NFL Nation: Houston Texans

Texans' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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Fitzpatrick
I suspect this answer will be the same for all the teams that lack the following.

Consistency at quarterback is the biggest key to the Houston Texans' success over the next three years.

Our Insiders have compiled a project in which they provide future power rankings. To accompany it, each of us is offering our thoughts on what the biggest key for future success will be to the team we cover. Houston has pieces in place to be a solid team soon. That doesn't mean things won't change a lot over the next three seasons -- in 2016 the Arian Foster and Andre Johnson eras will likely be over -- but replacing them won't be nearly as difficult as finding a consistently reliable quarterback.

You either have one, or you're looking for one. And they aren't always easy to find.

For a few years there was an overemphasis on this, given the success of men such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But all of them got beat in the playoffs this past season. The quarterback isn't the only thing that matters, but your chances for success increase significantly if you have a QB who won't cost you games.

He might be on the roster now. Perhaps Ryan Fitzpatrick will prove to be one of those late-blooming quarterbacks whose on-field decision-making improves this year. Fitzpatrick has never had a winning record, in part because of the teams around him, in part because of a preponderance of turnovers. Perhaps Tom Savage, finally staying put with one team, will develop into a long-term starter. Savage attended Rutgers, Arizona and Pittsburgh, never having a chance to get comfortable and develop. It could even be Case Keenum, who struggled mightily in his first shot at it last year, going winless in eight starts.

The point is, he hasn't been identified yet. And for the Texans to return to the top of the AFC South, he'll need to be.
The Bill O'Brien regime has begun its transformation of the Texans, but there's still a lot we don't know about them.

After organized team activities (OTAs), here are my top five remaining questions about the team. Feel free to chime in with your own.

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherRyan Fitzpatrick has had 44 turnovers (28 INTs, 16 fumbles) over the past two seasons.
1. Will Ryan Fitzpatrick throw fewer interceptions? We're going a little broken record here that turnovers have been an issue for him throughout his career. There is a huge difference between protecting the ball in practice and protecting the ball during games, so this is a question for which we won't truly get an answer until games begin.

2. Who will back up Arian Foster? The Texans currently have Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Grimes returning from last year's squad, plus free-agency pickup Andre Brown and draft pick Alfred Blue. I think this will come down to Brown and Blue. Brown has an edge on starting experience. Blue has an edge on youth and lack of mileage. Evaluating the status of the running game requires seeing the backs and the linemen blocking for them in pads.

3. Who will start at inside linebacker next to Brian Cushing? Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was asked if he now sees Brooks Reed as an inside linebacker and he said no. Crennel insisted Reed was simply learning inside linebacker to increase his versatility. Reed is one option to start next to Cushing. Akeem Dent, for whom the Texans traded quarterback T.J. Yates with the Falcons, is another option.

4. Who will return punts and kicks? It's my view that special teams aren't a full third of the game, as is sometimes extolled, but they can give a team a boost in the right circumstances. For the past couple of seasons, the Texans' special teams haven't been great. That led to former special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano's firing during the season. He was the only assistant who lost his job before the season was up. The team's search for a returner or returners has included several players who are challenging incumbent Keshawn Martin.

5. Will Foster and Cushing stay healthy this season? In May CSN Houston's Twitter account asked Texans fans how confident they were Cushing would play in all 16 games. They weren't banking on Cushing's own reply of "pretty damn confident." His presence is a stabilizing force on the Texans defense. They've historically been better with him than without him. His injuries in the past two seasons were not related to each other, so there's no reason to think he won't stay healthy this season. As for Foster, his absence last season was a big reason why the Texans' offense struggled so much. I have more concerns about Foster's health than Cushing's, as I addressed in yesterday's reasons for pessimism.

Kicking competition one to watch

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli talks about the battle between Houston Texans kickers -- incumbent Randy Bullock and rookie Chris Boswell.

Clowney will spend time rehabbing

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
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ESPN.com Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli talks about the injury timeline for top pick Jadeveon Clowney.
David QuessenberryHouston TexansDavid Quessenberry (No. 77) surprised his teammates with a visit at the end of practice.
HOUSTON -- Shane Lechler and Jon Weeks spotted him first. They jogged toward him, grinning, thrilled at his appearance. David Quessenberry was back, if only for a few moments, with his team.

For the first time since he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, Quessenberry visited the Texans' practice field. And everyone loved it.

"That's a special thing," said Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who greeted Quessenberry shortly after the specialists did. "Twenty-three-year-old guy who's going through that. Very special guy. Impressive guy, how he's dealing with it. ... It was great to see him out there."

