AFC South: Houston Texans

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hardly a passing play went by during the Houston Texans' and Denver Broncos' joint practice on Wednesday without a yellow flag flying out of an official's pocket.

They flew to the fury of defensive backs who insisted they did nothing wrong and to the amusement of some of those receivers who benefited from the calls that are part of the NFL's added emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

Johnson
The practice was reminiscent of many preseason games this offseason -- and even to the receivers who benefit, that isn't always a good thing.

The excessive calls were a little annoying to Texans receiver Andre Johnson.

"It kind of makes the game longer," Johnson said. "It actually kind of makes you hate it a little bit.

"Every time you look around, there's a flag on the ground. It's football. It's a contact sport. Everything's not going to be perfect, you're going to get bumped around a little bit."

Johnson believes those calls won't be made so frequently once the regular season begins. One way or another, though, this is giving the Texans' defensive backs a chance to have a better understanding of what officials are looking for.

"We had a few flags today and we asked them what it was, what it was they threw the flag for," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They gave us some pointers on what to do and what not to do. It's just a part of the game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Training camp is gone, and with it go our daily camp reports. But the Texans are in a training camp-like setting right now as they spend the week in the Denver area to practice against the Broncos.

And so, we'll continue recapping practice as long as we can.
  • Right guard Brandon Brooks passed his physical and came off the non-football injury list on Tuesday. He did only individual drills today, starting the process of being eased back into full participation. Brooks said that as an only child, his team is the closest thing to having brothers, and he was happy to be back with them. "I'm starting from square one and have got to play catch up, but at the same time after practice I got some extra reps today in different pass pro," he said. "Any chance I get to get an extra rep in any practice I can, I need to do it."
  • Brooks' return was part of the trend of the Texans getting more whole as the season approaches. Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph did significant work in practice, all of them dealt with some level of injury during the offseason and training camp. "It's nice to have guys out there working in practice and it's one of those things were I've got to be able to communicate with them," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "With Andre, a lot of it has been after series or whatever it is talking to him on the sideline. It's nice to have him in the huddle."
  • It was a no-pads practice, but defensive end J.J. Watt made his presence felt in individual drills, team drills and with his own teammates. Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted that Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said after practice: "I was fine until J.J. Watt ruined our practice." Watt also spent some time tutoring outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney on hand placement and he had a nice time against the Broncos offensive line during one-on-one drills.
  • Aqib Talib is a guy who likes to try and get into receivers' heads. It was fun to watch him face Texans' second-year player DeAndre Hopkins. "I think they like to pick on guys that they know can beat them," Hopkins said. He did indeed beat Talib a few times. Once Hopkins clearly won off the line of scrimmage, then stretched to attempt a one-handed catch in the end zone -- the kind he often makes in practice, but couldn't quite haul in the ball. "I'm a grown man," Hopkins said. "I don't back down from any challenge. It's great when a guy like (Talib) comes out here and challenges me to get better." He added that Talib has earned his reputation as a great defensive back.
  • Yellow flags were plentiful at practice, much to the frustration of the Broncos' defensive backfield. Toward the end of practice, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions, though the second was waved off with a flag, to loud protests from Denver's secondary.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After a two-hour practice against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt walked over to a blocking sled sitting on the edge of the practice field.

It was the first action that sled had had in a while -- the Broncos never use them anymore -- and Watt put it through it. He delivered blow after blow with the force he reserves to dispatch opposing offensive linemen, pummeling the sheds for several minutes, finally yielding to catch his breath before moving on to his post-practice obligations.

Watt doesn't mind the work. He doesn't mind the fact that as the 11th pick in 2011 his rookie contract was significantly smaller than those selected before him. One goal for the new rookie scale in the collective bargaining agreement was to force players to earn big contracts, rather than get them upon arrival. And he doesn't mind that either (though, what choice does he have?).

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/TUSP/Jay BiggerstaffJ.J. Watt hopes that the Texans reward him with a long-term contract.
Those post-practice obligations included a barrage of questions about his contract situation following comments Watt made to Yahoo! Sports about hoping he'd earned the same appreciation he's seen other 2011 draft picks get.

Watt wouldn't say it today, but I will: He has earned the new contract he has yet to receive. There are salary-cap concerns to consider, sure, but those can be navigated without things getting ugly between the Texans and the best defensive player in franchise history.

