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100 Days Until The Season Starts

Let the countdown begin.

NFL: Houston Texans-OTA Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you get lucky and ask yourself, “How many days until the Texans’ 2018 season begins?” and the answer turns out to be 100 days. Knowing that the century mark is all the time left until the Texans take the field provides a welcome turning point in the long offseason. The Texans have come a long way since the 2017 season ended in terms of adding talent on the offensive line and secondary, and they’re getting back key players after losing them last season to injury. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in the next 100 days before the season begins. The Texans must accomplish several important tasks and answer some big questions before the Texans take the field against the Patriots on September 9th.

Solidify the offensive line

As of now, the state of the offensive line is a complete mess. The team put a premium on versatility, but the cost is a lack of knowledge about who will play what position. We know Nick Martin will play center and Julie’n Davenport will start out at left tackle, but after that, there are questions everywhere. Where does rookie Martinas Rankin play? My guess is he starts out at left guard. Where does Zach Fulton end up since he can play any of the interior offensive line positions? My guess is that he starts at right guard. So who plays right tackle? If you trust Seantrel Henderson to be the guy, you have more confidence than I do. With Jeff Allen on the Physically Unable to Perform list, will he make the team or his he going to officially become one of the worst free agent signings in franchise history? Allen is due over $6 million this year, and it would be a shame to see that money waste away.

Additionally, there’s the addition of Senio Kelemete, the playing ability of Greg Mancz, and some of the recently signed undrafted free agents as potentially useful options for Bill O’Brien to use to protect Deshaun Watson. Offensive line continuity is probably the single-most important asset the Texans currently lack. When players are used to blocking next to each other and trust the linemen next to them, they will inherently block better. Training camp and preseason will be the biggest testing ground for the Texans to try out different offensive line combinations.

Sign Jadeveon Clowney

The Texans picked up Clowney’s fifth-year option, so even if a deal is done before the season starts, he will still be locked down for the upcoming campaign. However, if his trajectory continues upwards, Clowney is on track for a breakout season, surrounded by the most talented defense in franchise history. He is due $12 million dollars this year under his currently extended rookie contract, but he’s looking at a pay increase comparable to Von Miller’s $19 million per year contract. All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack and All-Pro DE Aaron Donald are also seeking new contracts. If the Raiders and Rams sign them before the Texans sign Clowney, they will set the market, which could raise Clowney’s price.

Clowney is not participating in OTAs due to an arthroscopic knee surgery he had at the end of the 2017 seasaon. The surgery and rehab appear to be “minor”, but every time you cut open a knee, it gets harder to recover. Brain Gaine will have to decide if he wants to set a precedent with his first major contract re-signing or if he will wait a year for Clowney to show he’s healthy. Both paths have significant risk.

Find a role for Justin Reid

Romeo Crennel will re-assume his role as Houston’s defensive coordinator this season after Mike Vrabel left to become the head coach of the Titans. One of Crennel’s first assignments will be to develop the Texans’ first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, safety Justin Reid.

The Texans made it a priority to add talent to the secondary this offseason. Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin were brought in via free agency to fill major holes. Reid was the next step in a much needed overhaul and will provide depth at safety. Many want to see the team’s first pick in this year’s draft start right away, but in a base non-nickel package with two safeties, it’s hard to see Reid playing in front of Andre Hal and Mathieu.

Reid plays best when in a ball-hawking, middle-of-the-field patrolling role. At Stanford, he rarely let players get behind him in coverage and was a stalwart on a rather impressive defense. He was also a consistent tackler who could help clean up run plays in the box. Reid should be able to help out on special teams right away as well.

The Texans like to use five defensive backs, which would allow for Mathieu to play the nickel with Hal and Reid covering the deep threats. Even though he was a third round pick, the Texans need Reid to step up and contribute immediately. With the impressive onslaught of quarterbacks the Texans face this year, having Reid up and running as a versatile safety will be vital to a sound defense.

Develop a rotation in the secondary

In the same vein, the Texans need to figure out who will start at corner this season. The Texans have become complacent with Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph as their two corners. Kevin Johnson was supposed to supplant Joseph as the franchise’s next cover corner, but his injury history and lack of speed have forced the Texans to look elsewhere. The Texans re-signed Joseph to a one-year contract to help cobble together a secondary be in 2019, but his role should be diminished since he turned 34 years old in April. Aaron Colvin looks to replace Joseph as the team’s top cover corner, but his career so far has been centered around being the slot corner in Jacksonville’s defense. Colvin has said he wants to move outside and can handle the increased duties, but it will be interesting to see if he can make the transition. For Kareem Jackson, his strength and dependability are certainly in question. Too many times throughout the past two seasons, Jackson been beaten inside by more physical receivers. The Texans’ complacency with Jackson throughout his career is getting old.

O’Brien recently commented on Kevin Johnson’s second healthy offseason, saying that he is playing with more patience and doing a good job. If Johnson can come in and steal a starting role, I have more trust in him than the veteran corner Jackson.

Finish healing up the defense

J.J. Watt is back at practice, but he’s on the sidelines doing his own workouts rather than participating in OTAs with the rest of the team. Clowney is skipping OTAs due to his knee surgery, but no one in the organization thinks he will miss any valuable time. Christian Covington is fully healed after tearing his bicep against the Seahawks; his absence put a ton of pressure on D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins to support the interior defense. Whitney Mercilus will be back and is fully healthy from tearing his pectoral; he will be ready to go this offseason and has already been seen at practice going full-speed. ILB Dylan Cole missed four games with a hamstring injury, but he’s been back in OTAs. As noted above, Kevin Johnson missed some time last season with a knee injury, but he is finally healthy and ready to make a major impact. Brennan Scarlett also ended the season with a foot injury, which left the Texans without either of their starting OLBs for the last five games.

Man, the Texans were a battered bunch of guys last year. If at full health, they have the makings of the best defense in the league. Maybe not as sound on the back end and as the Jaguars, but they definitely beat the hell out of some other defenses. Depth, especially on the defense, will be critical as the season gets closer. The starting eleven is an elite bunch, but the depth of the unit is surely a question. We have seen the Philadelphia Eagles develop a defense focusing on depth at every position as a focal point to their Super Bowl run. Starting with their health, the Texans’ offseason must result in a full and ready roster in 100 days.

There are four weeks of OTAs for the players who choose to attend. The non-mandatory practices are a part of the second stage of the NFL’s spring workout program that was collectively bargained seven years ago. Players can use it as a time to catch up on the playbook, try to make the roster as a free agent or tryout, use the facility for rehabilitation, practice with the team, or hold out from attending for a litany of reasons (usually injury or contract negotiations).

Minicamp for the Texans starts June 12th, and training camp starts the month after that. The next 100 days until the season starts will be long, but the season is just on the horizon. That is a welcome sight.