Today was the end of a long series of offseason practices. Players will technically have one month off until training camp starts. They'll have time to let their bodies recover but will be expected to keep their bodies in shape.

For Quessenberry, though, his focus will be on fighting a deadly illness. He started chemotherapy two weeks ago.

O'Brien said Quessenberry's white blood cell count was at the right level, so doctors allowed the visit. As practice ended, sealed with a wobbly punt by a kicker and a comical catch by goofy guard Ben Jones, the team rushed toward Jones in a roar of delight. They then circled around Quessenberry to hear his words.

"Just that he appreciates all of us coming to visit him and he's going to kick cancer's butt," defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said.

When he finished speaking, center Chris Myers affectionately grabbed the top of Quessenberry's head. His parents have been with him at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center as he fights for his life.

His football family is with him, too.
Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien was certainly right about this:

Yates
"I'm sure he'll land somewhere," O'Brien said after a detailed explanation about why the Texans were releasing quarterback T.J. Yates.

Only, while they waited to make the transaction official, other teams realized Yates was available. They also realized that he'd have to go through the waiver wire, meaning that order would determine who had the first shot at Yates. Before long, Texans coaches were contemplating who on the Atlanta Falcons they'd like to add to their team. Now linebacker Akeem Dent is a Texan.

Dent is an inside linebacker who played high school, college (Georgia) and pro football in the state of Georgia. The Falcons had hoped he'd become a solid starter, but he never really developed into that for them. He started seven games last season and dealt with a foot and ankle injury. When healthy, Dent was a good blitzer. To replace Dent, the Falcons signed Tim Dobbins, a player the Texans released last season.

As for Yates, he once again backs up a Matt with as many playoff wins as he has (1).

And he's taking to his new team's slogans quite well.

NFL Nation Buzz: Houston Texans

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
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Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discusses the offensive line and who will man the right tackle position this season.
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Ever since the Houston Texans signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, my presumption was that he would be the team's starter.

Officially, coach Bill O'Brien kept the quarterback competition open until this week. But to be the starter was the Texans' reason for signing Fitzpatrick the day before trading away Matt Schaub. They weren't enamored enough with any of the quarterbacks in the draft to expect a Day 1 starter.

Fitzpatrick
Now it's official. The Texans have a starting quarterback, and he's coming in quietly, unassumingly and with something to prove.

"Personally for me, this is kind of where I wanted to be," Fitzpatrick said. "I wanted another shot at it. I wanted another chance to be the guy."

His chance comes with less drama and smaller expectations than the last two times the Texans declared a starter during camp. David Carr was the first overall pick, expected to guide a new franchise for a decade or more. Schaub was acquired in a trade, a steal some thought, to be the next guy expected to guide a then-adolescent franchise.

Those kind of lofty expectations aren't attached to Fitzpatrick, and they shouldn't be.

Over the past six seasons, he has started at least eight games each year and never had a winning record. In the right system, a quarterback's limitations can be managed -- Fitzpatrick's most glaring one is his penchant for throwing interceptions. It's a problem that came with forcing throws his arm couldn't make.

He has been on some bad teams and hasn't always had the help he's needed. Some think this could be Fitzpatrick's best year given the way O'Brien runs his offense.

Finding a great quarterback is hard. There are only four teams in the league with unquestionably great quarterbacks -- Green Bay, New Orleans, New England and Denver. There are tiers beneath Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

The Texans aren't expecting greatness from Fitzpatrick. But they are giving him a chance to do enough of what they need.
Mandatory minicamp begins Tuesday for the Houston Texans after three weeks of hot, fast-paced, information-packed organized team activities. So far, everything has been voluntary.

Texans players learned a lot about their changing systems and coaches learned a lot about their new players. Watching, the rest of us also learned a few things. Here's a rundown:

1. Head coach Bill O'Brien brought in a staff that is comprised of a group of bright, energetic coaches, many of whom are embarking on a different kind of challenge than they've had before. Guys such as defensive backs coach John Butler, linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, running backs coach Charles London, tight ends coach John Perry and strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald have either never coached in the NFL before or never been position coaches in the NFL before. Quarterbacks coach George Godsey, the team's de facto offensive coordinator, was an offensive quality control coach and then tight ends coach in New England, but before that coached three seasons at UCF. They bring fresh perspectives, along with O'Brien, to a level of football that can get stodgy and set in its ways. Adaptability and a willingness to try new things can be hugely beneficial in the NFL, but aren't always practiced around the league.

