Well, we finally made it. Another year, another preseason opener. The long darkness of the offseason is brightening with each passing hour, and come this time next week we will have an actual Texans football game to talk about. Who looks good and who looks bad is anyone's guess at this point, but there are plenty of players and story lines I'll be watching as the Texans travel up to Minnesota to take on the Vikings.
I don’t think I can put in to words just how excited I am to finally see DeAndre Hopkins play in a "real" game. Hopkins has been tearing DBs apart throughout the first week of camp, and his early chemistry with Matt Schaub should be fun to watch under the lights this Friday night. In particular, I really want to watch Hopkins face a familiar opponent in ex-Florida State Seminole and fellow first round pick Xavier Rhodes. In their last meeting in 2012, Hopkins had a solid stat line with 5 grabs for 88 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings' newest lanky, fast cornerback. Wwith phenomenal second year free safety Harrison Smith patrolling deep it will be a tough task for 'Nuk to have a similar performance. If all of these glowing camp reports for both sides’ first round picks are an indication of what is to come, this week’s battle on the outside could be extremely entertaining.
In a similar vein of pitting rookie-on-rookie, sixth round pick David Quessenberry will likely get to test his mettle in the trenches against first round pick Sharrif Floyd. Floyd, an explosively talented 3-technique prospect out of the University of Florida, is currently slated to be Kevin Williams’ backup; Quessenberry will likely work with the Texans' second team offense at one of the guard positions. The interesting dynamic between high picks and low picks on the football field has always highlighted that anyone and everyone in the NFL is capable of greatness. I can only hope that Quessenberry starts down his own path to greatness with a good outing in his first preseason game.
Cushing returns to face a monster.
Brian Cushing finally gets to hit something, and that something happens to be Adrian Peterson. There might not be a more difficult running back to meet in the hole than All Day, but Brian Cushing has never struck me as someone who does not love facing tough challenges at the expense of his own blood supply. Beyond containing the beast that is Peterson, I also want to see how Cushing handles coverage duties. It's no secret that possibly the biggest reason for Houston’s defensive fall off after Week 5 of the 2012 season was the fact that coverage from the inside linebacker position was pitiful. Whether zone or man, the second, third, and eventual fourth string options inside all failed to stop tight ends and running backs from ripping this defense to shreds through the air last year. Texans fans everywhere are eager to see some stability return to the position.
Swearinger going into #HUNTMODE.
If D.J. Swearinger is as intense as he has been in practice, can you imagine him in a game? I can, and it is glorious. It is tough to say if Swearinger will start due to all of the surprisingly positive talk about Shiloh Keo (who currently sits ahead of Swearinger on the depth chart). Whether he is working with the first team or second team, I expect Swearinger to make a big impact both with his play and his mouth come Friday. I will be paying extra attention to any snaps Swearinger takes down in the box as the third safety in sub packages, as his ability to both stop the run against a back like Adrian Peterson and take a giant, athletic tight end like Kyle Rudolph in man coverage will be an excellent barometer for what fans can expect this season.
Are Derek Newton and Shiloh Keo still Derek Newton and Shiloh Keo?
Anyone who knows me knows that I despised Derek Newton and Shiloh Keo in 2012, and for good reason. Newton could not hold an edge or stop a speed rush if his life depended on it. Keo was even less reliable than the oft-burned Quintin Demps. To say that both gave me unnecessary heart palpitations is putting it mildly, and now both of them will have yet another opportunity to enrage me in just a few short series while facing Pro Bowlers and All-Pros like Jared Allen, Kyle Rudolph, and Greg Jennings. Yippee. Lots of positive quotes have come out of camp about the development of both Keo and Newton. Until I see that development in an actual game, I remain staunchly pessimistic.
How does Jared Crick look when he’s finally 100% healthy?
Jared Crick showed a lot to like in his rookie season, but an unfortunate nagging neck injury really limited his potential down the stretch. After miraculously falling to the fourth round, Texans fans and draft analysts alike lauded the pick of Crick as a steal. His great power and run stopping ability flashed at times in his sparse snaps in 2012, and I was very impressed with his ability to collapse cut back lanes and his improvement of hand usage in pass rushing situations as the season went on. Now fully healthy and another year into the Wade Phillips defense, I am eager to see if Crick can show if he is the Texans 3-technique of the future in case Antonio Smith does not sign a new deal due to cap restrictions.
Brandon Brooks being a bad, bad man.
I hopped on the Brandon Brooks bandwagon early last season, and that wagon has picked up more and more speed as the off season has progressed. After winning a lot of reps against reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt in camp by flashing the technical and physical development that Rick Smith likes to see from his second year players, Brooks has all but cemented his spot as the starter at the right guard position. Ben Jones was the best Texans rookie in 2012 by a considerable margin, but in year two the potential for Brooks as both a pile mover and pass protector is too staggeringly great for anyone on the roster to compete with. Jones can now move back to his natural position at center and learn from a master in Chris Myers while Brooks prepares himself to face Vikings standout Chad Greenway. This should be good.
The most fantasy relevant third string running back in the NFL.
I honestly have no idea who the Texans' third running back will be going in to the regular season. All four candidates (Deji Karim, Ray Graham, Cierre Wood, and Dennis Johnson) have had positive camps and none of them have really separated themselves from the pack just yet. Seeing their first real action of the year against a talented defense might help provide at least a few answers to the question. I have a feeling that this battle might linger well into preseason.