Training Camp is finally here! This season, we don't have the benefit of insight from cameras all around the Texans' practice facility as we did when "Hard Knocks" was covering the Texans last preseason. But don't worry, the Battle Red Boys (and Girls) will keep you in the loop! Here are five guys that every Texans fan should keep a close eye on during Training Camp this year:
1. Charles James II (CB): The man with the sickest sock game in the NFL is back, and this time he can clearly focus on being the "dog" that he is. It's a foregone conclusion this year that James will be on the 53-man roster. He became a fan favorite for his perseverance and drive on "Hard Knocks," but he became a coach's favorite for the things that he does on the field and in the locker room. Charles James isn't playing any games this year, folks. Here's why he will be successful in training camp this year:
a) With J.J. Watt out, expect the Texans to rely more on man coverage as they try to come up with ways to create pressure on the quarterback without the best defensive player in the world. You are really going to get a good look at James' press coverage skills, which are greatly underappreciated. This guy is a ball hawk, plain and simple.
b) Special Teams is open for business! Let's not forget that James is an extremely talented returner as well. Braxton Miller will likely carry the bulk of the load as the kick returner, but I expect James to be in the mix; he should get his share of opportunities as well during camp. This unit absolutely must improve in order for the Texans to be successful.
c) Veteran leadership/"other stuff": James emerged as a locker room leader last season and has earned the respect of his peers. He brings a blue collar mentality to the locker room and with a very young secondary (A.J. Bouye, Andre Hal, and Kevin Johnson are all 24 years old or younger). He has been and will continue to be a great mentor to those guys. As far as the "other stuff" is concerned, no disrespect to Alfred Blue, Akeem Hunt, Jonathan Grimes and the other guys in the running back pool behind Lamar Miller, but let's be honest here: Who doesn't want to see James get another chance to tote the rock as a running back after that brilliant run that he displayed against the Saints last season? I think that it's definitely worth at least a handful of snaps to see if there are some ways that James can help on offense.
2. K.J. Dillon - In my opinion, this guy could become the diamond in the rough from the 2016 Texans draft. He flew under the radar leading up the 2016 NFL Draft. He played for West Virginia, and despite only playing nine games, he managed to gain Second Team All Big 12 honors. He could develop into a Glover Quin type of safety, a rangy guy who excels in over-the-top coverage and is also an excellent slot cover guy. Dillon isn't afraid to throw a helmet at a guy either, and he's actually pretty good in run support as well.
3. Jadeveon Clowney - This season in my opinion is "make or break" for Clowney from an evaluation perspective. If Jadeveon is going to evolve into the beast that everyone thought that he'd become, this is the year that he'll show he can get it done. He's healthy going into camp for the first time of his career and now has a couple seasons under his belt as an outside linebacker. Jadeveon's problem as a pass rusher is his ability to change direction and pursuing from wide angles. Work those hips, Jadeveon! I'm sure that he spent some time this offseason working on flattening out his pass pursuit angles. We'll see how it looks on film.
4. Jaelen Strong - A big, strong physical specimen who comes into camp this year more focused, lighter and faster than last year. Jaelen had some off-the-field issues that he learned from and has shown signs of maturity. He spent some time in Bill O'Brien's dog house last year because he wasn't a "film room" kind of guy, but make no mistake about it, this guy can play some damn good football. In minicamp, he was used as a punt rusher, so expect to see him make some contribution on special teams as well. The slot receiver position battle will be very interesting to watch, and Strong will definitely make the coaches work hard when evaluating this group.
5. Xavier Su'a-Filo - This guy was supposed to be the "battering ram" in the Texans' offensive line. I'm sorry to be blunt, but last season was a huge disappointment. He was more like a "blabbering ram" than a battering ram. As a second round draft pick and a surprise to many when he was drafted that high, the Texans saw the versatility and the ability to get to the second level and destroy linebackers and defensive backs. What happened to that? Did someone steal his luggage on the flight to Houston and those skills were in the lost baggage? A second round pick as an offensive lineman has to be as close to a "plug and play"' guy as possible. Brock Osweiler has a great presence in the pocket, but he needs time to make plays. Su'a-Filo's play is a huge question mark going into camp and should be closely followed.
Fire up the Rick Ross playlist and let's get ready to watch these Texans battle for 53 spots!