!
The 2010 training camp also brings with it an offensive line competition for the Texans.
This is a unit that did a fantastic job last season in pass protection, however in short yardage situations just could not give the surge to acquire the inches needed to keep the drive alive.
In 2009, the Texans lost six games within seven points.
At least three of them were determined by opposing defensive lines out muscling goal line stances.
How frustrating it was to sit on the edge of your chair, and watch Cardinals' Darnell Dockett dig and claw at the ground in celebration after holding the Texans offense on the one yard line four downs in a row.
Texans owner Bob McNair and head coach Gary Kubiak have made their goal clear.
Run the ball.
In order to move the ball on the ground, a team has to be able to create lanes, push piles, and knock defenders out of the play. This is done by strength, size, will, and most important continuity.
The linemen need to have a telepathic link with each other. Five men moving as one, and to achieve this level of trust it takes time.
In the offseason the Texans cut Chester Pitts an original Texan.
Then they signed Wade Smith from Kansas City, drafted Shelley Smith from Colorado State, and have several retuning players who racked up plays last season due to injuries.
The Texans will need to solidify the depth chart on a very competitive unit early this training camp, to give the starters an opportunity to gel.
Create Competition not Controversy
By now it is public knowledge that the Texans are in the middle of a kicking competition.
During the 2010 season old reliable kicker Kris Brown, the only Texan left from the franchise’s first season in the league, missed 11 of 32 field goals.
That is a staggering number from a kicker that if you combine his misses from 2007 and 2008 only add up to eight.
The real issue was when the muffs occurred: when they needed the points to go into overtime or win the game.
They happened right after Matt Schaub heroically drove the ball down the field with seconds left on the clock to place the Texans in range for Brown send one through the uprights.
By the end of the year head coach Gary Kubiak could even not watch when the field goal unit would walk out on the field.
Needless to say, the Texans signed veteran free agent Neil Rackers from the Cardinals.
Rackers missed two games in 2009 with a pulled groin, and still had the best record in the entire NFL for the season.
The Texans claim that Rackers was brought in to create a kicking competition during training camp.
Seeing that it is impossible to simulate the kind of pressure it takes to drive one though while the game is on the line, in overtime, during the playoffs, etc.
It seems only fair to look into the past for this, and notice that Rackers holds the cardinals record for field goals in the postseason from the 2008 season. The Texans coaching staff has to figure out how to create competition for the kicker position not controversy.
Baby, Baby, Hold Together
Back to the running game, we need to address the concern of Steve Slaton’s neck injury.
During the 2009 season, Slaton put the ball on the turf seven times in only eleven games. Later we discovered he suffered nerve damage in his neck that prevented him from normal feeling in his arm.
It was numb.
During the season, the importance of this injury was downplayed, and presented as a non-factor for the continual fumbling problem.
Since the end of the season Slaton has undergone a surgical procedure with a specialist in Dallas, TX.
Slaton has tweeted his fans that he was cleared for contact by his doctor and ready to get after it during camp.
Coach Kubiak stated during Mini Camps that once Slaton was cleared he intended him to participate in as much contact as possible to see how well he holds up.
Due to the surgery, Slaton has dropped weight, and is back to where he was when he came into the league and ran for 1,200 yards.
Steve Slaton is an important part of this team offense, what he is capable of doing in the open field is unbelievable.
This training camp needs to be an opportunity for Slaton to showcase his abilities, hold onto the ball, and get back on the field where the Texans need him most.
All joking aside, wide receiver Jacoby Jones from tiny Lane College is one of the most dynamic players in the league.
When the ball is in his hands he is just plain dangerous.
Every touch could be a game changer.
During the 2009 season he averaged about 19 yards a carry on punt returns. His return average would have been even higher if not for some untimely special team’s penalties.
His wide receiver stats jumped immensely from 2008 to 2009 with 27 catches and six touchdowns.
The only beefs that coaches have with Jones are work ethic and maturity issues. We are hearing so far this offseason that both of those concerns are a thing of the past.
The Texans drafted LSU’s return specialist Trindon Holliday to help with kick and punt returns.
Freeing up Jones to focus more on his receiving duties, and if Jones can learn to apply the same kind of character his mentor Andre’ Johnson has.
Combine ethic with his natural ability, and he could be one of the elite receivers in the league.
Trust Your Instincts Grasshopper
As long as maturity is the subject at hand. There is another unit of the Texans organization that needs to grow up.
If the Texans are to make a run at the playoffs the coaching staff has to mature around game management.
During the 2009 season, at least two of the seven losses could have been reversed if the coaching staff utilized the challenge rules in the game.
First, during the Week Nine 20-17 loss to the Colts, running back Ryan Moats caught a nine yard pass from Matt Schaub, and rumbled toward the end zone.
However, he was tackled out of bounds, and coughed up the ball on the one yard line.
The initial call was Texans ball on the one, and then the Texans with close to two and a half minutes left in the half called time out.
Giving the Colts sideline enough time to review the previous play, and throw out the red challenge flag.
The result was an overturned call and a touchback for the Colts, which ended with a Manning drive to a score.
Had the Texans ran up to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball, or even kicked a field goal we would be looking at a 21-20 outcome with the Texans looking at the franchise's second win over the elusive Colts.
Second, the Texans' defense put together a couple of terrific goal-line stands against the Tennessee Titans during the two teams’ epic second battle in the 2009 season.
Both four down defensive stands ended in a one yard rushing touchdown by the Titans over the middle, and both were arguably short. The ball never crossed the plane.
The Titans rushed in their field goal unit and kicked the extra point; all the while the Texans coaching staff never threw the red flag. Even if one of those touchdowns had been reversed, the outcome of the game would have put the Texans on top.
This would have sent them into their first post season trip with a 10-6 record instead of home with a 9-7 season record.
This training camp needs to present the Texans coaching staff with situational opportunities, where they can practice and mature in regards to game management.