AFC South: Houston Texans

On Sunday, the Houston Texans changed their quarterback situation. What exactly that means, we don't know just yet.

They released Case Keenum, a player who started eight games last season but was still very much in a developmental stage. They traded for Ryan Mallett, a New England Patriots third-round draft pick in 2011, giving up a draft pick that will be either a sixth-round or seventh-round pick, depending on playing time.

Mallett gives the Texans another option in a fairly low-risk move, and he wasn't brought to Houston to be just a space-filler. But right now, the questions about the Texans' quarterbacks still outnumber the answers.

Playing behind Tom Brady, Mallett never had more than garbage-time reps during regular-season games in New England. His college history was spotty as well, with off-the-field questions that dropped him to the third round.

O'Brien knows Mallett better than most coaches in the NFL. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in New England during Mallett's rookie season. O'Brien would not have made this move without being comfortable with both Mallett's ability and his commitment.

Without having seen what Mallett can do, though, there remains only one quarterback on the Texans' roster who is a known quantity: starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
Most significant move: Cornerback Brandon Harris ran out of chances. They say you know who a guy is a football player by his third NFL season. Last season was Harris' third since being a second-round draft pick in 2011, and it wasn't an especially inspiring one. He didn't turn into a viable slot corner, and on the outside A.J. Bouye, a player who made last year's roster as an undrafted rookie, passed him during this year's training camp. Teams don't typically game plan much during the preseason, but in the Houston Texans' preseason opener in Arizona, the Cardinals picked on Harris. The Texans kept six cornerbacks: Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, Bouye, Elbert Mack, Josh Victorian and Andre Hal, a draft pick who improved significantly since his arrival in Houston.

Ronnie Brown extends his career: With a promising rookie backup in Alfred Blue, who is still learning to catch and pick up blitzes, the Texans need a talented veteran to help mentor Blue and Jonathan Grimes, another young player who played his way onto the roster his summer. They'll get that in Brown, a good locker room presence who is entering his 10th NFL season. That is, of course, not the only reason the Texans are keeping Brown. That would be silly. He can still play and fill in where necessary.

One undrafted rookie sticks around: Outside linebacker Jason Ankrah, an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska, steadily rose through the depth chart. I had some guesses about which undrafted rookies had a chance to make the roster, and one I thought could was Max Bullough, the inside linebacker out of Michigan State. Bullough had some moments of confusion during the Texans' final preseason game, which might mean he needs a little while on the practice squad to develop. Travis Labhart was another undrafted rookie who gave himself a chance, but I didn't expect him to make the 53-man roster. He's another guy who needs time, and the Texans have five receivers who don't.

What's next: Houston has the top priority on the waiver wire, which is set in reverse order of 2013 record. That means these cuts might not be the last. On Friday, the Texans already had started to take a look at which players might become available.

Texans' moves: WR Lacoltan Bester, WR Travis Labhart, WR EZ Nwachukwu, FB Toben Opurum, TE Anthony Denham, TE Zach Potter, OT Matt Feiler, C James Ferentz, G Bronson Irwin, G Alex Kupper, DE Keith Browner, DE Julius Warmsley, NT Ricardo Mathews, OLB Quentin Groves, OLB Chris McAllister, ILB Max Bullough, ILB Chris Young, CB Brandon Harris, CB Junior Mertile, CB Marcus Williams, S Jawanza Starling, K Chris Boswell
HOUSTON -- You don't always get the frankness we got on Friday from Texans coach Bill O'Brien, in this instance regarding nose tackle Louis Nix.

Nix missed time during this offseason after having a knee scope, and the catchup process for the third-round pick doesn't have Nix where O'Brien wants him.

"It’s been OK," O'Brien said. "He has to get a lot better. He’s a third-round draft pick and he needs to make sure he’s working extremely hard every day to play pro football. We’re in the process of figuring out who the 53-man roster is. A lot of those things we take into account.

"You have a guy there that’s a young guy who really doesn’t totally get it yet, what it means to play in this league. He has to come out and earn it. He’s better than he was when he came out on the field a couple weeks ago against Atlanta, but he’s got a long way to go."

Strong words.

When the Texans drafted Nix, trading back into the third round to get him. I thought he'd at least compete to be a starter, but quickly it was clear Jerrell Powe had that spot locked down. The fact O'Brien even brought up the roster cuts in a response about Nix is very interesting.