The genesis of this came from a reaction to some of owner Bob McNair's comments earlier this month. In a conversation we had, McNair made clear he wouldn't be afraid to use the franchise tag on Watt. McNair brought up the concept of the franchise tag unprompted, noting that Watt would be with the Texans one way or another for the next four seasons: 2014 on his rookie deal, 2015 on the rookie deal's option year, 2016 on a franchise tag if necessary and 2017 on another franchise tag. I asked about the potential ill will using the franchise tag could cause in negotiations and McNair said he wasn't worried. He said that was just a negotiating tactic.

But using that franchise tag says something. It also lacks the security players crave.

Today, Watt reiterated that his goal is always to outperform any contract he has.

"You should want people to think you're underpaid because of how hard you work, because of how well you do your job, because of how you go about your business," Watt said. "That's just personal pride."

Mission accomplished, because Watt has far outperformed his contract. Getting him for just $1.9 million this year and $6.9 million in 2015, the option year the Texans picked up in May, is a steal. He's been one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the NFL for the past two seasons.

Today, Watt avoided actively voicing the frustration nobody would blame him for having at this point. He didn't demand a contract. He didn't say he'd earned the same consideration given to Patrick Peterson (five years, $70 million) or Tyron Smith (eight years, $98 million). He deferred business talks when asked today, saying the time hadn't come for him to get involved. He was asked why he didn't use his leverage, perhaps with a holdout, and said that he wanted to be with his team -- and it hadn't come to that point.

But there were hints of frustration even in his carefully selected words.

One came when Watt said this: "I think when you look around the league and you see a couple other guys from the 2011 draft class get contracts, I think it's just nice to see the appreciation being shown."

Another came when Watt said this: "I always try and put on the best face I can for this organization and be the best ambassador I can be for the Houston Texans."

And the third was this: "Right now I’m in football mode, so I worry about that. If the time comes that I need to get involved in the business side I will.”

The Texans shouldn't let that time come -- and I don't think they will.

Houston Texans' projected roster

August, 18, 2014
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Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Things are getting interesting here. Tom Savage went in second on Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons to middling results. Texans coach Bill O'Brien wanted to see how he'd handle it. Fitzpatrick played much better than in his preseason debut, further underlining that it would have been silly for O'Brien to change his mind on his starter after one bad preseason outing.

RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS (4)

Let's now open the possibility that the Texans keep four running backs plus Prosch, who is a fullback. I haven't done it yet, but it could happen. Grimes was excellent on Saturday, scoring a special-teams touchdown. Blue scored as well. Ronnie Brown could sneak his way onto this roster, extending an exceptionally long running back career for the man who once was the second overall pick in the draft.

RECEIVERS (5)

I like this group more and more with each passing week. On Sunday O'Brien singled out Keshawn Martin for his improvement through camp. Thomas has given the team exactly what its needed so far. He's been out since having been hit in the head during practice last week, but should return soon. There will be some really tough cuts here for the Texans, as EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart have both done well.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

I tried to avoid the knee-jerk reaction, but what good is a 53-man roster projection without some hasty conclusions? For the past few weeks I've had Zach Potter as the team's fourth tight end, but it's impossible to ignore the plays Denham made Saturday night. Denham blocked a punt and then blocked a person to help Grimes score a touchdown off that blocked punt on Saturday night. I also feel the constant need to defend my having four tight ends in this group: they'll need a bunch.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

Su'a-Filo started Saturday and played guard exclusively. At this point, I'd say he's caught up enough that the time he missed in the spring is no longer hindering him. The Texans were looking for more consistency from the first pick of the second round this year, and saw that against the Falcons. Brooks, O'Brien said, is getting closer to playing.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

Nix passed his physical last week and is off the physically unable to perform list. He isn't back to playing yet, though. With the exception of one guy, this is a group rife with question marks. It's got talent. We just haven't seen most of these players in these roles yet.

LINEBACKERS (9)

Text message I received Saturday night: "Clowney just killed someone." This rookie is acclimating just fine.

CORNERBACKS (6)

There was another pick-six in a Texans game, only this time it was the kind they like. Cornerback Andre Hal took an interception 64 yards for a score. Bouye's steady improvement through this preseason and offseason was evident during the past week as he got tested by the Falcons' two excellent receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones. The tests will continue against the Denver Peytons.

