NFL Nation: Garrett Graham

In the weeks and months after an 11-year-old Anthony Denham was taken from his family and placed into foster care, he often felt alone.

His three siblings were all in different places. His mother battled drug problems away from them all. He didn’t feel like he fit in as a black kid placed in a Hispanic household in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood.

But Denham was always a kid who wanted to see the bright side of things. He wanted to trust people; he wanted to believe things could work out better for him than they did for so many of his family members and friends. So he did.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Denham
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCompeting at a crowded position in Houston is just another challenge in a life full of them for Utah tight end Anthony Denham.
“I didn’t want to be poor,” Denham said. “I kind of lived that life. I didn’t want to struggle. I know if I kept going on that path, I would be either dead or in jail. I’m more someone who, if I set my sight on something, I’ll go and get it to the best of my ability.”

His sight right now is on trying to make the Texans’ roster. Signed as an undrafted free-agent tight end this month, Denham is part of a group that is one of the Texans’ strongest positions. It includes veteran Garrett Graham, second-year player Ryan Griffin, this year’s third-round draft pick C.J. Fiedorowicz and free-agent acquisition Zach Potter. That will also make winning a roster spot tough. Denham has plenty of experience with tough.

“What’s harder is what’s best,” Denham said. “What’s easy is not the way. It don’t take nothing to drop out. It don’t take nothing to choose the wrong path. You don’t have to think to do certain things. When you’re thinking, you’re on the right path. When you’re thinking, your mind is good. Just stay focused and maintain your goals. Set them. Set goals.”

That mentality took a while for Denham to develop. He grew up in Pasadena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. In addition to his mother’s drug problems, he had no contact with his father. His mother was in and out of jail during his childhood.

In elementary school, because he wanted to be like his older brothers and cousins, there were days when he didn’t get up to go to school. He guesses he missed school more than he attended in fifth and sixth grade.

One day, Denham’s great-grandmother had enough of his mother’s inability to take care of her children. She called child protective services and had them removed.

One brother went to live with his father’s family. His younger sister bounced around between foster homes. Denham was placed in a home with a single mother to her own biological children as well as several foster children in El Sereno, a neighborhood in east Los Angeles.

"When I moved into the foster home, just being around everybody that wasn’t like me, not being from that culture, I was just like, 'What’s the point?'" Denham said. "'Everybody’s different. I don’t fit in this area because it’s predominantly Hispanic.' I was like, 'I could at any moment just leave.' But I didn’t do that. I stayed positive and just focused. I had a goal. My goal was to do my best and make it to the NFL."

Denham started to see football as a way to reach his goals when he started excelling at the sport in high school. He says he used football as a "father figure." There he had structure and learned morals. Back then, he was a lanky wide receiver who drew comparisons to Randy Moss. But it took more than his athletic ability to accomplish that -- that was another lesson Denham learned.

He passed the classes he took in high school, but was missing a core class he needed to qualify to play at a Division I college. So Denham went to East Los Angeles College instead and worked his way up to a Division I program.

"Very shy, very reserved kid that didn’t talk much," said Nick Garrett, then an assistant at East L.A. College who recruited Denham. "Just kind of kept to himself a lot. He had a hard time trusting people and dealing with people. ... My impressions of Anthony, he’s a quiet kid, very respectful kid. Once you earn his trust, he would run through a brick wall for you."

Denham became a two-time junior college All-American, the top receiver in junior college and earned scholarship offers from a handful of schools. He chose Utah, where he could stay close to his home but also leave the state.

This past winter, his size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and pass-catching ability got him invited to the NFL scouting combine, but he was described as raw by NFL.com analyst Nolan Nawrocki.

It’s another challenge in a life that has been full of them.

Late in high school, Denham reconnected with his siblings. He’s now reconnected with his mother, too, who he didn’t see for several years.

"It’s better now, because I’m more mature," Denham said. "I see her situation, and I know sometimes you can’t beat drugs. It’s really up to her. It’s all in her head. She’s been in and out of jail a majority of my life, but every time she sees me she can’t do nothing but cry. That’s all she can do, because she’s just, I’ll say, motivated by what I’ve become from where I came from.