Houston Texans' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

Keenum and Savage took all the reps Thursday night, and neither player's performance was pretty. Each completed eight passes and threw one interception. Keenum finished with a 33.9 passer rating while Savage finished with a 37.8 rating. This was supposed to be the night when one distinguished himself as the team's backup quarterback. Coach Bill O'Brien has never fully committed to saying these three are the ones who will be on the roster next week, but usually he leans that way. On Thursday night, he didn't have an answer on whether he would keep all three currently on the roster without examining the film.


You could argue that Brown is someone who would be available at any point in the season, should the Texans need his services. I think that logic could lead to this group being one thinner, but I still like his value in helping younger running backs learn the professional game.


It's tough to not keep a sixth receiver with Travis Labhart and EZ Nwachukwu doing some good things this summer. I would say Nwachukwu began ahead of Labhart, and Labhart caught him as the preseason progressed. If the running back group thins by one, this is probably where that spot will go.


Fiedorowicz quickly passed Griffin, who entered offseason workouts as Graham's backup. This is an offense that will utilize tight ends heavily.


Again, a little thin here, but these eight players include four who can play tackle (Brown, Newton, Clabo and Su'a-Filo), four who can play guard (Brooks, Jones, Su'a-Filo and Kupper) and three who can play center (Myers, Jones and Su'a-Filo).


Please welcome Ricardo Mathews to the Ganguli 53-man roster. I don't know what took me so long. It finally became apparent to me that I was hanging on to one too many defensive backs.


Mercilus has had two strong games in a row. He said he has been thinking less lately, and it shows. I've added Ankrah, the undrafted rookie outside linebacker out of Nebraska to this list. Ankrah started Thursday night with both Reed and Clowney not playing. Ankrah had a sack and two tackles for loss against the 49ers.


No changes to this position group again. It's been a pleasure to watch Bouye's development. He faced a lot of talented receivers this preseason and held his own. I talked to him after Thursday night's game and asked what he's learned. He said he enjoys parsing his mistakes to figure out how to fix them. Bouye specifically noted going back and watching a touchdown he gave up against the Broncos last weekend.


Keo was chipper after Thursday night's game, and for good reason. He had a strong game on special teams and defense, on a day when he was fighting for his job. In my mind, this fourth safety spot came down to Keo or Eddie Pleasant. Pleasant had some strong moments during the four exhibition games so there's absolutely a chance he either beats out Keo or both make the team. For now, though, we'll reward Keo's strong performance against the 49ers.


Randy Bullock kicked a 52-yard field goal Thursday night. Lechler chilled on the sideline. They, uh, know what he can do.
HOUSTON --It was a foregone conclusion that Houston Texans' rookie quarterback Tom Savage was in need of development the moment he arrived in Houston.

He played only two seasons of college football in five years, bouncing between three different programs and finally settling at Pittsburgh last season. It was a journey that forced him to mature. It didn't leave much time, though, for learning how to be a quarterback, and he came into the league needing time.

Savage understood that. It's why his demeanor Thursday night -- after an 8-for-12 performance where he had a 37.8 passer rating in the Texans' 40-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers -- was similar to his demeanor last weekend minutes after he led a game-winning drive.

"I think it's going to be a good adventure for me," Savage said. "I think as a young player, you've got to be able to handle these situations. And trust me, it sucks to lose. ... But it's just the tough feeling. As a competitor you want to go out and win. It doesn't matter if you're playing checkers or football. So it stings, but you've just got to keep improving."

What the Texans' quarterbacks experienced during Thursday night's preseason finale was not pleasant for either of them. Savage's struggles included a pick-six.

Case Keenum, who started the game, completed 8 of 17 passes for 70 yards and an interception. His wasn't returned for a touchdown, but San Francisco scored on the very next play. Keenum was not available to media after the game.

"They put in a lot of work, even though tonight was not a great night," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "It is a body of work and there has been some decent play from those guys, so we are comfortable. We will always do what is best for the team ... but as it relates to those two guys, they have shown flashes of good things and some not so good things, just like everybody else."

Keenum and Savage now find themselves in very different positions. Savage, a fourth-round pick, has more leeway due to his lack of experience. Keenum, though impacted by a poorly handled quarterback transition last season, has less.

O'Brien has been asked repeatedly if the three quarterbacks on his roster right now are the three he'll take into the regular season. He once said yes, "as we stand here today." Another time he said "more than likely" they are the three that will remain.

