Texans Preview: 10 Concerns Heading Into Training Camp
After finishing a franchise-best 9-7 last year, the pressure is on the Texans and coach Gary Kubiak to earn their first ever playoff berth this season.
At the end of every practice during Organized Team Activities in May and June, the team huddled together and chanted "Super Bowl."
Houston suffered several excruciating defeats in 2009 and could have been 11-5 or even 12-4 had a few plays turned out differently. As the Texans head into training camp, questions remain at several key positions. They include: running back, tight end, corner back and the interior offensive line.
The uncertainty of wide receiver Andre Johnson's contract re-negotiation still lingers and the coaching staff needs to adjust to the additions of new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and quarterback coach Greg Knapp.
The heat will be on during the steamy training camp days in the Houston bayou.
1. Who will emerge from crowded backfield?
Without a doubt the biggest concern heading into training camp for Texans coach Gary Kubiak is at running back.
Kubiak personally stayed after practice on several occasions to watch 2nd round pick Ben Tate’s individual sessions as he rehabbed from a hamstring injury.
The Texans ranked 30th in the run last year and Steve Slaton led the team with just 437 yards. Slaton has recovered from a neck injury that caused him to fumble frequently last year and has worked on keeping a firmer grasp on the ball.
Ben Tate will fit in nicely with Dennison’s one cut and go attack in the zone blocking scheme.
Second-year back Arian Foster made major strides in the offseason and worked with the first team in OTAs.
Chris Henry impressed the coaching staff with his bursts into the hole during spring workouts.
2. Can secondary withstand loss of Dunta Robinson?
After the loss of corner Dunta Robinson to free agency, the Texans hope first round pick Kareem Jackson can fill his void.
During mini camp, Kubiak lauded Jackson for his experience in playing in a pro-style defense at Alabama and for his readiness to adapt to facing NFL offenses. The Texans' coaching staff expect Jackson to start right away.
At the other corner spot, Glover Quin has made major strides from his rookie season in 2009.
Antwaun Molden, Jacques Reeves and Fred Bennett will likely battle for the nickel position.
3. How will Cushing's suspension impact team?
The Texans will sorely miss outside linebacker Brian Cushing during a four-game suspension to start the season for testing positive for a performance-enhancement drug.
Though Cushing played with the first team during OTAs, one question to look at is whether he will receive first team reps in training camp.
Kubiak has a couple of options during Cushing’s suspension. He can either start Danny Clark at strong side linebacker or he could move weak side linebacker Zac Diles over and insert Xavier Adibi into the starting lineup.
Clark has experience starting at strong side linebacker in the past.
4. Can Daniels return for the start of season, if not who starts at TE?
Houston is in a unique situation at tight end with six currently on the roster.
During mini-camp Kubiak said Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels might miss all of training camp as he continues to recover from knee surgery.
Backup tight end Joel Dreessen is coming off shoulder surgery and Anthony Hill is also recuperating from knee surgery.
In OTAs, rookie tight end Garrett Graham and James Casey split reps with the first team. In a worst case scenario, Kubiak expects Daniels to be ready for the opener against the Colts.
5. Kicker battle: Kris Brown or Neil Rackers?
The Texans will likely have an intense battle for the starting kicking position between incumbent Kris Brown and Neil Rackers.
Brown has served as the Texans’ starting kicker since 2002, but struggled in 2009 when he missed two game-tying field goals against the Colts and the Titans. Brown signed a four year, $10 million contract before the 2009 season.
Rackers spent seven seasons with the Cardinals before signing with the Texans in April.
6. Who will step up as interior line positions are up for grabs?
All three spots for the Texans interior offensive line are up for grabs.
Right guard Mike Brisiel is back after missing 11 games last year with several broken bones in his foot. Brisiel is still playing with pain and will be challenged by Antoine Caldwell.
Kasey Studdard is the favorite to start at left guard, but will be pushed by Chris White.
At center, Chris White Myers has the starting position for now, but will be tested by Wade Smith, a free agent from Kansas City.
7. Can Dan Orlovsky kick John David's booty for 1st Backup QB Spot?
While the Texans are set at starting quarterback as Matt Schaub led the league’s top ranked passing attack in '09, questions remain at backup.
Last year’s backup Rex Grossman is in Washington and Dan Orlovsky is the likely choice to win the position.
Kubiak is notoriously difficult on quarterbacks and it may have helped Orlovsky in his development.
For now, John David Booty is the third-string quarterback and needs to learn the system before he can realistically unseat Orlovsky.
8. Can Defensive Line created added pressure in 2010 on opposing QB's?
Last year, the Texans ranked 25th in the league in sacks with 30 and defensive end Mario Williams was held to nine, partlally because of injury.
With Williams fully healed, defensive line coach Bill Kollar expects the fifth-year end to rack up more sacks this year.
He needs help from his fellow linemen. Amobi Okoye has shed 15 pounds and looked quicker in OTAs. If Okoye does not produce, he could be replaced by rookie Earl Mitchell.
DE Connor Barwin looked impressive in the weight room in the off-season and is making a bid for extended playing time.
9. Will Andre Johnson's contract be a distraction?
In May, Andre Johnson missed several days of OTAs to express his displeasure towards the team with his contract.
Johnson has five years remaining on his current contract and will earn a base salary of $5.8 million.
The University of Miami receiver will likely seek a deal similar to one the Miami Dolphins reached with Brandon Marshall in the off-season.
Johnson, team owner Bob McNair, and general manager Rick Smith said they are open on discussing the restructuring of the contract before training camp begins.
Nearly two weeks before the start of training camp, there is no word on how close the two sides are to reaching an agreement.
Will Johnson hold out if he is not given a new deal? If so, how much will a holdout cause a distraction for the team?
10. How will coaching staff adapt to new offensive coordinators?
With the loss of former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Texans signed former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in the off-season.
The team has also added former Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp as quarterbacks coach. Kubiak has worked with Dennison before in Denver and Knapp has worked with Schaub previously in Atlanta. The head coach expects the transition to be seamless.