SAFETIES (5)

Lewis drew praise from O'Brien this week for his ability to get everybody on the back end lined up properly. His familiarity with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's system is likely helping, as is his experince in general. It's a young group back there. I've had seventh-round pick Lonnie Ballentine on this list for a while, but I could see him being a guy they stash on injured reserve. He's been out for most of training camp.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Randy Bullock might be feeling a little bit more comfortable now. Rookie challenger Chris Boswell missed two extra points on Saturday. Granted, these were the extra-long trial period extra points, but a 33-yard field goal is something an NFL kicker has to make.

Clowney can't help but stand out

August, 17, 2014
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This regime's biggest message to the players on the Houston Texans is that none of them matters more than the team.

They're reminded of this every day. By their coaches, by their jerseys that lack names, by the decals on their lockers that instruct them to put the team first. With rookies, that message intensifies.

The Texans have no interest in crowning superstars. Sometimes, though, it can't be helped.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney made a couple of plays that ignited the Texans on Saturday.
That much was evident during last night's game, the Texans' home preseason opener, against the Atlanta Falcons. On back-to-back plays, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney looked like a superstar. He zoomed past a guard and leveled a running back. Then he zoomed past a tackle and took down the quarterback.

Plays like that are why he was the first pick in the draft. When asked about them, though, coach Bill O'Brien's answer remained consistent with his efforts to remind everyone that he considers Clowney to be one of the guys.

“I think anytime a player makes two big plays like that, no matter who the player is, whether it’s Clowney or [J.J.] Watt or [Brooks] Reed or J-Mo (Tim Jamison), [D.J.] Swearinger or K-Lew [Kendrick Lewis], whoever it is defensively, that helps the sideline," O'Brien said. "I can remember in other places I’ve been, when a guy makes a defensive play that’s a big hit, it really lights up your sideline. So it’s great for the defense, it’s great for our team and I thought it helped our whole sideline.”

That's often how O'Brien handles questions about Clowney. He was the main attraction at rookie minicamp, but here's what O'Brien said then:

"I think all these guys being rookies, they all came in here and it’s an eye-opener. Just like anybody, it’s not just one guy. It’s an eye-opener. It’s a different level of competition. All these guys have come in, they’ve been on time, they’ve worked hard. So they just need to take it one day at a time and continue to work hard."

By organized team activities, O'Brien was willing to give a little bit more. He began a response by talking about rookies in general, before adding that Clowney was working hard to learn a new position.

The message remained. No matter how talented you are, no matter how high a draft pick or how big a star you were in college, you're starting over here.

The thing is, though you can say Clowney is just one of the rookies all you want the player shattered that notion with the same force delivered to Falcons running back Antone Smith on Saturday night.

A day removed, O'Brien gave more.

"Clowney has come in here and worked hard, he’s a very instinctive player for a rookie," he said on Sunday. "He’s a hard-working guy. He’s a guy that when he’s played in these games, he’s played well. He’s been able to show his pass-rushing abilities. He’s been able to show his defense against the run ability. He’s dropped into coverage, so he’s done a lot of different things for us and he just needs to keep improving and that’s what he’s going to do."

As he does that, what's already true will become even more apparent. Clowney is not just one of the many. He is special, even if he's not allowed to think that way yet.
Earlier today, we reporters from NFL Nation joined forces to give you a look at skill position battles throughout the league. My apologies for not being able to provide more clarity there, as the Houston Texans are still sorting through their backup running back situation -- really the only skill position battle this preseason.

It's an important one, though.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Blue
David J. Phillip/AP PhotoRookie running back Alfred Blue has impressed Texans coaches through training camp and in Houston's first preseason game.
Keep an eye on rookie Alfred Blue as that process continues.

"Good teammate, hardworking guy, football smart, three-down back -- he's got to continue to improve catching the football," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said on Blue. "But good runner, good vision, good on special teams, understands football, asks good questions. I see some good things from Alfred."

Right now, after starter Arian Foster, the Texans rank Jonathan Grimes, then Blue, then grizzled veteran Ronnie Brown and finally William Powell. Running back depth charts are heavily dependent on preseason games.