On Thursday night he said this: "If keeping these three quarterbacks is what's best for the team, then that's what we'll do, but just coming in here off the field, it's not something that we can answer right now. We've got to go upstairs and figure it out and watch some more tape and meet as a staff and go from there."

If the staff gets together and decides the team needs another option, the Texans have the top position on the waiver wire and might keep an eye on which quarterbacks become available.

Observation Deck: Houston Texans

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans took their backup quarterback competition into this final preseason game, and it wasn't either quarterback's best day.

Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage distinguished himself. By the end of the third quarter, they had passer ratings of 33.9 and 31.9. Both threw interceptions, though Savage's was returned for a touchdown. Keenum's could have been. After what looked like a miscommunication between Keenum and receiver DeVier Posey, the 49ers scored on the next play.

Houston lost to San Francisco 40-13.

Here are some other thoughts from the Texans' final preseason game:
  • Safeties Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant needed strong performances Thursday, and Keo's was better than Pleasant's, especially during their defensive snaps. On one play, Pleasant was in position to stop a touchdown but couldn't quite make the tackle. Keo also played well on special teams, which will be important to the Texans' decision on who remains on their roster.
  • Rookie cornerback Andre Hal made his second interception return for a touchdown of the preseason. Both of his came at home. On this one, Hal plucked the ball out of the air as it bounced off the receiver's hands. As is often the case with young defensive backs, though, there was good and bad mixed in for Hal. He was beat deep in the fourth quarter on a pass that got the 49ers to the Texans' 11-yard line. The drive ended in a touchdown.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell took on some kicking duties and all of the punting duties. He did fine kicking but had a punt blocked for a safety. Boswell had already lost the kicking competition to Randy Bullock (who made a 52-yarder Thursday), and he wasn't going to beat out Shane Lechler as the punter. A good performance Thursday might have given him a chance elsewhere.
  • Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus made back-to-back tackles for loss during the first half. He followed a sack of Blaine Gabbert by tackling LaMichael James in the backfield. Mercilus started for the second consecutive game. He started last Saturday in Denver when outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was out with an injury suffered after a helmet-to-helmet hit in a practice with the Broncos. This time, the Texans kept most of their starters out.
  • Interesting positional note on the offensive line: Xavier Su'a-Filo started at left tackle in place of Duane Brown. Su'a-Filo played as much guard as tackle in college, but was better as a guard. He was mostly a guard in games this preseason.
  • Running back Arian Foster missed the Texans' entire slate of exhibition games for the second straight season. Last year he dealt with a variety of soft tissue injuries, starting with the Texans' organized team activities. This season it's been a hamstring injury. Foster has looked like his old self during practices, but has been limited there, too. If he stays healthy, he'll be a big part of the Texans' offense, and they didn't see any reason to risk that Thursday.

Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
Most significant move: There weren't really any very significant football moves in the Houston Texans' first round of cuts. Those gone as the team reduces its roster from 90 (the Texans had 89 for a few weeks) to 75 were long shots to make the team. Non-football-wise, the Texans placed David Quessenberry on the non-football illness list as he continues his treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He's talked often about how being part of the team and the support he's received from the team make him feel stronger, like he has an "army" behind him. He'll remain part of the group as he fights for his life.

Receivers stand out: The Texans cut three receivers in this round, which still leaves them with some very difficult decisions this weekend. Texans coach Bill O'Brien singled out that group Tuesday as being a very talented one. They could keep five receivers, or six if a sixth player forces his way on the roster. Undrafted rookie Travis Labhart is in the conversation to be that sixth player. He could make a case for himself on Thursday night in the team's final preseason game.

Texans' cuts: WR Joe Adams, G Conor Boffeli, NT Austin Brown, OLB Paul Hazel, NT David Hunter, WR Alec Lemon, OLB Terrence Lloyd, G Sam Longo, WR Anthony McClung, CB Junior Mertile, RB William Powell and OLB Lawrence Sidbury. In addition, safety Lonnie Ballentine was placed on injured reserve.
HOUSTON -- Two thirds of the Houston Texans' South Carolina wing remained mostly sidelined at practice on Monday.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien said outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph are day to day. He also said he is not concerned whether either player will miss the Texans' season opener on Sept. 7.

Clowney has been sidelined since colliding with Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme on Wednesday in Colorado.

Joseph is still on a rehab schedule stemming from foot surgery he had after the season. He returned to practice for a few days of training camp before being shut down again. Joseph has said he did not have a setback on his recovery, the Texans are simply being cautious.

