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Countdown To Kickoff: Houston Texans v. San Francisco 49ers

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It doesn't get much closer than this. The Houston Texans open their 2016 preseason tonight against the 49ers in Santa Clara, and we're counting down the minutes on Battle Red Blog.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The wait for 2016 Texans football is finally over! Tonight, the Texans officially kick off the 2016 season against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. This is first peek that we will get of the "Legion of Zoom" that features so much speed at the wide receiver position that the Harris County Sheriff's Department may consider posting officers on the sidelines with radar scanners.

2016 draft picks Braxton Miller and Will Fuller are going to have all eyes on them as they work with quarterback Brock Osweiler in Bill O'Brien's system for the first time. DeAndre Hopkins will probably continue his quest to fund the college tuition of some lucky podiatrist's children. Hopkins seems to be in mid-season form already; I'm sure that he will resume his defensive back ankle-breaking tactics when they try to cut him off as he runs routes (in my head, I'm waving at DeAngelo Hall as I type this).

Here is a brief breakdown of 5 things that everyone needs to closely observe in today's game:

1) Offensive Line: How well will the hogs protect Brock Osweiler and open running lanes without the services of Duane Brown, Nick Martin, and Derek Newton? The entire group of offensive linemen that will play today are in a battle for either starting roles or playing time as swing linemen. Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden will actually handle the bulk of the snaps today, so keep an eye on how much time the offensive line gives them as well. Every lineman is important at this point. There should be open competition across the playing time. Let's see how this sorts itself out.

2) Defensive Line: Romeo Crennel probably won't bring out his "Sunday's best" from a schematic perspective, but watch closely to see if he uses multiple defensive fronts, defensive back and linebacker blitzes, stunts, etc. The pass rushing chores will be creatively delegated without J.J. Watt. It will be interesting to see how that looks on film.

3) Backup Running Back: Alfred Blue has to show us that he wants to be on this roster. In the past, he was a 53-man roster plug based on his special teams play alone. That is no longer the case, as there is much competition at RB this year. Akeem Hunt and Jonathan Grimes are in position to steal the backup job behind Lamar Miller away. This position battle is far from over. In the back of my mind, I'm still interested in seeing Charles James tote the rock at running back few more times. He's a diamond in the rough kind of guy anyway; it definitely couldn't hurt to kick the tires on him in the backfield a time or two.

4) Kick/Punt Returners: Since the departure of Trindon Holliday, the Texans have struggled to find a dynamic kick and punt returner. Additional emphasis has been placed on this position. Cecil Shorts III will initially take the role, and to be honest, that may be the real reason that he could stick to the roster. Tyler Ervin is a very intriguing option in the return game as well; it's just a matter of time before he does something. Braxton Miller is an absolute open field symphony in cleats.  Although he's not officially listed as a returner on the depth chart, if O'Brien isn't happy with the returns that we are getting, don't be surprised to see him in either punt or kick return situations.

5) Tight Ends: The default response from Coach O'Brien when asked about the tight ends group has been to discuss the different skill-sets in this group. Well, that's fine and dandy, Coach, but none of these guys have separated themselves from the pack. Can at least one of the TEs emerge as a major weapon in this offense? Ryan Griffin has the speed, CJ. Fiedorowicz has the size, and Anthony Denham has the motor and aggressiveness. And how about Stephen Anderson, the rookie UDFA and maybe the most explosive pass-catcher in the group?  The Texans need some offensive production from the position.

That being said, the countdown alarm is now ringing. It's about a quarter past beer-thirty. Get those grills fired up! This is your countdown thread. Inactives will post at 4:30pm, with the first quarter thread opening at 5:45pm, after which this thread will close.

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