Ahhhhh, another July another training camp. Every year the heart of summer is filled with so much promise, so much intrigue, so many unknown quantities. Will this young second year player step up? Will that veteran finally live up to his draft position? Will all of those superstars make it through camp without injury? The few weeks of practice leading up to the preseason can be hell for players, but for those of us that have been itching for any scrap of real, honest-to-goodness football news we can find for the last six months, this is heaven. Here are a few storylines to keep an eye out for as the Houston Texans open training camp this week.
What exactly is going on at linebacker?
To say that the linebacker position is "in flux" would be an understatement. I would not necessarily say there is a talent void or anything of the sort at the position, but I don’t think there is anyone outside of the Texans organization that has any clue where all of that talent is about to be placed.
Will Whitney Mercilus prove he can contain the run against left tackles that are far above his weight class? Will Trevardo Williams show he can handle the Sam linebacker position and allow Brooks Reed to shift to the Mike spot? Will Darryl Sharpton finally stop breaking things? Will Tim Dobbins show up with a bit more coverage ability than his formerly wooden incarnation? What will Brian Cushing look like nine months removed a torn ACL?
So many questions, so little time to answer them. In just a few short weeks your Houston Texans will take the field in their preseason opener, and with any luck we might finally get some ideas how this defense will look, thanks to scattered press conference fragments and observations from the BRB staff that will be attending camp this year.
My dinner with DeAndre
It was well documented towards the end of the 2012 season that Matt Schaub practically refused to throw the ball to anyone other than Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, and Arian Foster. As DeVier Posey came into his own (before he got hurt), he not only got open more often than former number two wideout Kevin Walter, but it was a good bet he had more space than Andre Freakin’ Johnson too. Did all of that separation stop Schaub from ignoring his young new pass catcher anyway? Not in the slightest. With Posey starting this year on the PUP with a torn Achilles and Walter no longer in Battle Red, it is absolutely imperative that Hopkins develop a relationship with Schaub immediately in camp, lest he too be ignored with fifteen yards of open field in every direction.
The burden is not just on Hopkins. Schaub needs to get over his obsession with his few trusted receivers and branch out to include every weapon on this offense that Rick Smith has worked so hard to give him. Using Garrett Graham in the seams and hitting Keshawn Martin for a bubble screen or two would go a long way towards making it a tad easier throw whenever he feels compelled to toss it to Owen Daniels in triple coverage (again). DeAndre Hopkins is immensely talented and ready to play at a pro level right now. It would behoove Schaub to use that talent if he wants to earn that contract extension any time soon.
How is Ed doing?
Rick Smith took a huge gamble in bringing in Ed Reed to get this team over the Tom Brady hump instead of re-signing standout safety Glover Quin. So far that gamble is looking to be a bit of a loss. Ed Reed is still Ed Reed in the leadership and intelligence sense, but he will not be able to do anything for this team if he is on the sidelines with an injury. The Bulls on Parade need his presence, and they need it now. I personally am as high on rookie D.J. #SwearInGerman as anybody, but if Ed Reed is not playing, that means Shiloh Keo is playing, and I am not confident about that possibility at all. Monitoring the health and recovery of Reed in the weeks leading up to the season should be one of the biggest story lines of the next two months.
You’re my boy, Brandon Brooks. You’re my boy.
The formerly massive Brandon Brooks has slimmed down to a relatively less massive 325 pounds, which is positively svelte for a man that entered the NFL a full thirty pounds heavier. Considering Brooks ran like a gazelle for a man his size in 2012, I cannot even imagine the kind of mobility he must enjoy these days without the extra weight. To go with his unnatural speed, Brooks also has phenomenal strength (36 reps on the bench press in his 2012 pro day, which would have been second behind only one other lineman) that he put on display brilliantly in his limited snaps last season. While Ben Jones is still much, much better at the "geometry" of the position and understanding how to engage in space, Brooks brings with him all of the exciting potential of a physical specimen. If he can get on Jones’ technical level and be more than "the guy who won’t get bull rushed five yards back by Jurrell Casey," Brooks has a real chance to become one of the best guards in the NFL. I eagerly look forward to every morsel that comes out of camp relating to his development.
Please, Brennan Williams. you’re our only hope.
Possibly the only point I hammered home more often in 2012 than "I love Ben Jones" was "I hate Derek Newton." If you absolutely, positively needed a perfect block to be screwed up in the most critical portion of a game, Derek Newton was your man. Whether he was whiffing on linebackers in space, getting driven into running lanes and forcing early cutbacks from Arian Foster into piles of bodies, or getting embarrassed by pass rushers with any semblance of speed on the edge, Derek Newton was pretty much terrible in every way last season. Sure, he was a late round draft pick that was essentially in his rookie year, but this 2013 Texans team is trying to get its way to the big dance with possibly the greatest collection of talent in the league. Gary Kubiak has no time to wait for a flyer like Newton to get his act together when they need to get themselves a ring now.
I asked all season for a new right tackle to be delivered in April, and Rick Smith delivered in the form of Brennan Williams. Coming from a similar offense at North Carolina, Williams has experience with many of the concepts that he will have to employ during his time on the Texans. Most importantly, he actually knows how to perform a proper reach block without getting embarrassed. Considering that literally anything will be an upgrade over Ryan Harris and Derek Newton, I am sure that Arian Foster will appreciate his new (and hopefully healthy) right tackle this coming September. I know I will.
What say you, readers of Battle Red Blog? What little stories and threads will you be looking for over the next few weeks?