Offensive linemen Will Yeatman and Chris Myers both returned to practice, O'Brien said.

The two starters are critical pieces of the Texans' defense, so it's a good thing for the Texans. O'Brien isn't worried about their availability for the games that count.
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' roster will have to be down to 75 by 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT Tuesday. That will mean 13 actual cuts, because the Texans started with 89 on the roster and will place David Quessenberry on the non-football injury list.

And those cuts began Monday. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Texans have cut receiver Joe Adams, receiver Alec Lemon, guard Sam Longo, running back William Powell, nose tackle David Hunter, nose tackle Austin Brown, cornerback Junior Mertile, outside linebacker Terrance Lloyd and outside linebacker Lawrence Sidbury.

Those cuts happened before the Texans practiced late Monday morning, so the coaches got another look at the bottom of the roster before finishing that first round of cuts. They need to make four more to get down to 75.

Thursday's game will be critical for players on the bubble as the Texans will have to reduce their roster to 53 by Saturday afternoon.

Houston Texans' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

A well-oiled 74-yard touchdown drive plus two-point conversion was cause for optimism about Savage. Savage said one of the things that kept him calm throughout that drive was the support he had on the sideline, not just from his coaches, but from the man with whom he's competing to be the Texans' backup quarterback. The quarterback room has been a smooth one this offseason and Texans coach Bill O'Brien believes Fitzpatrick's leadership is a big part of that.


Blue got the start against the Denver Broncos -- a surprise start. He didn't even know until after warm-ups. Blue did well to convert a fourth down on a drive that ended in a touchdown. "It's fourth down. The coaches expect you to get it. Don't get denied. There's a lot of pressure. You have to get in your mind, I ain't getting denied. If anything it's going to be the defense, their defense is going to stay on the field." He didn't get the touchdown, but Grimes came in and got it shortly thereafter. Blue has some work to do toward becoming a more complete running back, but has the ability to back up Foster. I like Ronnie Brown's presence on this roster in a reserve/teaching role.


Something interesting happened at slot receiver this week. Martin got a lot more playing time in the slot. Thomas had been a shoo-in as the Texans' slot receiver, but Martin took a step during Thomas's absence and surpassed him, in the coaches' eyes.


The Texans opened their game Saturday with two tight ends in -- Fiedorowicz and Graham. Those are clearly their top two tight ends right now, and two they used together several times. It's interesting that Fiedorowicz's pass-catching ability was a question. That was mostly because Fiedorowicz didn't do much of it in college. He's showed now that given the opportunity, it's something that comes naturally to him.


Having gone back and listened to an interview I did with O'Brien during training camp, I noticed he mentioned eight offensive linemen. For a while I'd been wondering how to finagle the roster to include more skill players, and if the Texans are comfortable that they have enough offensive linemen with multiple skills, they could do that.


This exercise gives me an appreciation for how difficult cuts will be this week. I would love to include Ricardo Matthews on this list as he's had a nice preseason, but I don't know that the Texans will keep him over Nix.


Mercilus got a chance to start Saturday because of Clowney's absence. He has had a difficult preseason as he adjusts to life as a non-starter.


No changes to this position group. Saturday was tough for them -- well all of them who played as Joseph sat out as part of his rehab plan. Mack had an excellent week of practice. He had several pass breakups and one interception returned for a touchdown that delighted his teammates and coaches.


Lewis made a nice play during the game, with some help over the top during one pass that could have been a touchdown. His familiarity with the Texans' new defense has been big both for himself and for the rest of the defense. Pleasant took the heat, along with Bouye, for Peyton Manning's two touchdowns in the final minute and a half against the Texans, but O'Brien said on that play, the receiver was primarily the cornerback's responsibility. He added some blame for the offense for putting the defense in that position at all.


This group had a fun weekend in Denver with its high altitude and thin air. Boswell did quite a bit of punting and did well. Still, the kicking job is Bullock's to lose.

HOUSTON -- There was a clear resignation in Texans safety D.J. Swearinger's voice as he spoke about the hit he made last night against Broncos receiver Wes Welker.

It's a very familiar tone for anyone who listens to defensive backs.

What are we supposed to do?

When he spoke in the locker room after the game, Swearinger didn't know the hit had caused Welker's third concussion in less than a year. What he knew was that he tried to hit his shoulder against a receiver's shoulder, when the receiver he aimed for lowered his head.