Blue might have been a star at LSU, but just as he was taking over the starting spot, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. When he returned, Jeremy Hill had taken over as LSU's starter. It's a big part of why Blue was available for the Texans in the sixth round.

At this level, for Blue to beat out Grimes, it's going to take an improvement in two areas: pass protection and pass catching.

"Mentally, I've just got to stay focused out there, staying focused and not being so fast at turning around and taking my eyes off of the ball," said Blue, who dropped a third-down pass in the Texans' first preseason game. "It's just for me, focusing on catching the ball first, and then trying to react to a defender."

Picking up blitzes is usually the most difficult part of transitioning to the NFL for running backs. It takes an understanding of the defense you're facing, the reactive skills to then know what to do and the blocking ability to handle the blitzing linebacker or safety.

"It's a different deal than it is in college," O'Brien said. "I think it is getting better. It is not as consistent as we want it to be with Alfred, but he is working at it and it'll continue to improve with him."

Blue's process involves lots of film-watching and peppering running backs coach Charles London with questions, he said. And while the Texans are waiting for more consistency from Blue in that aspect, Blue felt pretty good about how he did with it in Arizona.

“I only had one blitz pick-up, but I think I did pretty well with that one blitz that came my way," Blue said.

The preparation helped. The play unfolded exactly as he expected.

More of that and Blue's career could unfold just as his coaches hope.

Texans Camp Report: Day 20

August, 14, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp:
  • Texans for DQ day was made official this morning after practice when Houston City Councilman Larry Green presented an official proclamation declaring Aug. 14, 2014, to be Texas for DQ Day. After Thursday's practice, the Texans' offensive line, the Falcons' offensive line and former Texans quarterback T.J. Yates (who was instrumental in having his new teammates participate) wore their T-shirts that will benefit lymphoma research. The Falcons wore a variation of the T-shirts for sale in the Texans' store. Theirs said "Atlanta for DQ." Texans lineman David Quessenberry, who is battling non-Hodgkins T lymphoblastic lymphoma, was touched. "Texans for DQ day is a powerful reminder that I am not alone in this fight! My Team and the amazing city of Houston have been incredible!" he posted on Twitter.
  • The second day of practices got a little more chippy between the Texans and the Falcons. There was word of a few light scuffles between the Texans' defense and Falcons' offense. On the other field, the one I watched for most of practice, DeAndre Hopkins mixed it up a bit with the Falcons' corners. Covered by the excellent Desmond Trufant, Hopkins and Trufant collided, which was no big deal. Well, it wasn't a big deal until Falcons corner Josh Wilson swooped in and started chirping at Hopkins. The two went at each other briefly before being quickly separated. O'Brien said the team doesn't have time for fighting, and I wouldn't qualify this as fighting. Rather, it seemed like an appropriate edge against another team.
  • Inside linebacker Brian Cushing, running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson all dressed for the second consecutive day. They were all limited to a certain extent, though, mostly out of team drills.
  • Foster did a little bit of work against the Falcons' defense, but none in team drills. He also left practice for a bit to be stretched on the trainers' table. When he returned to the field, he dropped a pass during a 9-on-7 drill, which resulted in pushups for him. On the next play Foster caught a similar pass.
  • Playing the role you'll see him more in this season, Kareem Jackson made a play on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Jackson picked off Ryan while playing the slot late in practice.
  • The Texans have Friday essentially off, except for preparations for Saturday's game against the Falcons. That will be Houston's preseason home opener. Next week they'll break camp and then head to Denver for joint practices with the Broncos.

