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Saturday, August 17, 2013
What to watch: Texans-Dolphins

By Tania Ganguli

There was a time when training camp meant grown men cramming into dorm rooms with roommates for weeks before the season started, limited by curfews and far away from their families, who only got regulated visiting days.

While the trend of teams staying in town for training camp, rather than hitting the road for such bonding experiences, is growing, most still require their players to at least stay in a local hotel for the duration.

In that respect, the Houston Texans' training camp is unique. Not only do they stay in town, veterans have the option to retire to the comfort of their own homes. Only rookies are confined to the team hotel. So when the Texans finished two-a-days on Thursday, it wasn't as ceremonious an occasion as it might be in other places.

"It used to be a big deal," coach Gary Kubiak said. "Since we're home all the time, it's not that big of a deal. In the old days, you were somewhere else and you got in your car and drove as fast as you could to go home. Nowadays, nothing really changes."

The Texans will open their home preseason schedule tonight at 8 p.m. ET against the Miami Dolphins. They won their first preseason game in Minnesota, but were without several players due to injuries and Kubiak's reluctance to bang certain players' joints on artificial turf in a preseason game.

A home game removes that issue, which means seeing inside linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive end J.J. Watt back on the field.

Here are three things to watch tonight:

1. Brian Cushing. Cushing has been healthy for about a couple weeks, but he hasn't been able to really play yet. We've focused a lot on what it will be like for Cushing when he returns in the Texans' regular-season opener in San Diego.

In truth, though, tonight is scheduled to be the first time he gets to really hit someone.

Everything Cushing does, from stretching before practice to conducting interviews afterward to everything in between, he does with a searing focus and intensity. CSN Houston's Dave Zangaro took a look at the roots of that this week.

2. The backup quarterbacks again. This is the most preseason of all preseason storylines. A team hopes the backup quarterback never becomes an issue during the regular season and playoffs. But during the preseason, they play more than they will the rest of the year and that piques people's interest.

Tonight Kubiak will play second-year quarterback Case Keenum second, after starter Matt Schaub, rather than playing T.J. Yates second as he did last week.

This doesn't mean Keenum has overtaken Yates. He's still the third-string quarterback. Rather, it means Kubiak wants to see how Keenum reacts in the same situation Yates was in last week.

The issue isn't who they play with, but who they play against. The later you get in a preseason game, the deeper into the depth chart teams tend to go.

"He's probably going to play against a little bit different level of competition ... this week against Miami," Kubiak said. "You're just looking for him to progress."

3. The backup running backs again. Last week Cierre Wood made a push to be a bigger part of the conversation of who the Texans' third running back would be.

This week, Kubiak also wants to see more of Deji Karim, the only veteran in the discussion. Karim has spent his entire career in the AFC South. He was a sixth-round draft pick in 2010 by the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent two seasons with them before being cut.

The Colts picked up Karim after that and he spent last season in Indianapolis. In December, he scored on a kickoff return against the Texans.

Kubiak has said a few times during the preseason that Karim is the farthest ahead of the four running backs competing for the backup job when it comes to special teams. That will be a big part of who wins the job. Tonight he wants to see more of Karim in the offense.