A lot of the ire directed toward Swearinger, including that of Welker's quarterback, Peyton Manning, had to do with the result of the play. It's a mistake, though, to think that the ends explain the means.

It was a dangerous hit, but not a dirty one. It had a frightening consequence for a man whose brain has taken a lot in the past nine months. But that fact doesn't change what Swearinger did and what he was trying to do. He was not trying to hit Welker in the head. He was not trying to rattle Welker's brain into another concussion.

Swearinger was caught in the middle of a somewhat similar situation last season.

Back then, Swearinger was a rookie in his first preseason, trying to figure out how he was supposed to hit in the NFL. He tackled Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller low, tearing apart Keller's knee. Proud of the hit, before he knew what he'd done, Swearinger celebrated. Keller's teammates unleashed their wrath, not accepting the apology that followed once Swearinger found out how badly Keller was hurt.

At the time, Swearinger said he knew if he went high a fine or flag would have come.

"These guys know what a proper tackle is," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said today. "It’s not leading with the head, it’s hitting with your shoulder and hitting between basically the shoulders and the waist and not above the neck area. We just continually show that to them, but I think last night's play was a tough one to really say, 'Hey, you were at fault there.'"

It was a play that left Swearinger wondering what he was supposed to do.

D.J. Swearinger remains himself

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
DENVER -- The target of Peyton Manning's taunting penalty was perhaps the least surprising thing about Saturday night's game.

"I get a lot of people mad at me," Texans safety D.J. Swearinger said. "That’s how I’ve been all my life. That’s why I am the way I am."

Broncos receiver Wes Welker made a nine-yard catch at the Texans' 38-yard line, halted by a big hit from Swearinger. The safety's shoulder collided with Welker's head, doling another concussion to the receiver, who had two last season. It angered Welker's quarterback, who let Swearinger know immediately.

One play later Manning threw a touchdown pass, then ran over to Swearinger again to offer what Swearinger called "choice words." The quarterback considered the ensuing 15-yard penalty well worth it.

Forget the discussion about that hit in particular, because that is a much broader one to have. Swearinger says he led with his shoulder and that's all he could do. The Broncos thought it was dirty. That's generally how these things go.

But Manning's focus on Swearinger was about more than just one hit.

"The week had something to do with it," Swearinger said. "Practice during the week and the hit had something to do with it."

These teams spent three days facing each other. Swearinger, who as a kid sought to be as smart of a football player as Manning, made sure Manning felt his presence with his words and his play. He picked off Manning in a drill on Wednesday, and shortly thereafter a mild fracas ensued.

"He's been a competitor all week at practice," Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We've been competing against him, and sometimes he lets his attitude get the most of him."

That attitude is something Swearinger considers an asset. It certainly can be. He uses it to rattle opponents; he wants them to be thinking about him rather than about what they're supposed to be doing.

That's where the tricky part comes.

Swearinger's edge makes him a better football player -- safeties have to be a little nuts sometimes -- and often a really fun one to watch. But that edge and enthusiasm can get him in trouble with the way game are officiated. He's been flagged for penalties enough to know that and has said he's working on figuring out ways to keep his swagger, only hidden from officials.

Will it work? Is it even possible? That's a major challenge for his career.

Observation Deck: Houston Texans

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24

The Houston Texans' first-team defense, even without two important starters, was playing terrifically against a very talented Denver Broncos offense. The Texans were ahead 7-3, having sacked and intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and harried his receivers.

And then, the two-minute warning.

It's a dangerous time to be a defense against Manning, and he proved it. With 1:07 left in the first half, Manning threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders as safety Eddie Pleasant and cornerback A.J. Bouye chased him into the end zone. Then, with five seconds left in the half, Manning threw another touchdown pass to Sanders with the same two Texans defensive backs chasing him.

The Texans had sat some starters by that point, but a majority of the players who started the game finished it, an 18-17 victory pulled out in the final minute on a touchdown pass from Tom Savage to Ryan Griffin and a two-point conversion pass to Travis Labhart.