2. Rookies have been told to keep their mouths shut and fall in line. There were signs that this was coming. During the Texans' voluntary minicamp, which fell right before the draft, O'Brien said rookies' jobs were to be quiet and follow the veterans. During the draft, he said rookies don't know anything. He said it all with a smile, but with each passing rookie we to talk, or try to talk to, it's clear that message has been driven home. Many give some variation of "I'm trying to put the team first and get better every day" as an answer to nearly every question. The message is that regardless of what they did in college, they're starting over now. It's not a message rookies often got in the past.

Clowney
3. Jadeveon Clowney will be a stud. I'm not concerned about the sports hernia surgery. His summer will be about rehab now, and the Texans are expecting him ready by the start of training camp. But even if it takes a few days longer than that, he'll be fine. Clowney has impressed his team with his attitude, work ethic and ability. He doesn't know everything about the Texans' defense or about playing outside linebacker, yet. But the coaching staff is loading him with tons of information and he's doing everything he can to retain it.

4. Derek Newton is the Texans' starting right tackle. O'Brien hasn't announced starters at many positions. Some are obvious and so they are not talked about. Some are considered open competitions (ahem, quarterback). When asked how he views the situation at right tackle, O'Brien said clearly Newton is the starter. The much maligned seventh-round pick from 2011 is getting a fresh start with this staff and in this system. He wants to put 2013 behind him and they're happy to help him do that.

5. Andre Johnson is a man of his word. Johnson didn't go to the Texans' voluntary minicamp in May and then made his intention clear he wasn't going to attend organized team activities or the team's mandatory minicamp. O'Brien said last week he didn't know whether Johnson would be in attendance this week. I wouldn't bet on it.
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HOUSTON -- It's natural to be alarmed any time news breaks about a marquee player having surgery.

In the case of Jadeveon Clowney, having surgery right now is better than the alternative. Training camp is still six weeks away.

I remember talking to Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph after he had two sports hernia surgeries after the 2012 season. He said he didn't even realize how much the sports hernias had limited him until he recovered post-surgeries.

O'Brien said Clowney went to see a specialist in Philadelphia, which is where Joseph and outside linebacker Brooks Reed went for surgeries. Reed, who suffered a torn groin in 2012, saw Dr. William Meyers after the season to repair that injury and a sports hernia.

"His office is more, it’s kind of crazy, it’s a big house in a rural part of Philly," Reed said. "There are a lot of other athletes, all of the professional athletes (who) have a similar kind of injury. …When I went there were a bunch of guys I recognized."

Reed returned to Houston the next day to do his rehab here.

I also spoke with ESPN's medical expert Stephania Bell, who said Clowney's is an injury that typically takes four to six weeks to heal. She said if he tried to deal with a nagging groin injury during the season, it would reduce his power significantly.

The Texans drafted Clowney first overall because of his tremendous athletic ability and their confidence he would successfully make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. To have the full benefit of his once-in-a-decade athleticism, they need him unhampered by physical ailments.

Sure, it's not ideal to have Clowney missing the on-field reps next week during mandatory minicamp, in addition to the ones he already missed this week. But you'd rather have that than have him out during a no-pads session, out during the season, or even play through it and spend the season managing the pain.

So far the Texans have liked Clowney's progress and how hard he has worked to learn his new defense. This is the best way to ensure all of that work doesn't go to waste.
Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney missed Thursday's organized team activities practice.

It's the ninth of 10 voluntary OTAs, with next week's minicamp a mandatory portion. The Texans did not address Clowney's absence on Thursday. Coach Bill O'Brien will address Clowney's absence on Friday. Quarterbacks coach George Godsey was available to media on Thursday in lieu of O'Brien.

Clowney signed a four-year deal worth more than $22 million last week, one full month earlier than any of the other three first overall picks signed their new deals under the current collective bargaining agreement. He has attended all of the Texans' voluntary workouts with the exception of those that fell during the NFLPA's rookie premiere. He and Texans quarterback Tom Savage were invited to that and were not allowed to be at the Texans' facility on those days.

"He’s really worked hard," O'Brien said of Clowney last week. "That position has worked extremely hard just like all the positions. I think he’s a guy that’s come in here and really put in extra time so far. He needs to keep doing it. He’s put in extra time in the training room to work on his flexibility. He’s put in extra time on the practice field. He’s being coached very well by [linebackers coach] Mike Vrabel and [defensive coordinator] Romeo Crennel."