" ... I look at it all the time like, man, I’ve been through hell and back. Honestly, I’ve really been there. I’ve always managed to find positive and upside to every negative situation. You know what they say in math, a negative and a negative is a positive. So everything that happened negative turned into the situation I have today."
I had operated under the assumption this offseason that the Texans' tight end situation was an either-or scenario.

Either Owen Daniels or Garrett Graham.

Graham
But having released Daniels on Tuesday, the Texans are also facing the prospect of losing Graham, who is far from a sure thing to be re-signed at this point.

Yesterday Graham characterized negotiations between his people and the Texans as "slow." Graham hit the market yesterday without a deal in place with the Texans. The tight end market as a whole has been slow and could pick up today, now that the first wave of signings is out of the way.

If it happens, losing Graham could mean a very young group of tight ends in Houston. Ryan Griffin showed promise last year, but he'd be a second-year player expected to take a huge jump. The most veteran of the group would be Zach Potter, who the Texans signed last month. Potter spent 2009 to 2012 with the Jaguars. And I could see them adding another drafted tight end in what's not an especially deep tight end draft class. (Depth is in the eye of the beholder, though. After all, Griffin's ability doesn't match a sixth rounder's.)

Or it could mean adding someone new to the mix, like former Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The Lions worked on a long-term deal with Pettigrew before the last league year ended, but couldn't reach a deal. They even considered using the franchise tag, according to the Detroit Free Press, but ultimately decided to let him test free agency.

He's a tight end who prides himself on his blocking ability, something Griffin has admitted needs work in his game. Some background from a recent story on the tight end:
What makes Pettigrew different is he has a positive reputation within the league for his inline blocking ability, which figures to intrigue some team enough for him to cash in on a multiyear deal within days of the market opening at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“He’s one of the best all-around tight ends, from a blocking and receiving standpoint,” one NFL personnel director told USA TODAY Sports. The executive spoke on condition of anonymity for competitive reasons. “He will have drops (in the passing game). But they also didn’t use him.”

Pettigrew’s 41 catches in 2013 were the fewest since his rookie season in 2009, as the Lions turned to halfbacks Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as the primary complements to all-world receiver Calvin Johnson.

There are options, though the Texans figure to be thrifty. It wouldn't make much sense for them to save $4.5 million in cap space by releasing Daniels, only to fill most of that back up with a new tight end's salary. One way or another, though, the Texans still have a while before all of this has to be figured out.
There are multiple reports indicating the Baltimore Ravens are close to re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe, and a deal could be complete before the start of free agency at 4 p.m.

This likely will be the first of a handful of moves in free agency as the Ravens look to improve the NFL's 29th-ranked offense. Let's take a look at who else could be on the team's radar:

WIDE RECEIVER

Smith
Steve Smith, Carolina: The Panthers are reportedly trying to trade Smith, and they could ultimately release him. Smith is the type of clutch, go-to receiver the Ravens need. He also brings an intensity and work ethic that can rub off on young receivers. The biggest problem is Smith turns 35 in May and he's coming off his second-least productive season over the past nine years. He had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns.

Julian Edelman, New England: He fits what the Ravens want: a receiver who can make the tough catches underneath and can break tackles to convert third downs. Edelman's skill set would complement Torrey Smith's deep speed and give the Ravens two receivers hitting their prime. What is tough is gauging whether Edelman can come close to matching his 2013 breakthrough season (105 catches for 1,056 yards) without Tom Brady throwing him the ball.

Golden Tate, Seattle: Tate would be at the top of my list for the Ravens. At 25, he's just reaching the prime of his career. His receiving stats aren't overly impressive because he has played in a run-heavy offense, but the key is his numbers have improved each season. Tate's biggest selling point: He led the league in yards after catch per reception (7.75), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Plus, he's not afraid to block, and he's known for being a high-character player in the locker room.