Texans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • Wednesday marked the first of two joint practices between the Texans' and Atlanta Falcons. The teams decided not to go live with tackling, but limited contact to "thuds." They did periods of work on separate fields, then joined for some team drills before a group of fans there for the open practice. Oh, and, "Hard Knocks" was there, too, though careful not to get too close to the Texans. Asked if he'd be open to his team being featured on Hark Knocks, Texans' coach Bill O'Brien replied: "I’m always open to anything that helps our team get better."
  • Young cornerback A.J. Bouye, an undrafted rookie last season, got a great test on Wednesday, facing Falcons receiver Roddy White quite a bit. During one drill, Bouye and White went against each other three times. Once White won. Once Bouye won. The third time, Bouye had his hand in White's face and White dropped the ball. Other reporters watching the play with me thought it was a straight drop by White. I thought Bouye made an impact on the play. But even if it was merely a draw with White, that's pretty good from Bouye. Later, during a seven-on-seven drill, Bouye knocked the ball away from White again.
  • Speaking of White, that Atlanta tandem of White and Julio Jones is one that Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins really looked up to before coming into the NFL. We asked Hopkins if he had a chance to say hello. He said he did have the chance, but didn't do it. Why? He wanted to play it cool, instead of seeming like a fan.
  • Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got a stiff challenge from the Texans' defense. During one set of team drills, he had his first pass batted away, he had J.J. Watt in his face on the next (completed it, but Watt wasn't allowed to tackle him), and on the third pass, he threw one incomplete while facing excellent pressure form the Texans' front.
  • Atlanta's offensive line was a problem last season. It's part of why they drafted tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M. Matthews' roots go deep in Houston as the son of former Oilers Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews (who attended Wednesday's practice). The younger Matthews got tested against Watt. The offensive and defensive line one-on-one drills happen on the end of the field that the media can't see, so I can't speak to what happened there. But I did see a play early in practice during a team drill when the two faced each other. Watt rushed Matthews and the rookie held up against him.
  • Offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo got some first-team reps today. O'Brien has liked the way he's progressed. He had a lot of catching up to do after missing the spring workouts due to an NFL rule.
HOUSTON -- When the Atlanta Falcons' team plane descended into Houston, backup quarterback T.J. Yates felt a little bit like he was coming home.

Weird, though, because Atlanta actually is where he's from, and where he currently works. But those three seasons with the Texans got him very familiar with this place, and got fans very familiar with him.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yates
David J. Phillip/AP PhotoFalcons quarterback T.J. Yates talks with former teammate Texans defensive end J.J. Watt following Wednesday's joint practice in Houston.
On the practice field Wednesday, fans greeted him happily. And after practice, he was called to sign autographs, while most of his teammates slunk away unnoticed.

"It was really cool to see the fans still support me and stuff," Yates said. "I have a ton of memories here, a lot with these fans. For them to still show support even though I'm on the opposite side is really cool."

Not long ago, Yates got the message any player dreads. He'd been cut for the first time in his short NFL career. The Texans had opted to stick with starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and have Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage compete to be the team's backup.

It was a low, but it was a low that barely lasted long. A few hours later, Yates got another call, this time letting him know -- just kidding, never mind. Instead of releasing him, the Texans were trading him to the Falcons, his hometown team.

The Houston team he faced today looks very different from the one he played for from 2011-13. Most notably, the starting quarterback he backed up throughout that time is in Oakland.

"You look at the (Texans) from a couple years ago, so many people are spread out all over the league," Yates said. "It’s the business and how it goes. It’s just how you bounce back when you go from team to team really determines how long you’ll play in this league."

Yates sees a nice opportunity for himself in Atlanta; one where he'll get more of an opportunity than he had in Houston.

And whether it's because of the memory of the first playoff win in franchise history, their knowledge of his affable nature, or because of the panic over the Texans' quarterback play in their first preseason game, fans were delighted to see Yates back in Houston.

"We miss you, T.J.!" one young fan shouted.

"I miss you guys, too," Yates replied.
HOUSTON -- His return to the field Wednesday was huge, though perhaps to everyone except Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing himself.

Cushing called it a small step. He still sees a task ahead. And he thinks he has something to prove about what he can do.

Cushing
Twice Cushing mentioned the idea. Once, he talked about gaining his teammates' confidence. Another time this: "You have a new staff and you kind of want to show them what you can do and what your value is to the team. That’s kind of been put on hold a little bit."

Here's a man who, when healthy, is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. Why does he feel he has anything to prove? That's just who he is.

"I don’t know if I have to prove who I am for them or for myself," Cushing said. "I’m a competitive guy. I want to come out here, I want to prove I can help the team and do a real good job. That’s important to me, that’s something I focus on a lot."

Cushing returned to the field Wednesday, coming off the physically unable to perform list and practicing with his teammates for the first time since suffering a torn LCL and broken fibula in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs last season. It was the second year in a row he ended the season on injured reserve after having suffered a major injury. During the 2012 season, Cushing tore his ACL.

