NFL Nation: 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. -- 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
Aug 18
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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.

W2W4: Houston Texans

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
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The Houston Texans (0-1) host the Atlanta Falcons (1-0) in the Texans' home preseason opener Saturday night at NRG Stadium.

Three things to watch
  • The backup quarterback battle will continue this week. Though our ears all perked up at Case Keenum's first-team reps in practice on Thursday, I've heard some things this week that lead me to believe not to read too much into that. Supporting that view is the fact Texans' coach Bill O'Brien said Keenum won't get any first-team reps tonight against the Falcons. O'Brien hasn't wavered from Fitzpatrick as the starter. He and rookie Tom Savage are competing to be the team's backup. There was barely any time to evaluate offensive players last weekend against the Arizona Cardinals. The Texans only ran 41 offensive plays. Keenum threw five passes, completing three, and Savage threw three, completing two. The Texans will need to stay on the field longer for coaches to get a better idea of some of these battles.
  • Xavier Su'a-Filo took first-team reps at guard week during camp. He's still listed as Ben Jones' backup at left guard on the depth chart, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in with the first team at right guard this year. It's an interesting situation in which the Texans find themselves. The man slated to be their starting right guard heading into the season, Brandon Brooks, is still on the non-football injury list with a back injury. Jones has plenty of playing experience and Su'a-Filo, as the first pick of the second round, was thought to be competing with Jones to be the starting left guard. He had a lot of catching up to do after missing the spring because of an NFL rule related to his college's schedule, but has been playing some tackle and center since returning. He's settling in at right guard now, though. "Xavier is trying to take advantage of all of the opportunities that he gets and he's learning on the run," O'Brien said. "The thing I really like about him is he's a really good guy, he’s a hard worker, he’s a smart player for a rookie and I believe if he continues on that road of working hard, being smart, working hard in the weight room and taking care of his body, that he’ll continue to improve and be a good player."
  • The Texans' defensive backfield will face an offense that will give them a good barometer on their own progress this week. They'll be looking for improvement over last week when the Cardinals' quarterbacks completed their first 10 passes. They completed 79.4 percent of their passes and had a combined passer rating of 138.8. In three consecutive weeks the Texans' secondary will face stiff challenges. Last week they saw Larry Fitzgerald. This week they have Roddy White and Julio Jones, though Falcons coach Mike Smith wouldn't confirm Jones will play tonight. Then, of course, next week they'll face Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos.
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
Aug 13
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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."

MNF moments, No. 26: Campbell answers

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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Earl CampbellAP Photo
To celebrate the 45th season of "Monday Night Football," a panel of ESPN.com contributors has selected the 45 most memorable moments in MNF history. Follow along as we reveal one per day and count down to this season's MNF debut.

No. 26: Oilers 35, Dolphins 30 | Nov. 20, 1978


Only three players have ever rushed for four touchdowns on "Monday Night Football": Emmitt Smith in 1995, Eric Dickerson in 1988 and Earl Campbell in 1978.

Smith's and Dickerson's performances were parts of blowouts, as their teams won by a combined 67 points. But the Oilers needed all four of Campbell's scores to get past the Miami Dolphins.

Campbell's first three touchdowns against the Dolphins either tied the game or gave the Oilers the lead. A 1-yard run tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter. A 6-yard run would give the Oilers a 21-14 lead in the third, and a 12-yard run put the Oilers up by five in the fourth.

Campbell's last touchdown was the most impressive: an 81-yarder that would seal the victory for Houston. Campbell finished the game with 199 rushing yards, and the four touchdowns were a career best. Not bad for a rookie playing his 11th NFL game.

Texans Camp Report: Day 18

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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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
AM ET
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.
One drive was enough for Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. He'd already seen what he needed to see out of starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who orchestrated an easy touchdown drive against a Houston Texans defense that had trouble covering his weapons.

Even though the Texans' front was stout, breakdowns in coverage throughout the defense, including but not limited to the secondary, culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald.

Drew Stanton replaced Palmer on the next drive and similarly tore up the Texans' defense. Cardinals quarterbacks threw 10 consecutive completions before their first incomplete pass.

Here are some other thoughts on the Texans' first preseason game of the season, a 32-0 loss in Glendale, Arizona:
  • Let's start with the good. (We'll be done pretty quickly.) Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt lined up next to each other on the second play of the game and Watt blew by guard Jonathan Cooper, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft, for an 8-yard sack. That's a combination that will be exciting to watch up front this season.
  • Clowney was interesting to watch tonight. On a second-down running play, Clowney crushed a tight end (poor tight end, by the way) charged with blocking him and exploded into the backfield to destroy a Cardinals running play. That's the kind of speed and power we've seen from him throughout training camp when he's been allowed to practice. It also showed that when the Texans said he was just being managed, they were telling the truth. In coverage, Clowney's day was more mixed. He was beaten on a pass that would've been a touchdown, if not for a penalty on Arizona. There's a learning curve there as Clowney is learning how to be a linebacker. Nothing to worry about there, in my opinion.
  • OK. Now for the bad. The first-team offense really struggled no matter whom it faced. Ryan Fitzpatrick played the entire first half and completed 6 of 14 passes for 55 yards. He threw two interceptions and no touchdowns for a passer rating of 14.6. One interception was tipped. The other was on a pass that was a little short. The second interception came on a drive when the offense actually was moving pretty well. It was so late in the half, though, that it's difficult to take much from that movement. The Cardinals had been swapping out players for a while at that point.
  • Eliminating mistakes is a big part of Bill O'Brien's focus with this team. The Texans' second-team offense started the second half with a delay of game. In practice, as has happened often with that unit, that would've earned the whole group a lap around the field -- or at least to the sideline and back. There was a span during the third quarter when the Texans committed penalties on three consecutive plays and four of five. Late in the fourth quarter, the Texans had 12 men on the field for an extra point. That's the kind of lack of discipline that O'Brien hates.
  • Secondary and offensive line depth issues were made very clear during this game. The Texans' receivers, all the way down the depth chart, had a lot of success against the Texans' secondary during training camp. That was a warning sign for what we saw Saturday. It is important to note that they were without starting corner Johnathan Joseph, but the drop-off shouldn't be as big as it looked tonight.

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