TIGHT END

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit: Even though the Ravens signed Dennis Pitta, the Ravens are expected to line up in two tight ends a lot under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Pettigrew, who is more of a complete tight end than Pitta, would be an excellent fit for the Ravens. General manager Ozzie Newsome liked Pettigrew in the 2009 draft, but the Lions selected him six picks ahead of the Ravens. Pettigrew, 29, never delivered the pass-catching numbers expected of a first-round pick. Last season's production (41 catches for 416 yards and two touchdowns) was his lowest since his rookie season. The Ravens need him as much for his blocking as pass-catching skills. He would be an upgrade over Ed Dickson, who is a free agent.

Owen Daniels, Houston: Daniels, who was released by the Texans on Tuesday, is on the list because of his obvious connection with Kubiak, the former head coach of the Texans. He runs great routes, can catch most passes thrown his way and has proved to be a functional blocker. Durability is the biggest concern. He has been limited to 11 games or fewer in three of the past five seasons. Last season, Daniels played only five games because of a fractured fibula.

Garrett Graham, Houston: Just like Daniels, Graham is here because of his history with Kubiak. He proved he could be effective in the passing game (49 catches and five touchdowns last season) and is an above-average blocker. With his age (27) and upside, some teams (like the Buccaneers) will view him as a potential No. 1 tight end. He wouldn't have that high-profile role with the Ravens.

CENTER

Mack
Alex Mack, Cleveland: There are reports the Ravens could turn their attention to Mack if they can't get a deal done with Monroe. What is going to be difficult is prying the Pro Bowl center away from the Browns, who put the transition tag on him. That means they can match any offer. If the Ravens can somehow pull this off, this would be a major step toward improving the offensive line. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I believe adding Mack would be a better move than keeping Monroe.

David Baas, New York Giants: Baas, who was cut by the Giants on Monday, would serve as a stopgap until Gino Gradkowski can get stronger. Baas is 32 and has an injury history, which is why he can be had for a one- or two-year deal. He has been the Giants' starting center since signing as a free agent in 2011, but has struggled to stay healthy. His 2013 season ended early as a result of a neck injury. The Giants could target Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who could follow offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo from Green Bay to New York.

Brian De La Puente, New Orleans: He's a three-year starter for the Saints who will draw interest because of a weak free-agent market for centers. Before joining the Saints, he was a journeyman who played on six teams in three seasons. At 28, De La Puente could be coming into his own at the right time. He's not considered a power player inside.
Approaching what could be his first stint as an unrestricted free agent, Houston Texans tight end Garrett Graham didn't want to reveal too much.

"I know there's several teams who inquired about it and asked about it but nothing set up yet," Graham said when asked if he had visits planned. He opted not to reveal the identities of those several teams.

Graham
"[They've said] they want me to stay here, but we'll see how that all plays out in the next couple days," he said of the Texans.

By tomorrow we should have a better idea of Graham's market. Teams hoping to add a tight end in free agency don't have a ton of options. Graham is one of the top tight ends on the market, which means it's entirely possible he prices himself out of what the Texans can afford. ("They can't afford him" is a common refrain as I've poked around about various players and potential Texans interest this offseason.)

Graham's tone when talking about this today was one of acceptance. He seemed OK with whatever outcome followed.

"It would be nice to ]return to Houston]," he said. "Love the guys that I played with. Love the fans here. We've grown to like the city very much. It'd be nice to stay in Houston but then again it's a business and we'll see. "

He stopped short of saying he'd give the Texans a hometown discount. But he did say money wasn't all that mattered.

"I think you gotta weigh all your options," Graham said. "Depends on what team you're on and what scheme. There's a lot more things to look at than just money."

The scheme here in Houston would likely benefit Graham, but my sense is that would only break a tie, or matter if things were close. The Texans don't have much money to spend and will likely hang back and let the market settle before making more financial commitments.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who says the Green Bay Packers don't pursue free agents?

Defensive end Red Bryant was on their radar and even had a visit scheduled with the Packers but never made it because he signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.

