Two days of training camp have come and gone, and we already know a lot more about the 2015 Texans than we did last week. Here is a quick rundown on some of the top storylines and how they are developing so far.
5. Andre Hal might start at safety.
Second year defensive back Andre Hal made a great first impression last year as a 7th round pick who fought his way onto the roster with strong preseason and special teams play. One year later, Hal has no intention of staying as a backup after his move to safety in the middle of the offseason. In fact, Hal was seen working prominently with the presumed defensive starters in the first two days of camp, which hints that he might be in the lead to start as the left safety over Eddie Pleasant while Rahim Moore handles the right safety spot. I absolutely loved the former Commodore during 2014’s pre-Draft season, and I still loved him during his rookie year when he got plenty of snaps against the high-octane Eagles offense. If this trajectory continues, this fall might be when Hal finally gets his opportunity to show the world that he had no business being a seventh rounder.
4. Xavier Su’a-Filo still not starter material?
The Texans have had a horrible track record with second round picks in recent years, and unfortunately it looks like Xavier Su’a-Filo is in danger of continuing that trend. XSF has not worked with the presumed first team offense once throughout the first two days of camp, and he was even seen doing sprints on the sidelines after practice, which suggests that he is one of the few people on the team (3%, to be exact) whom Bill O’Brien believes is not in good enough physical condition. Ugh…
3. The Texans have a ridiculous amount of good cornerbacks.
I mentioned Andre Hal earlier as a convert from corner to safety, and it is possible that his position switch may have been due to just how many good CBs this team has on the roster. No less than six corners were on this team at the start of OTAs that could have competed for the nickel corner job, including Hal, Kevin Johnson, A.J. Bouye, Darryl Morris, Jumal Rolle, and Charles James; that does not even include incumbent starters Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Every single one of these nickel corner candidates have made their fair share of plays throughout OTAs, minicamps, and the first two days of training camp. So far no clear leaders have emerged in the battle. To say that there is an overflow of talent at the position is an understatement, and even with Hal’s move to safety, there still may not be enough room on the roster to keep everyone. If the Texans make the tough choice and cut a corner or two by the end of training camp, I have no doubts that they will not be unemployed for long.
2. Every wideout job behind DeAndre Hopkins is up for grabs.
The other noticeable aspect of practice before it even kicked off was the physique of Jaelen Strong, the rookie receiver out of Arizona State. He arrived in May after OTAs and it was clear he wasn’t in shape at all. He returned, though, looking sleek and strong as he did at Arizona State. We’ll get to some more thoughts on him in a bit, but just seeing the conditioning work he put in and the results in his frame and stamina were a good sign.
Having suffered injuries the past two seasons, receiver Alan Bonner spent both seasons on the IR, missing each season entirely. We weren’t really sure what Bonner would, or even could, bring to the team. Well, if today was any indication, he’s definitely going to be in this receiver mix. He caught everything thrown his way, with one exception on a deep ball vs. Kareem Jackson in 1-on-1s. Bonner is quick as a hiccup and sudden in and out of his breaks. I could truly see him getting reps at the slot receiver position throughout the rest of camp.
On one of the first few plays in 1-on-1, Nate Washington made a brilliant, deep downfield catch for a TD. He’s going to be 32 before the end of the month but he gets downfield better than any Texans receiver not named DeAndre Hopkins.
I mentioned Jaelen Strong earlier and a concern some have is whether he can get separation from NFL cornerbacks. But, even if he doesn’t, he still might be open. A good example of this occurred during 1-on-1s. Matched up against Darryl Morris, the corner completely read Strong’s route, nearly matching him step for step. But, Morris was still on Strong’s hip; he couldn’t go through him to the ball. Essentially, Strong shielded Morris with his big frame, boxing him out like a defender would do in basketball and made the catch. Morris clapped his hands as if he was angry he didn’t make the play, but he just couldn’t get around Strong or body him out of the way. Strong wasn’t really open but the way he positioned himself on the route allowed him to make the catch and more importantly keep Morris from making the sure pick.
Every day during minicamp and OTAs, 5th round rookie Keith Mumphery made a play deep down the field and the first day of training camp was no exception. He got behind a defensive back and made another deep catch on a throw from Savage.
I’ve mentioned, more often than not, that the only sure thing at the receiver position is that Hopkins is a lock. Other than that, it’s a wide open competition for every spot and every rep. Shorts, Washington and company have engaged in a full-on, no holds barred battle and no one is backing off.
1. The quarterback battle is far from over.
By all accounts, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett seemed to have equal outings on day one of camp. When Mallett was able to work with more starters on day two, however, he seemed to get the upper hand. His decision making, touch, and of course arm strength were all on point, particularly when launching bombs to DeAndre Hopkins at every possible opportunity. There is still a long way to go in camp, however, and I expect to not really know who the starter will be until after the first preseason game. That being said – and despite how close the competition is right now – consider me firmly on Team Mallett.