The last five slides focused on the top battles for starting positions on the Texans' depth chart. Some out in the open for all to see, and one, the wide receiver battle, that is just now rising to the surface as the preseason commences.
Here are a few more battles to watch that are not high on the media’s radar, but could have major impacts as the season progresses.
First, who will emerge as the passing-down defensive end? Will sophomore Connor Barwin explode as the pass rushing monster coaches believe he is capable of or will he slump? Will it be Antonio Smith the Texans rely on to pressure Peyton Manning into throwing interceptions?
Second, seven-year veteran full back Vonta Leach is no spring chicken. This hard-nosed blocker and short armed receiver has wowed Texans fans with his side line catch and runs for years.
This season however the Texans signed a second full back, an even older Justin Griffith from the Seattle Seahawks. Look for the Texans to use both in an effort to push each other, and keep at least one healthy throughout the season.
Third, who is going to step up and fill in for strong side linebacker Brian Cushing while he is suspended for the first four games of the season? This should prove to be a pretty exciting competition between linebackers Danny Clark, Xavier Adibi, and Kevin Bentley.
Frankly if you look at Bentley’s performance on special teams last year, he should get it on aggressiveness alone.
Fourth, and probably the most intriguing position battle in the underbelly, is the clamor for the free safety spot. As of now the Texans have Eugene Wilson on the top of the chart. However, Wilson has struggled with injuries since he signed with the Texans from the New England Patriots.
Dominique Barber has shown promise over the last two seasons, and may be the safety that finally solidifies that position.
But wait, what about New Mexico’s ball hawking stud from 2008 Troy Nolan? Nolan spent all last season on the injured reserve list with a fractured hand. While at OTAs and Minicamps this offseason, Nolan has proven that even while injured he kept his head in the game. He is standing out with his coaches, and gaining media recognition as a focused, and hard working safety that truly is about to undertake his first real season in the NFL.
Keep these little underrated battles in mind as well this training camp. It just might be that one of these guys gets the last interception of the 2010 Super Bowl.