Bryant
"I had conversations with several teams," Bryant told reporters in Jacksonville on Monday. "I was actually supposed to be going to Green Bay Sunday, and I was going to Kansas City on Monday and the Washington Redskins was interested as well."

Bryant was able to sign a deal immediately rather than waiting until the start of free agency on Tuesday because he had been released by the Seattle Seahawks. Free agents with expiring contracts have to wait until Tuesday at 4 p.m. to sign with another team.

Bryant never made it to Green Bay in part because he felt comfortable in Jacksonville, where he was reunited with Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who previously coached Bryant as Seattle's defensive coordinator.

"I had other opportunities but when I came to Jacksonville, I had expressed it to Gus that I had gave Kansas City my word that I would come in for a visit, but Gus, [general manager] David Caldwell, the trainers, the strength coach, all the coaches on the staff, they made me feel so welcome and they made me feel like I could really come in really be a factor in what they're trying to do," Bryant said. "It was a just an opportunity that I felt like was just too good to pass [up]. I'm just so excited for this next chapter in my career and hopefully I'll be able to have the type of success I had in Seattle, I'll have that type of success in Jacksonville as well."

The Packers, whose only move so far has been to re-sign cornerback Sam Shields, have reportedly expressed an interest in several other free agents, including Houston Texans tight end Garrett Graham and Baltimore Ravens defensive end Art Jones.

It does not appear the Packers have targeted Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Packers did not reach out to Houston's agent during last weekend's free-agent negotiating period.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco contributed.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC South

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With the 2014 free-agency period starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, here is a look at top free agents in the AFC South as compiled by reporters Tania Ganguli, Paul Kuharsky, Michael DiRocco and Mike Wells. The top seven free agents are on defense, led by cornerback Vontae Davis of the Colts. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a fixture in Jacksonville for the past eight years, is looking for a new team. Is this the end of Antoine Bethea's run in Indianapolis?

1. Vontae Davis, Colts CB: Indianapolis needs a top cornerback to help a defense that finished 20th in the league last season. Davis has shown he has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He just needs to work on his consistency.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans CB: A smart, aware corner with a knack for getting to the ball, he just lacks top speed and size.

3. Antoine Bethea, Colts S: A reliable player, having started every game he played during his eight years with the Colts. Finished with at least 100 tackles in five of those seasons.

4. Earl Mitchell, Texans NT: Solid player at the point of attack and has shown the ability to get consistent penetration. He had 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.

5. Bernard Pollard, Titans S: Played well as an in-the-box safety and provided the sort of standard-setting leadership the Titans lacked previously. Update: Signed one-year, $2 million deal to remain with Titans.

6. Darryl Sharpton, Texans LB: Led the Texans with 87 tackles but is not as good in coverage as he is against the run.

Smith
7. Antonio Smith, Texans DE: He is more of a run-stuffing defensive end than a pass-rusher, although he did record five sacks in 2013.

8. Ben Tate, Texans RB: He led the Texans with 771 yards rushing. He has been somewhat injury-prone but has produced when needed as Arian Foster's backup.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB: Jones-Drew started 15 games and led the Jaguars with 803 yards and five touchdowns rushing. He also caught 43 passes (third on the team) for 314 yards. He got off to a slow start then battled through ankle, hamstring and knee issues and averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.

Brown
10. Donald Brown, Colts RB:
Brown was the Colts’ third running back twice in 2013 only to end the season as the starter. He has the speed but was too inconsistent during his five seasons in Indianapolis.

11. Garrett Graham, Texans TE: He’s not Owen Daniels, but he can line up tight or as a flex tight end. He came into his own as a receiver last season with 49 catches for 545 yards and five TDs.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts RB: A neck injury limited Bradshaw to only three games last season. It took just those three games for him to show he was the Colts' most effective running back.

13. Ropati Pitoitua, Titans DE: A giant, run-stuffing end who would be a solid, flexible piece in the hybrid front. Update: Signed 3-year, deal for $9.6 million to remain with Titans.