Here are some other thoughts on the Texans' third preseason game this year:
  • D.J. Swearinger likes to talk. He likes to try to get into his opponents' heads; he says that gives him an advantage. After Manning's second touchdown, just before halftime, the future Hall of Fame quarterback ran straight to Swearinger and got in his face. Manning drew a taunting penalty for that move, which could have been about something Swearinger said or Swearinger's hit on Wes Welker, which resulted in Welker getting evaluated for a concussion. You can look at this in two ways. One, Swearinger got into the head of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If he can rattle Manning, whom can't he rattle? Two, did he really rattle Manning? The quarterback threw two touchdown passes immediately before taunting Swearinger. We'll talk to Swearinger about it after the game.
  • It wasn't all bad for Pleasant and Bouye. Both had interceptions -- Bouye against Manning and Pleasant against backup Brock Osweiler. Bouye had done very well in coverage for the most part; it's just that a defensive back's mistakes stand out.
  • Rookie running back Alfred Blue started over Jonathan Grimes, who is listed ahead of Blue on the depth chart. Blue had several excellent runs -- eight for 27 yards by the end of the third quarter. Grimes had a very strong day, too. His best play was a 24-yard catch on which he was alert enough to get up and run after realizing he hadn't been touched. Starter Arian Foster did not play, but Blue and Grimes showed that the Texans' running back depth is in good shape.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick attempted 17 passes and five of them targeted Andre Johnson, playing in his first preseason game. Johnson caught three of those for 18 yards. It was a middling day for Fitzpatrick. He had some nice throws and some bad ones. He had one or two that should have been picked off, but weren't. One thing he does well is react to pressure. That's a marked improvement over what the Texans had last year.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ask Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage which quarterback he looked up to growing up, and he'll tell you it's his brother, Bryan Savage.

This week though, Savage got to share a practice facility with another pretty good quarterback role model. He was working with some receivers when Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walked up to him unsolicited.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Jack DempseyHouston rookie Tom Savage got to meet -- and learn from -- Peyton Manning this week.
"I was like, 'Guys, you go. I'm going to talk to Peyton for a little bit,'" Savage said with a bit of a smile.

The reigning league MVP asked the rookie quarterback how he was mentally, how he was faring in his first NFL training camp.

"I'm not going to lie -- I got a little starstruck when I first saw him," Savage said. "It was pretty unique to go out there and watch one of the greatest play."

The positions in which the two came into the league are different. Manning was the first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, immediately expected to change a franchise. Savage was a fourth-round pick this May, a product of the Texans' patience at the position. He's not expected to start right away -- he's a project with size, arm strength, intelligence and a nomadic college football career that gave him little chance to develop. Savage is currently third on the Texans' depth chart after starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum.

Savage and Manning found common ground in how hard it is for a quarterback to come into the NFL.

"He kind of reassured me of the rookie grind and how it is for a rookie," Savage said. "It was good, it was good to hear. Just when you're not in, get as many mental reps as you can. Just keep grinding because he said it'll be a long year, but at the same time it's gonna be fun.

"... It's good to hear that he went through some moments, too, where he had to grind through it."

Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions in his rookie season in 1998. The Colts went 3-13 that year, but enjoyed a dominant run with Manning for the next decade.

"It is a process," Savage said. "Knowing that, obviously as a quarterback you don't want to lose games and throw a bunch of picks. You don't want to say it's OK because Peyton did it. You want to do the best you can do. But just take kind of his work ethic and put it on the field."

Savage watched that work ethic and its fruits this week. He saw Manning's command of his team, and how much his receivers respect him. He knew that didn't come easily.

Said Savage: "Everyone knows he's probably one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the history of the game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a bit of a target on Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt on Thursday as the Texans and Broncos went through their final practice together.

 And that's just fine with Watt.

"Yeah, I'll take it any chance I can get," Watt said. "You don't normally fight when you win the rep. I have no interest in fighting someone when I beat you. ... That's why I don't normally get into fights. When you hit me, I don't feel a need to hit back. You can turn on the film, see what happened."

What happened yesterday was Watt beating Broncos tackle Chris Clark in a one-on-one drill early in practice. Clark tore off Watt's helmet and then took a swing at him after the play ended. An official threw a flag as Watt grinned and suggested Clark not get mad at losing.

He takes it as a compliment, mostly.

"Everybody wants to pick on the big guy," Watt said. "That's fine. You guys saw what happened yesterday. You win on the field. You don't have to fight if you win on the field. You win the rep, people tend to get chippy."

There were a couple skirmishes between the Texans' defense and the Broncos offense today. Watt was right in the middle of one. The Texans had taken him out when the next one started.

"It's football," Watt said. "Boys will be boys. You know how that goes. Handle it like a man. I don't think there was a real major scuffle so that was a good thing. It's football. There's testosterone out here. People get excited. We practiced against each other for three days. We're professional athletes. Guys get a little antsy."