The Texans have had pretty strong attendance so far at their programs, which have all been voluntary. One notable absence has been of Andre Johnson, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who is unsure if he still wants to remain in Houston. Johnson said last month that he would not attend OTAs or mandatory minicamp.

Rookie offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo, whom the Texans selected 33rd overall, has not been able to participate yet because of NFL rules. He went to UCLA, which is on the quarter system, so Su'a-Filo can't join the Texans for voluntary workouts until after his school's graduation.

Several players have also been working through injuries that have limited or prevented their participation so far -- most notably inside linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
Jake Daniel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at 7 years old back in December. He finished treatment in May and has some tips in this adorable video for Texans offensive tackle David Quessenberry, 23, who was diagnosed last week:

1. Keep praying.

2. Keep your head up.

3. Never give up.

4. When you get the mouth sores, always eat Jell-o.

5. Always flirt with nurses.

NFL Nation Buzz: Houston Texans

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
10:00
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ESPN Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli talks about the final week of OTAs and what to look forward to in next week's mandatory minicamp.
HOUSTON -- There were signs something wasn't quite right even before Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.

He was in good shape, but still out of breath lately. He'd fight through what seemed like a bug to finish practices, because that's just who he is.

Quessenberry
"He ... just felt a little under the weather for about a week, just like anybody else does," Texans center Chris Myers said. "They try to take some over-the-counter stuff. But when it got to be where he obviously knew something was going on, that’s when everyone jumped into action, which we’re real grateful for."

Last Tuesday, June 3, after Quessenberry felt faint, the Texans trainers examined him and got him to doctors. Fluid had built up in his lungs, a scary diagnosis followed and chemotherapy treatments followed that.

"It just hit me like a ton of bricks," Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. "I’m considered to be an older guy around here and that’s like one of my little brothers. To get that kind of text message from a 23-year-old, it’s tough. It’s tough."

Brown was one of the first of Quessenberry's teammates to hear. He was alarmed Quessenberry had spent last Tuesday night in the hospital and sent him a text message for an update. The response was even more alarming.

Word spread among the linemen and then to the other players during a team meeting led by Texans coach Bill O'Brien. It was a reminder that the same demons that can ravage a person's body aren't repulsed from a professional athlete's. That football might seem at times like what matters most, but it doesn't.

"I know everyone’s heart dropped," receiver Alec Lemon said. "Some knew before but when we all heard at the same time, it was kind of just looking around like this is just out of nowhere and it’s sad and it’s awful but, like I was telling everybody, Quessenberry’s a strong guy and he’s definitely going to fight through it."

Brown visited last Wednesday. Other teammates and coaches have visited in a steady stream of a massive support group. Quessenberry's parents are now with him, too.

When they got there they saw that a rare form of a frightening disease hadn't changed his sunny outlook on life. It hadn't dampened the guy who loved the violence and physicality of football, and had worked to recover from a broken foot that landed him on injured reserve for his entire rookie season.

"When I got to see him, he was fine," Brown said. "He was fine. He said he was going to be OK and that’s all I needed to hear."

All along his message for them has been simple:

Don't feel sorry for me. I will beat this.
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HOUSTON -- Yes, rookie deals have gotten a lot easier these days.

Yes, rookie holdouts are generally a thing of the past.

But this early?

The Houston Texans signed the No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to a four-year deal on Friday. The Houston Chronicle reported the deal includes $22.272 million in guarantees.

It's June 6. Training camp doesn't even start for seven more weeks.

Last year, top pick Eric Fisher signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in late July just before training camp opened. Two years ago, Andrew Luck didn't sign until July 19. In 2011, coming out of the NFL lockout, Cam Newton signed on July 29.

Before the new collective bargaining agreement set a rookie scale, first-round picks often held out for weeks. There was a lot to argue about and a lot on the line for teams that were dedicating huge chunks of money to a player who hadn't played one down yet.

The rookie scale means the risk on a top-10 pick isn't nearly what it was back when JaMarcus Russell was getting $68 million with $31.5 million guaranteed, or when Sam Bradford got $50 million in guarantees.

Now the dollar amount of each pick is set, as is the bonus amount and the length of the contract. Most of the details argued now are minor and easy to solve. There's also no longer any reason for agents to wait until the market is set by others, as the market is predetermined.

And so here we are on June 6, with only one draft pick left to sign -- the Texans' second-round pick, Xavier Su'a-Filo. And that should be done shortly, too.

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