14. Adam Vinatieri, Colts K: The 41-year-old Vinatieri was 35-of-40 on field goals and a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points in 2013.

15. Samson Satele, Colts C: Was released by the team on March 6 after a disappointing 2013 season. He has started 98 of 102 games during his seven-year career.

Free-agency series: Tight ends

February, 27, 2014
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Here is the fourth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Tight ends

Lewis
Who’s on the roster: Brandon Barden, Clay Harbor, Marcedes Lewis, Danny Noble and Allen Reisner.

Analysis: Lewis was pretty much MIA the first half of the season because of a calf injury and trying to find his spot in the offense, but he came on late in the season and caught 16 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the last five games. If he's used the same way in 2014, he should have a 50-catch season. He is by far the team's best blocker, and Harbor and Reisner are flex tight ends who combined for 29 catches in 2013. Noble is a young, raw player with good size (6-foot-5, 248 pounds) and seems to be OK as a blocker, but he needs refinement. He flashed his potential with his 62-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against Arizona. Barden signed a futures contract with the team in late December.

NFL free agents of interest: Ed Dickson, Garrett Graham, Dustin Keller and Andrew Quarless.

Need meter: 3. Lewis is among the league's best blocking tight ends and is a weapon in the passing game. He's not as much of a threat up the seam as some of the league's elite tight ends, but as long as he stays healthy the Jaguars are in pretty good shape. Harbor is an unrestricted free agent and he could be the Jaguars' best option. The tight end market is pretty thin after the top two or three, and the Jaguars are unlikely to invest a lot of money in this spot since Lewis already has such a high cap number ($8.25 million). Expect the Jaguars to draft a tight end.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before the season ended, I asked a few pending free agents what their gut feeling was about whether or not they would be back.

The responses were often ones of uncertainty. Who knew what the new coaching staff would want?

Smith
If you assumed the Texans were finished with Antonio Smith, that might have been a premature assumption. Smith told Houston's Sports Radio 610 last week that his agent told him the Texans and Bill O'Brien like him. It made him optimistic about returning next year.

O'Brien was highly complimentary of Smith when I asked yesterday.

"Good player," O'Brien said. "Have a lot of respect for Antonio and what he’s done in this league. Really tough, good player. Good teammate from everything we hear. Enjoyed meeting him. I can only say hello to him. Meeting was really brief, but have a lot of respect for what Antonio does in this league."

O'Brien wouldn't go into more specific evaluations of Smith, but calling him a good teammate is a great sign for Smith. That quality is hugely important to O'Brien.

I asked general manager Rick Smith if he had started conversations about re-signing Smith, and he answered circuitously, while bringing up two names unprovoked:

"This is the time when we really start to sit down with the agents and start to talk about what the prospects look like for all those free agents, (tight end) Garrett Graham, (nose tackle) Earl Mitchell, there are a few guys that are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this year. This is the time we start to formulate those conversations."

Graham and Mitchell are two more guys I might have assumed wouldn't return. Graham because it might be easier to keep Owen Daniels. Daniels is better today than Graham, but over the next four years, Graham might have the advantage. Mitchell just doesn't seem to fit in Romeo Crennel's defense as well as he would in a 4-3 system.

We'll get more clarity on that over the next few weeks.

Graham out for finale, Keenum possible

December, 26, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Tight end Garrett Graham missed the past two games with a hamstring injury and Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips isn't expecting him to play this weekend in Nashville.

Keenum
Keenum
Quarterback Case Keenum, meanwhile, was able to grip and throw the football on Thursday. Keenum sprained his thumb in Indianapolis and suffered ligament damage, which kept him out of this past Sunday's game. Matt Schaub started in his place, and the Texans lost 37-13.

Phillips said if Keenum is healthy, he will start. Part of figuring out if he's healthy enough will lie in examining how he feels tomorrow after taking his normal Thursday reps today.

"He looked okay," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "Missed some throws, but he looked okay. We'll let it rest at that. See how he responds."

