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2017 Houston Texans Training Camp Preview: Detailing The Defensive Line

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Today our camp preview focuses on the Texans’ star-studded defensive line.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans’ defensive line has been the team’s pride and joy for the past couple of seasons. Blessed with the otherworldly talent of J.J. Watt and the emergence of the equally dominant Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans have had more than enough talent to win in the trenches. That being said, there are issues lingering over the position heading into training camp.

J.J. Watt’s health:

For the first five seasons of his career, Watt had been an iron man. He didn’t miss a single game. That changed at the end of the 2015 season, when Watt played with a slew of injuries and surgeries that required surgeries over the offseason. Watt’s quick return in 2016 ended up being too much. He missed the majority of the 2016 season after re-injuring his back. Considering all of these issues, questions need to be asked. What kind of J.J. Watt we are going to see going forward? Will there be any limitations placed on him by the Texans?

Who will play defensive end opposite Watt?

When Watt went down last year, Jadeveon Clowney debuted as a 3-4 DE rather effectively. Now Clowney’s may actually be a 3-4 DE playing opposite of Watt. But If Clowney isn’t retained at DE and is moved back to outside linebacker, who could potentially take that slot? Christian Covington, Joel Heath and Antonio Smith all saw some playing time throughout the 2016 season, but no one stood out and nailed the position down. Covington saw the most playing time, with over 40% of the total defensive snaps last season, but he and the other contenders will have more competition this season with the arrival of rookie Carlos Watkins.

D.J. Reader’s growth:

The emergence of D.J. Reader last season as the nose tackle replacement for Vince Wilfork was one of the highlights for the Texans’ defense last season. For years, the Texans have searched for a long-term option to anchor the center of their 3-4 defense. Reader’s play was one of the big reasons why Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney were able to get free on a lot of their A-Gap blitzes. Vince Wilfork still hasn’t decided if he is going to return this season. The Texans know they have a long-term solution with Reader regardless of Wilfork’s decision.

These are just some of the storylines for the defensive line heading into training camp. What do you guys think of these issues? Do you think we’ll see Watt return to his usual destructive form or are you expecting less from him? Which one of the backup defensive linemen do you see making the leap and getting more playing time this season?