Houston Texans: Biggest Position Battles Going into the 2011 Season
While fans have witnessed frustrating finishes for several years in a row now, there is no doubt that the Houston Texans have more talent on the roster now than they have ever had.
For proof of that, look no further than all the potential competitions for playing time.
When players were cut from the Texans roster in the preseason, they went untouched. Now, teams can't wait to get their hands on the players the Texans cut.
Let's take a closer look at some of these position battles that will be so closely watched.
The offseason goal at the cornerback position was to bring in even more talent and let the players battle for playing time in the offseason and training camp.
I feel they accomplished that by drafting highly productive college corners in Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael. If those two come in, work hard and show they can be more productive than the incumbent players, they will be given a chance to play.
Those incumbent corners have to come in and treat training camp like they are undrafted rookies. Nothing should be given to them just because they have been here.
In a perfect world, Kareem Jackson, Brice McCain and Glover Quin will come in and show why the Texans drafted them in the first place. They will surely be given every opportunity to succeed, but if the coaches feel the new guys can get the job done better, they will be given the reps.
The Texans can't afford to play poorly at this position any longer. They make good quarterbacks look like Hall of Famers and mediocre quarterbacks look like good ones.
The key is to play the guys that will produce. If that's two rookies, so be it.
As big an issue as the cornerback position is, the safety position is almost as big. When your corners struggle as much as the Texans' corners did, you need safeties that can help them out. Eugene Wilson, Bernard Pollard and Co. didn't do that last season.
Now, neither of those guys are on the roster. The safety positions are wide open. Shiloh Keo was drafted likely with the idea of having him start for the team. Troy Nolan has some experience and will probably be asked to step into a bigger role.
Dominique Barber is another guy that has been with the Texans for a while, but he has been given plenty of opportunity to step up, and he has yet to do so.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Texans bring in a veteran or two once free agency opens for NFL teams. They will almost have to just to fill out the position.
Those veterans will do battle with Keo and Nolan for the majority of the snaps at safety.
The Texans have a wealth of talent and experience at the linebacker position. DeMeco Ryans is as steady as it gets in the middle. Brian Cushing will be looking to return to his rookie season form.
They also have several solid veterans that are battle-tested in guys like Darryl Sharpton, Zac Diles and Xavier Adibi. There is also talk that Mario Williams will be used in certain situations as a linebacker. Cheta Ozougwu was drafted in the seventh round, but he will get a long, hard look in training camp as he gives you a similar skill set to Diles and Adibi.
The position is changing for the Texans. Wade Phillips, the new defensive coordinator, has said that they will be using some 3-4 defensive sets in addition to their usual 4-3. That puts a premium on linebackers that are versatile and can rush the passer.
Brian Cushing is made for that type of role. New draftee Brooks Reed from Arizona was drafted with this new defensive scheme in mind.
You know that Ryans, Cushing and Reed will get their snaps. The question is how you divide the rest of the snaps between the role players. The key among the rest of the players will be showing that they can play in a myriad of roles and contribute in any number of ways.
The defensive tackle position is changing as well. With more 3-4 sets in their defense, they will need someone to fill that nose tackle spot. They don't have anyone on the roster that fills the role of a traditional nose tackle, so someone will have to step into a role they aren't familiar with.
The Texans also sorely need one of their defensive tackles to emerge as a pass rusher. That had been the job of Amobi Okoye in past seasons, but patience is wearing thin with him. Earl Mitchell was drafted as a possible replacement one season ago, and now they will be adding J.J. Watt to the mix.
When they are in the 4-3 defense, I'm guessing that Watt and Okoye will spend a lot of time playing next to each other. When in the 3-4, neither fits as a nose tackle, so the team will have to pick between them on the line.
This is another position where I could see the Texans bringing in a veteran. None of the guys on the roster profile well as a 3-4 nose tackle. That position dishes out a pounding, and I'm not sure they want one of their pass rushers also spending time getting beat up as a nose tackle.
Backup Running Back
The starting job here is locked up, of course. Arian Foster led the league in rushing last season and is in no danger of being replaced.
The backup running back position is tough to call. Derrick Ward filled that spot admirably, but not so well that you wouldn't consider upgrading the position. He isn't much of a big-play threat back there, and he isn't all that elusive.
Ben Tate is a relative unknown. He was a second-round pick last season by the Texans with the idea that he would battle Foster and Steve Slaton for the starting running back job. Unfortunately, we never found out what they had in Tate. He went down to an injury in the preseason and was lost for the season.
The starting job is out of reach now, but he can still be a productive backup. If nothing else, I'm sure the Texans would like to at least lighten Foster's load.
More and more in today's NFL, teams are using three- and four-back rotations to limit the pounding any one back takes. The Texans may end up going to that if both Ward and Tate play well in the preseason, but it's more likely that one outplays the other and ends up getting the majority of the backup carries.
Quarterback is another position where the starter is in no danger of losing his job. Matt Schaub has developed into one of the more prolific quarterbacks in the league.
The backup quarterback spot is more unsettled, though.
Matt Leinart is probably gone. He will sign with a team that will give him a chance to battle for a starting spot. I'm not saying that Leinart necessarily warrants a shot to start, but you know some team will give it to him.
That leaves the incumbent Dan Orlovsky and recent draftee T.J. Yates from North Carolina.
Orlovsky is a decent backup to have. He has starting experience, albeit during the Lions' infamous 0-16 season, and he isn't going to go out there and embarrass you if he has to play in a pinch.
That being said, you know what you have in Orlovsky. He isn't going to get much better. He is a decent backup, but if he plays more than sparingly, you are in trouble. That's where Yates comes in.
Yates played well at UNC despite the utter chaos around him. He played in several different offenses while there, and as a senior, he had to deal with the suspension of several of his best offensive weapons. He still has a ton of room to grow.
Coach Kubiak has a history of only carrying one backup on the active roster, and if he continues that trend, we could have a real battle on our hands over which of these guys gets that spot.