Phillips is also pessimistic about the fate of running back Dennis Johnson, who made his first career start last weekend against the Denver Broncos. Johnson, an undrafted rookie who spent training camp with the Texans, suffered a hip injury. He was cut in September, then returned to the roster in October. It's not surprising he's pessimistic, given that he's been saying all week that Jonathan Grimes, a second-year player signed last week, is going to start in Nashville.

Phillips was asked if he's worried about his depth. He chuckled a bit as he answered.

"Well let's see, we're down to our fifth running back, our third tight end," he said. "Yes, I'm worried about it."

Texans could be without Graham again

December, 19, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Houston Texans tight end Garrett Graham missed practice again on Thursday, making this week look a lot like last week.

Consequently, head coach Wade Phillips said he isn't optimistic about Graham's chances to play this weekend against the Denver Broncos. If he can't go, that would give rookie Ryan Griffin his second start.

Griffin led the Texans with six receptions for 62 yards on Sunday. He caught every one of his targets. Andre Johnson was second in receptions, catching four passes on 10 targets, and DeAndre Hopkins was second in receiving yards, catching three passes for 52 yards.

Complicating matters is that fullback Brad Smelley, who plays a hybrid role in the offense, missed practice as well with a back injury, Phillips said.

Smelley gave the Texans another player who could block, which really isn't Griffin's strength, and catch passes. Without him the Texans would be left with one tight end available and one fullback available in Greg Jones.

It's possible the Texans bring tight end Phillip Supernaw up from the practice squad -- he was signed on Wednesday -- to help their numbers.
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans:

Big night for MoJo: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew surpassed 100 yards for the first time since Week 3 of the 2012 season. He ran for 103 yards despite not playing the final 11 minutes of the game because of a right hamstring strain. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones-Drew ran for a 98 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles. Jones-Drew, who hurt his hamstring on a 15-yard reception, said his injury was minor and he expects to play in the Jaguars' next game against Buffalo on Dec. 15.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew, D.J. Swearinger, Darryl Sharpton
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesMaurice Jones-Drew rushed 14 times for 103 yards on Thursday.
More offensive trickery: For the second week in a row, a non-quarterback threw a touchdown pass. This time it was receiver Ace Sanders, who took a lateral from quarterback Chad Henne, rolled to his right, and lofted a pass to running back Jordan Todman for a 21-yard score. While Sanders was talking about the play in the locker room, teammate Cecil Shorts was yelling "Michael Vick" at him from his nearby locker. That was just one instance of ribbing Sanders got from his teammates. "They said, ‘What took you so long to throw it?'" Sanders said. "I said, ‘Hey, we scored.'"

Nimble Henne: Henne actually looked more like Vick than Sanders. OK, that's exaggerating, but Henne did do a nice job of keeping plays alive with his feet and scrambling for positive yardage. He ran four times for a season-high 33 yards, including a 14-yard run. "They played a lot of man coverage and two-man and gave me some lanes up front with the pass rush, so I just took off instead of trying to force the ball downfield when it was covered," said Henne, who completed 12 of 27 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. "I just tried to get as much as I could get."

Shredded secondary: The Jaguars limited Texans receiver Andre Johnson to two catches for 36 yards in the first meeting. Johnson caught 13 passes for 154 yards on Thursday night. He was targeted 21 times. Case Keenum and Matt Schaub combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns and did most of their damage over the middle, which has been a trouble area for the Jaguars all season. Tight end Garrett Graham caught eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars have improved against the rush since the bye week but have given up an average of 320.6 yards per game passing in the five games since the break, including 419 yards to Arizona's Carson Palmer and 370 yards to Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. Schaub threw for 198 and Keenum threw for 159.

Little by little, the Houston Texans are getting healthier at key spots.

Safety Ed Reed will have a major say in whether or not he plays in the Sept. 9 season opener in San Diego. He won't begin the season on the PUP list, where he spent all of the preseason and training camp.

