After a couple weeks of training camp, it's time for the Houston Texans to put their pads on for real and perform in front of 68,000 fans against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara. It's our first chance to get to see how the new team will work together in a real game environment. It's also our first look at this year's draft haul and at new big money free agents Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller and Jeff Allen. So what will be the most interesting things to watch come Sunday night?
1. Quarterback - How long and how well will Brock play?
He's the biggest news story of the summer and will continue to be the biggest Texans' news story all year, for one reason or another. Brock Osweiler will be getting "a decent amount of snaps in the first half," according to Bill O'Brien, but how much that constitutes is unclear. The more snaps Osweiler can get in this offense in a game situation, the better, but O'Brien will be cautious to avoid any injuries. Brock's playing time on Sunday night will probably depend on how well he performs early on. If the offense is stagnating, he may stay on for a couple more drives to try and work out any issues. Starters normally only play one or two drives in the preseason opener, but Osweiler could play a whole half like Ryan Fitzpatrick did in his first preseason game here.
I won't be concerned if the offense isn't fully functional just yet. I've watched enough of Brock to know that he's a good quarterback. The coaching staff has already talked about him being ahead of schedule. There may be some miscommunication and problems lining up, but I expect Brock to be his normal, mostly accurate self. Even though I won't be too concerned with how he plays, it will definitely be the top thing everyone is watching.
2. Offensive Tackle - Who will step up to the plate?
With Duane Brown and Derek Newton out of the picture at the moment, there are plenty of snaps to offer the rest of the offensive tackles on the roster.
Kendall Lamm was the villain last preseason thanks to Tom Savage's injury, but he'll get a lot of snaps this year. He played well as a sixth offensive lineman on some plays during the 2015 regular season, and he's had an offseason to further refine his craft. We knew he was a raw player, but he has all the physical ability in the world. He needed a lot of work on his hands and footwork to become a viable option at tackle, so it will be interesting to see how he has progressed.
Jeff Adams played at guard last year when Brandon Brooks missed a game to injury, only to suffer a season-ending knee injury against the Panthers. At 6'8", Adams is way too tall to get leverage at guard; he is much better suited outside at tackle. He did a serviceable job at guard and impressed in camp last year, so how he makes this move back to tackle will be one to watch. He's heading into his 5th NFL season, although he's only 26 years old. The time is now for Adams. He needs to show to he has what it takes, or it's unlikely he'll ever make it as anything more than a fourth choice at tackle.
Andrew McDonald also had some of the guys in the business excited when the Texans claimed him off waivers before the playoff game last year. Without any chance to see him play, I can't really make any comment, so I will be eager to see what McDonald has to offer.
As well as those players, we have the two UDFAs in Arturo Uzdavinis and Matt Pierson. They will get a shot at a decent amount of snaps with only four other tackles ahead of them on the roster. Even then, Chris Clark may only get a series or two. Can either of these be a surprise package?
3. The Offensive Rookies - Have they got a grasp of the system?
The main offensive rookies, Tyler Ervin, Braxton Miller and Will Fuller, will probably get the most snaps as O'Brien looks to get them up to speed. With DeAndre Hopkins unlikely to play more than a single series, it will allow more opportunity for the rookie speedsters to get involved.
With Fuller, how, or if, he has improved his hands at all and how devastating his speed can really be will be the key aspects. He may not know the system fully yet, but that shouldn't stop him showing off his speed or showin improvement with his hands. Braxton Miller will be an interesting watch as we see how he lines up on offense; how is he progressing with learning to be a wide receiver? He won't be perfect, but how is his route running developing? With Ervin penciled in as returner, we may finally have a legitimate threat receiving punts and kickoffs. Can he show off some of that ability come Sunday?
4. Defensive End - Who will be J.J.'s opposite number?
For now, Devon Still has been marked as starter at left defensive end opposite J.J. Watt on the Texans' first depth chart, with Christian Covington backing up J.J.
Covington impressed last season in his snaps all over the defensive line despite being a rookie. He will line up more at defensive end this year, and how he performs there will be a good watch. Covington flashed some great talent, and it looks like he's added even more muscle mass over the offseason.
Still was a former second round pick with the Cincinnati Bengals. He struggled in his time there, but he has some people excited. Still is now fully healthy after a hamstring injury prevented him from playing in 2015.
Covington versus Still will be an interesting battle. They will get the benefit of plenty of snaps opposite each other to prove their worth. Let's not rule out Brandon Dunn either, though. He performed well last year coming in during the season, but will he do enough to get a starting spot?
What are you looking forward to in this first preseason game? Or are you just looking forward to the fact there's football in general?
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