"I think when you don’t feel right, you don’t want to push," Cushing said. "Especially when you’ve gone through it before. You know what it feels like when it’s not right. ... You know when you’re ready and when you’re not."

He did individual drills and participated in parts of practice that were just with the Texans today. Cushing sat out the team drills against the visiting Atlanta Falcons. Texans coach Bill O'Brien said Sunday that Cushing probably would not play in Saturday's home preseason opener.

Cushing said he thinks he can have his best season ever this year. It would be a payoff for another difficult offseason.

"When guys leave the building, season’s over, and you’re in there by yourself rehabbing every day, there's not many people around and it's kind of tough," Cushing said. "It’s kind of tough to deal with that, push through. It kind of seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But like I said, the hardest part’s over, so I’m grateful for that."

Texans Camp Report: Day 18

August, 12, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • Nose tackle Louis Nix III returned to practice today after being taken off the physically unable to perform list. Nix had arthroscopic knee surgery before training camp began. He had knee problems in college. Texans coach Bill O'Brien said Nix is being eased back into practice and might be able to do some things against the Atlanta Falcons in practices Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Training camp had been scuffle free until Tuesday's practice when defensive lineman Julius Warmsley and offensive lineman James Ferentz got into one. Of course camp fights become more prevalent when two teams get together for camp practices. "We don’t have any time for fighting," O'Brien said. "We have time to compete and get better. There’s no time for fighting."
  • Running back Ronnie Brown got some reps during his first practice with the Texans. He scored a touchdown during a goal-line drill this morning. "It feels good being back on the field getting work," Brown said. "Obviously, a lot different than working out at home and trying to get in football shape and this Houston humidity. But it felt good to get back out and get moving."
  • The most noticeable thing on the practice field today was the club-shaped cast on rookie fullback Jay Prosch's left hand. Prosch returned to practice after missing several days. Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious part of O'Brien's post-practice transcript came from a question about whether or not Prosch had surgery. "I don't remember," O'Brien said. Now, that's a way to dodge an injury question that he hasn't used before.
  • The Atlanta Falcons come to town tomorrow. The morning's practice, which begins at 8 a.m. local time, will be open to the public.

Texans Camp Report: Day 17

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp:
  • A couple nice plays for defensive backs today. Rookie corner Andre Hal knocked a pass away from receiver DeAndre Hopkins, which isn't easy to do. Corner Brandon Harris picked off quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick midway through this morning's session.
  • Quarterback Case Keenum completed 5 of 11 passes during a team drill this morning. One incomplete pass was batted. One looked like a miscommunication between Keenum and the receiver. Texans' coach Bill O'Brien said today that Keenum and rookie Tom Savage are still working out the backup quarterback battle. Despite his struggles on Saturday, Fitzpatrick is still the Texans' starter (which is the right move, by the way).
  • Andre Johnson and Arian Foster missed practice again with their hamstring injuries. As usual, Foster declined interview requests. Johnson said he is feeling better. O'Brien said this weekend that both players would have a shot at playing this weekend.
  • Practice was pushed back 30 minutes this morning so the team could meet at 8 a.m. and discuss some of what went wrong during their first preseason game. "We had a good meeting," O'Brien said. "Showed them like I told you guys the good and the not so good. I believe we came out and worked hard at trying to crack some of the mistakes and getting better at some of the things we’re doing well."
  • Tomorrow's practice will begin at 8 a.m. and will be the last of the week before the Texans welcome the Atlanta Falcons (and "Hard Knocks") to town. They'll have joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

Houston Texans' projected roster

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
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Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Keenum is the second-stringer, but the Texans had so few plays offensively in their first preseason game that it's hard to really get a feel for where Savage and Keenum stand. Fitzpatrick had to play the entire first half in order to get enough reps for coach Bill O'Brien to feel comfortable taking him out.

RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS (4)

Andre Brown didn't get any carries against the Cardinals and has apparently slipped to fifth on the depth chart. Grimes leapfrogged him as soon as he returned off the non-football injury list and was one of the few bright spots in that first preseason game. O'Brien said Brown's lack of playing time was a function of the Texans' plan for the order of their running backs. Foster is still hurt, but the plan was to start Grimes, then play Blue, then Dennis Johnson and then Brown.