Left guard Wade Smith told me Thursday he has a "really good chance" of playing in the opener. And tight end Garrett Graham told me Thursday that if the game versus the Cowboys had been a regular-season game, his hip injury wouldn't have kept him out.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak says running back Arian Foster will benefit from the extra day that comes with a Monday night opener. And while Kubiak expects Foster to carry a lighter load to start, that's a reaction to his skipping most of the preseason.

Receiver DeVier Posey will get a similar gradual introduction, having played in only one preseason game after a speedy recovery from a torn Achilles.

When other teams suffered through a rash of season-ending injuries, some as part of the torn ACL epidemic that struck weeks ago, Kubiak noted his own frustrations with the plethora of more minor injuries winding through his team. He also noted his relief that these were injuries that wouldn't linger too long.

Some of that is coming together for the Texans now. They of course have players with frustrating recurrences (such as rookie tackle Brennan Williams, whose knee swelling has returned). And they're still waiting on rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins' concussion symptoms to fully subside.

But overall the health arrow is pointing up, and that's a good place to be as the regular season nears.

HOUSTON -- Last season it was against Miami that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had his swat-ridden coming-out party.

Sure, Watt had already started to become a star as a rookie, when he returned that interception for a touchdown against the Bengals in the 2011 playoffs. But he tipped three of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's passes in the 2012 season opener and completely changed the complexion of the game.

It seemed like a series of flukey plays. We all learned shortly thereafter that tipped passes by Watt were no fluke.

This time around, in their preseason meeting, the Texans opted to limit Watt, who departed the game much earlier than most of his defensive teammates. Watt said that was the Texans' plan heading into the game. He played two snaps.

"I like not showing everything I'll have during the season," Watt said.

He also said he felt like a caged animal.

"I missed the whole preseason last year," Watt said. "So I'm not worried about missing a couple snaps here and there."

Here are a few more observations from Saturday night's game, which the Texans won 24-17:
  • I've gone as long as I can without mentioning the backup-quarterback battle. Case Keenum played first after starter Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates played next. Keenum had a solid outing. Statistically, he threw 18 passes, completed 11 and threw a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean midway through the second quarter. Deep balls have been one of Keenum's strengths this preseason. He finished with a respectable 150 yards and a 106.2 passer rating. Yates looked better when he came in next. The Texans ran the ball a little more with Yates in at quarterback. He threw half as many passes but completed 7 of his 9 attempts. He was smooth under pressure and played like a guy with more experience. Yates finished with 84 yards, a touchdown and a 142.6 passer rating.
  • DeAndre Hopkins caught two passes for 22 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. Texans coach Gary Kubiak doesn't seem overly concerned about Hopkins. "I don't know exactly what play it happened on, but I thought something was wrong," Kubiak said. "I told [receivers coach Larry Kirksey] to get him out of there and then we checked him out. He's fine now, he's doing fine. But we're obviously going to put him through the protocol."
  • An underrated matchup in this game from an entertainment standpoint was Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito vs. Texans defensive end Antonio Smith. Last year when the two faced each other, Smith complained about Incognito's tactics; he said Incognito twisted his ankle. The film supported the fact that Incognito was doing something to Smith's ankle. The league responded by fining Smith, not Incognito, a hefty $21,000 for kicking Incognito. The fine was later reduced after Smith appealed, contending he had no choice in order to get Incognito off his leg. Tonight they met again and grappled a bit. Incognito grabbed Smith's facemask during one play and held on, then at one point appeared to swing his arm at Smith. Smith, clearly frustrated, ripped off Incognito's helmet and swung it at him. Asked about the meeting after the game, Smith said, "Next question. I kind of took a blow to the head. I can't remember."
  • The Texans have a strange attraction to tight ends from the University of Wisconsin. And it's working out pretty well for them. "It's great, it's great," said Owen Daniels, the elder statesman of the Wisconsin tight ends. "We've got three on the roster right now. Myself, G and Byrnie. It's great having those guys contribute." G, of course, is Garrett Graham. Byrnie (and I have no idea how that nickname is spelled) is Jake Byrne, a first-year tight end. Graham had a fantastic game and is going to be a really good player for the Texans this year. "Oh, he's picked up where he left off last year," Daniels said. "He helped us out a lot last year. This year he's going to get more opportunities to make plays without James [Casey] being here. He's grown a lot the last couple years. You see what he's doing out there, he's working really hard."
  • After a disappointing training camp, fourth-round draft pick Trevardo Williams seemed to release some frustration in the fourth quarter when he notched sacks on consecutive plays. Williams and fellow outside linebacker, third-round pick Sam Montgomery both fell behind during camp. Two undrafted rookies, Justin Tuggle and Willie Jefferson, jumped ahead of them on the depth chart. Tuggle started and played nearly the entire game. Kubiak talked after the game about Williams needing something to regain confidence. "Sometimes as a rookie you are just swimming in information. When you just throw them out there, sometimes their talents take over."
  • This quote from Kubiak stood out to me and is not good news for cornerback Brandon Harris, who was a second-round draft pick in 2011: "I would say Bouye, Roc and Brandon, that is a very competitive environment going on right there." Harris played a little bit of safety Saturday night after the Texans lost safeties Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant. Now he's apparently competing with A.J. Bouye, a standout undrafted rookie, and Roc Carmichael, who was inactive for the first 10 games of last season.

