Next week, the Texans will start practicing out in West Virginia to prepare for the 2018 NFL season. They’ll be running around in shorts. The roster invitees with slim chances will be splattering each other across the field. Football will kind of sort of be back until it’s actually back during the second week of September.
My favorite parts of training camp are the position battles and breakout players. We know the veterans who will continue to produce, but training camp is beneficial for those trying to leap into a starting spot, or nail down their same job, or watch the light bulb flicker and stay illuminated for a young guy who finally gets it.
The Houston Texans were a pile of hot garbage along the offensive line in 2017. Only the Indianapolis Colts allowed more sacks than the Texans—a stat that does not bode well for the development of quarterback Deshaun Watson.
That offensive line is undergoing quite the overhaul in 2018. There could be as many as four new starters this year—including at left tackle.
The leader to start on Watson’s blind side is second-year pro Julie’n Davenport, who showed some promise as a rookie but also missed five games. Should Davenport struggle, it’s possible the Texans could flip Seantrel Henderson, who joined the Texans in free agency, to the left side. Rookie Martinas Rankin could stake a claim to more playing time in camp.
The trio has more than a little potential, but there isn’t a proven commodity among the bunch. That could mean trouble for Watson.
As someone who has written like 100,000 words on the Texans’ offensive line, I disagree with this claim. I feel like Juli’en Davenport will go into training camp as the starting left tackle and leave as the starting left tackle, especially if he got strong this past offseason. If his biceps are plumper, his quadriceps carved above his knees like a crescent moon, and his neck is immovable, he’s the most talented offensive tackle on this roster and should walk away with this spot.
Additionally, Davenport really doesn’t have any competition at left tackle. Martinas Rankin and Seantrel Henderson are right tackles. Henderson is going to be really bad, and Rankin may not be healthy until Week One (or later) after suffering a foot injury. Kendall Lamm doesn’t exist. There isn’t anyone really here to play bloody knuckles with Davenport.
I believe the most wide open position battle will be the other defensive end spot. I’m expecting the secondary to be fluid with players playing a variety of different positions since Romeo Crennel doesn’t have a true number one cornerback at his disposal, he looooves to use 5+ defensive backs, and the team has three legitimate safeties. There won’t be a real position by position depth chart battle. This unit should be fairly positionless. The more interesting question on defense will be who will play the opposite side of J.J. Watt. Jadeveon Clowney should move back to outside linebacker, making this position vacant.
You got Christian Covington, who’s bounced between inconsistent and injured. You got Carlos Watkins, who produced in college without doing anything spectacular and still managed to play competently last year. You got Brandon Dunn and Joel Heath, who played 40.8% and 31.6% of the team’s defensive snaps last year, and I can’t remember a single one.
There’s a lot of options for this spot, and no one stands out. If the team stays healthy, the Texans will have one of the best front sevens in football, and that’s without including any production from the other defensive end spot. If Houston can get anything from the other DE position, this should push their base pass rush over the top and give Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney more room to roam, which is a horrifying thought.
As of right now, my best guess is Christian Covington will win the job. He’s had it before, and he played surprisingly well last year before being lost to injury. However, we’ve seen it before. We’ve expected Covington to provide something, and then he provides nothing. Hopefully this year will be different.