This year's preseason games, for the Texans, will be different. With Bob McNair's "all the way to the playoffs" mentality, the team needs to build the best roster that they have ever had. What this means is that some of the fringe players will need to play big to make the team this year.
Going into the preseason the Texans currently have four starting WRs: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones and Dorin Dickerson. They will need two more (a fifth spot and a practice-squad spot) to complete the roster. With nine WRs currently on the roster there will be stiff competition for the last two spots.
Running backs are in a similar situation, with returning starter Arian Foster locked in and Derrick Ward listed as the second back. Meanwhile, Steve Slaton and Ben Tate look like the two main competitors for the third and final RB roster spot.
Lastly, some of the positions will continue to improve as coaches assess the players' performance throughout the preseason. The current depth chart is not set in stone and is subject to change. For a few positions this could bring a new face to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
The two biggest competitors, as far as wide receivers are concerned, are Lester Jean and Terrance Toliver.
Lester Jean, a 6'3”, 215-pound undrafted rookie from Florida Atlantic, has been impressing the coaches and the fans at training camp. Jean has been making big catches and looks sharp running routes. He has often beat the smaller defensive backs in the battle for the ball.
He is the bulkier of the two WRs and can take hits in stride without losing control of the ball. While he is slightly slower than Toliver, with his size and ability to make big plays he could still lock up the final roster spot with a solid showing against the New York Jets.
Terrance Toliver (6'4” and 204 pounds), out of LSU, has shown flashes of greatness on the field.
His height and speed often make up for his struggles with the bump and run. He has solid hands and, when he breaks away in the open field, he can be a serious threat on the deep routes.
Toliver could develop into a great player with some more guidance from All-Star Andre Johnson. Until then, I believe that Toliver will land himself a role on the practice squad.
Steve Slaton is looking to resurrect his career.
After suffering from a major case of “fumbleitis” two years ago, he was usurped by breakout sensation Arian Foster. He was relegated to the third-string position where he touched the ball only 22 times.
However, training camp has seen the return of Steve Slaton to his rookie form. He has been hitting holes with great speed and has burned many defensive backs after cutting around the corners.
If he continues to improve throughout the preseason he will assure himself a third-string position. However, if the ball comes loose during the preseason he could be packing his bags and looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
Competing with Slaton for the third, and final, roster spot is Ben Tate.
After being sidelined early in the preseason last year with a severe ankle injury, which required surgery, he is making a move for the roster this season.
His small size and blazing speed could be useful for kick returns, but I believe that the final roster spot, for running backs, belongs to Slaton. Additionally, Trindon Holliday has looked great returning kicks—making Tate's chances dwindle even more.
When the Texans released FB Vonta Leach many fans became despondent. They believed that the running game would become non-existent without the Pro-Bowl fullback leading the way.
However, Gary Kubiak believes otherwise.
Former TE James Casey has bulked up during the offseason and is currently the starting fullback for the team. His versatility as a converted TE could allow the Texans to use him as a check-down option more often than they could with Leach.
Casey will have stiff competition in the preseason as he will share time with FB Lawrence Vickers. If Casey cannot learn the finesse of the fullback position he could lose out to Vickers.
FB Lawrence Vickers was signed by the Texans shortly after they released Vonta Leach.
His signing, for many, was a sign that James Casey was not developing as the coaches hoped he would. However, I believe that his signing was an insurance move more than anything.
Vickers is not as well known as other fullbacks in the NFL, but he was Jamal Lewis' lead blocker when Lewis rushed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns.
Assuming that Vickers can play as well in the preseason as he has in the past, he could take James Casey's starting job at fullback. He has the experience that Casey lacks at the position and will need to show that in each preseason game if he wishes to take the starting job.
Jason Allen is one of those players who can make the big plays when given the opportunity.
Last season Allen had three interceptions, one more than starting CB Kareem Jackson. If he can maintain coverage and not get beat in the backfield, Allen could start over Jackson.
Kareem has been defeated many times in training camp and looks lost in some of his zone coverage.
If Jason Allen can step up and become a versatile corner who can play man-to-man as well as zone coverage, he could take Jackson's starting job.