No Daniels for Texans in rain, wind

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
7:30
PM ET
CHICAGO -- Weather’s going to be a big issue tonight at Soldier Field.

The rain outside the press box window is moving sideways and the flags on top of the stadium and a top the goal posts are screaming “It’s swirling.” Every time I look at them they are going different directions, and one end of the stadium is different than the other.

The Texans will be working without one of their top weapons, tight end Owen Daniels, who’s sidelined with a back injury. Garrett Graham is a capable replacement, but hardly as dynamic. Fullback James Casey, who’s really an H-back, has the best hands on the team and will likely be a factor in the passing game too.

Quarterback Matt Schaub, kicker Shayne Graham and punter Donnie Jones will all have issues with the wind, as will their Bear’s counterparts

The full list of inactives:

Texans
Bears

Thoughts on Saints 34, Texans 27

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
11:18
PM ET
There isn’t a coach in the league who’s OK with fumbling. There may not be a coach in the league who’s less OK with it than Gary Kubiak.

So while Keshawn Martin is assuredly part of the Texans, the rookie receiver might have hurt his chances to be on the field early in the season with two lost fumbles over the course of the Houston’s 34-27 loss in New Orleans on Saturday night.

Return man Trindon Holliday was having a great preseason. But he comes out of Week 3 of the preseason as no sure thing after losing one fumble that was scooped for a touchdown return and dropping another return chance which he managed to recover as he went out of bounds. Those will be measured against an electric 64-yard kickoff return later in the game.

A few other notes out of the game:
  • Quarterback Matt Schaub was great (15-of-18, 194 yards and a TD) and the Texans rolled to touchdowns on their first two drives with efficient and effective play. The offense would appear ready to roll.
  • Tight end Garrett Graham looks fully capable of replacing departed free agent Joel Dreessen as the No. 2 tight end in a way that won’t leave much of a hole. (He certainly was the lesser of the two TE Grahams in this game, however. Jimmy Graham is simply something to behold.)
  • Cornerback Kareem Jackson was right with Devery Henderson on a deep completion from Drew Brees up the left side and was right with Lance Moore on a touchdown catch, even without the pass interference that was declined. Jackson will probably be getting ripped in Houston, but I was actually encouraged by the good position against top receivers taking throws from a top quarterback.
  • Right tackle Derek Newton did well at steering some pressure real wide and past Schaub. I know the Texans were seeking to get all four of the guys in competition for the two open spots on the line equal quantities of work. And Rashad Butler was mixed in early, too. But seeing him on the field late in the fourth quarter of the third preseason game didn’t leave me feeling great about his chances to claim the spot as his and his alone for opening day.
  • Sherrick McManis made a great special-teams play, stopping at the goal line to field the ball and tossing Donnie Jones’ punt back into the field, where Roc Carmichael downed it.

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