The Texans are back at it today in Houston for the first of two open practices this week as the team prepares for their preseason opener against the 49ers on Saturday. We should be getting the first official depth chart of the year any day now, so here are some position battles that you should be paying extra attention to on our twitter widget (below) throughout the morning.
Kevin Johnson, A.J. Bouye, and the rest of the DBs still seem to be in a knockdown, drag out brawl for the nickel cornerback spot. All of them have made their fair share of plays, and there will likely be a heavy rotation throughout the preseason so that everyone can get an equal opportunity to strut their stuff against unfamiliar competition. I still bet that Johnson will win the job just based on his pure explosive potential, but this fight is far from over.
Whether the national media wants to admit it or not, Ryan Mallett is building up more and more steam with each passing day. He’s physically gifted, a great decision-maker, and the type of fiery leader that this offense needs under center. Brian Hoyer is at the very least a capable backup, but it is becoming harder to imagine a world where Mallett isn’t this team’s starting quarterback on opening day. Hoyer still has plenty of time to prove me wrong, however, so pay attention today to see how he answers a strong trio of practices from Mallett against the Washington defense.
3. Inside Linebacker
John Harris and the rest of the local Houston media have been singing the praises of Mike Mohamed and rookie Benardrick McKinney since the very first day of training camp. Mohamed has cemented himself as an integral piece of Romeo Crennel’s nickel pass defense next to Brian Cushing, while McKinney has flashed an aggressive run-stopping skillset that should come in handy during short yardage situations. To be honest, I expect both McKinney and Mohamed to be rotated with each other frequently, depending on what the game plan calls for. In base 3-4 sets, Crennel might even feel comfortable leaving the smaller Mohamed in against heavier offensive packages simply because he is "protected" by such a strong trio of J.J. Watt, Cushing, and Vince Wilfork. If that plan fails, McKinney can rotate in at a moment’s notice just to add some more beef to the front seven.
Hell, McKinney might even be a good option for a "big nickel" package to counter teams that like to run out of three-receiver sets on early downs (looking at you, Green Bay). Whitney Mercilus, Watt, Jared Crick, and Jadeveon Clowney would make up a formidable pass rushing foursome up front while Cushing and McKinney wait on the second level as a run-stopping cleanup crew. And, as always, if McKinney’s coverage in space becomes an issue, he can easily be rotated with Mohamed. It is hard to find a complete three-down linebacker coming out of college these days – Cushing himself might be the best one the Texans have ever drafted – but I think a "mix and match" approach with McKinney and Mohamed should at the very least be "good enough" to keep the inside linebacker position from becoming a liability. That is the idea, anyway.
Consider this your open thread for today’s public practice. What position battles will you focus on as we await the first depth chart to be released later this week? Sound off in the comments below.