RECEIVERS (5)

Mike Thomas was another rare bright spot for the Texans' offense on Saturday night. He was instrumental in the drive just before halftime during which the Fitzpatrick-led Texans started moving the ball. Had that drive ended in a score instead of an interception, the game might have been shaded much differently.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

I'm keeping an eye on Anthony Denham here. He's an undrafted rookie tight end who had a lot to work on when he arrived at camp, but has also learned a lot. If the Texans don't keep four tight ends, that could be good news for someone like EZ Nwachukwu in the receiving corps.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

Kupper struggled in his preseason debut. I wouldn't be surprised to see Su'a-Filo, the Texans' second-round pick, overtake him on the depth chart. The Texans are thin at guard, especially with Brandon Brooks still on the non-football injury list.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

Nix is now known to be recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, which calls into question whether he'll be healthy for the Texans' season opener. I could see Ricardo Mathews being added to this list in order to give the Texans enough depth at nose tackle.

LINEBACKERS (9)

Clowney showed off both his talent and his inexperience in the Texans' first preseason game, a perfectly natural position for a player playing linebacker for the first time. Brian Cushing might be close to returning to practice, which is excellent news for the Texans. Whitney Mercilus saw plenty of playing time on Saturday, but seems to have slipped down the depth chart. I still stand by my prediction from OTAs in which i had Tuggle and Cushing inside with Reed and Clowney outside.

CORNERBACKS (6)

Harris struggled a little bit against the Arizona Cardinals -- not that that's an easy group to cover. What we'll look for there is improvement as the preseason progresses. Everybody defensive back had some rough moments in Arizona, and of course with the position those moments get magnified.

SAFETIES (5)

Rather than splitting this group into free and strong safeties, these guys are learning to play on the right or left side in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's system. They all have to learn free and strong safety, just another example of the emphasis on versatility around here these days.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Remember how I said we'd learn more about the kicking competition this week? Well, I take it back. Randy Bullock kicked off to start the game, and then took a nap, I assume. Rookie Chris Boswell did some punting, but the Texans never got in the position to have either of their kickers kick an extra point or a field goal during that 32-0 loss.
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans played without three offensive starters and two defensive starters in their preseason opener Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals.

They could get at least two of those players back next weekend against the Atlanta Falcons.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien said running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson have "a shot" to return for the team's second preseason game. Both have soft tissue injuries, Foster suffered injury on July 27 and Johnson on July 28. Foster returned for one day of practice since then, which means both have missed the same number of days while healing.

The Texans were also without the following starters: right guard Brandon Brooks, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

O'Brien said Cushing might return to practice this week, but would "probably" not play in the game. That would be great news for the Texans. Right now Cushing is on the Texans' physically unable to perform list. He suffered a broken leg and torn LCL last October, an injury that finished his season.
This morning I wrote a piece from a chat I had with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. There's more where that came from: A lot of that interview will wind up in a feature I'm working on about McNair. But I pulled out a few newsworthy bits to share today.

Watt
Watt
One of our many topics was about defensive end J.J. Watt's future. McNair made clear that he wants Watt with the Texans for a long time but that he isn't afraid to franchise Watt to keep him on the team for the next four seasons. I went into more detail here.

Some notes on that matter:
  • Watt is part of that 2011 draft class that is the first under the new collective bargaining agreement. The first-rounders signed four-year deals with fifth-year team options. Because Watt was the 11th pick, his option number is an average of the top 25 players at his position minus the top two highest paid. If he winds up playing on that deal, it will be a significant bargain for what the Texans are getting on the field.
  • Two players from that class have signed contract extensions already. The Dallas Cowboys signed left tackle Tyron Smith to an eight-year extension worth $109 million. The Arizona Cardinals signed cornerback Patrick Peterson to a five-year extension worth $70 million. Watt's per-year average should be bigger than both of them.
  • Mario Williams got a six-year deal worth $100 million after the 2011 season. I wouldn't be surprised if Watt beats that. Williams is currently the highest-paid defensive end in the NFL. Defensive ends and cornerbacks are the highest paid on defense. If Watt does beat out Williams, his deal could make him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league.
  • After this season, the Texans might be better equipped to understand how much they can commit to Watt and how they'll need to structure his contract to make sure it doesn't negatively impact the roster. The salary cap could jump then to aid their efforts.

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