Normally, I like to go through the roster battles and update the performance of our battlers on Monday mornings. Given that the starting units should be, more or less, locked in after the third pre-season game, I'm instead going to give my predictions about the Houston 26. Why 26? Twenty-six would represent the 11 starters on offense and defense to go along with a kicker, punter, kick returner, and punt returner. Join me after the jump to see which 26 I believe – to emphasize: this is what I believe should happen based on game performance - the Texans should start.
QB - Matt Schaub
RB - Arian Foster
FB - Vonta Leach
WRs - Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter
TE - Owen Daniels
OTs - Duane Brown and Eric Winston
OGs - Mike Brisiel and Antoine Caldwell
C - Chris Myers
Honestly, Andre Johnson was on the bubble but dragging cornerbacks just made me think that this kid had something special. All jokes aside, 10 of these 11 starters should merit no explanation. I list Leach as a starter, but the Texans work in a number of two TE sets and three WR sets so we'll see plenty of Joel Dreessen, Jacoby Jones, and, potentially, James Casey, since there is a snap count on Daniels for the opener. In other words, the talent of the skill positions allow Kubiak and Dennison to present a number of dangerous looks that we have yet to see.
The key spot is left guard. I chose to start Mike Brisiel, on play alone, over Wade Smith and Kasey Studdard. From what I've seen in these three games, Studdard misses a lot of blocks, Smith gets knocked back half the time on pass protection, and Brisiel is a mauler. Mike struggles slightly on pass blocking, but he makes a lot of impressive blocks in the run game – including some big seal off blocks against Dallas that helped free up Arian Foster. To me, Mike has earned his former position, which allows Wade to be nice depth along the interior line should the injury bug rear its ugly head.
Of course, I wouldn't be surprised, especially given the fact that he's started the past two games, if Wade Smith were starting at LG with Brisiel as the top G/C reserve. Wade hasn't done a poor job, but I think Brisiel has been a little bit better at the point of attack.
DEs - Mario Williams and Antonio Smith
DTs - Shaun Cody and Amobi Okoye
LBs - Zac Diles, DeMeco Ryans, and Darryl Sharpton
CBs - Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin
Ss - Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard
Again, no surprises here. I fully believe that the coaches wanted Danny Clark to win the temporary linebacker job, but the best laid plans of Kubiak and staff oft go awry. The injuries to Clark and Xavier Adibi opened the door for the good Reverend, and he was never really challenged. Adibi is supposed to play Thursday, but I don't see anything changing here.
In my perfect world, Diles would slide to the strongside and be involved in nickel situations due to his cover skills. Sharpton would be on the weakside and doesn't worry me at all. This defense has produced two linebackers who have won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award since 2006. Is Sharpton the third? Probably not, but this team knows how to draft and develop LBs, so I believe they can manage.
Kubiak said on Sunday that they'll move Sharpton and Adibi to the strongside, but I'm still taking Diles, Ryans, and Sharpton, regardless of position, as my three starters come Week One. I think that's pretty much a lock barring some strange happening on Thursday.
K - Neil Rackers
P - Matt Turk
KR - Steve Slaton
PR - Jacoby Jones
I know the K and KR will be open to competition through the Tampa game, but I am naming Rackers the kicker now. Rackers has performed well, but I made the choice because A) Shankapotamus is one miss away from having the town put a bounty on his head and B) Kubiak made talk of a plantar fasciitis injury for Brown. The mere mention of an injury that could show up later makes me go with the 100% healthy kicker over someone with a built-in excuse.
Steve Slaton in space is my choice to return kicks, as it gets more use out of him and allows him to contribute more on the field. I do get scared about him holding on after a big hit, but his ability to move in space, based on what we've seen in his few, scant returns, is exactly what you want out of a kick returner. With Slaton out on Thursday, the door is open for Sherrick McManis. Jacoby's my punt returner only because I don't know who else could do it. Honestly, I would rather see someone else return punts aside from Jacoby so he can avoid big hits on special teams and focus on being a receiver. Anyone else agree?
Sound off on my wild speculation below. Any concerns? Disagree? Who is your favorite in the kickoff returner battle? Do you like your Houston 26?