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Houston Texans (Pre) Training Camp Thoughts

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Things to eye ball next week when camp starts for the Texans.

NFL: APR 25 2019 NFL Draft Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The wait is almost over. Almost. This Sunday, July 21st, the Houston Texans rookies report for training camp, followed by the veteran players next Wednesday. While a lot of things are pretty much a lock during camp: Deandre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson will continue to grow more in sync, Jadeveon Clowney won’t be around - which means Brennan Scarlet can get all the hype, J.J. Watt will continue to show offensive lineman how good they are NOT, Shane Lechler will no longer be the old man around camp and Bill O’Brien will use a lot of potty language.

While all that is a given, the unknowns are where the drama creeps in.

How will the new secondary gel? Is Tashaun Gipson really all that and a bag of chips? Will Justin Reid get anywhere near his ceiling or simply continue to prove he was Brian Gaines’ best contribution to the roster? Exactly what is going on with the offensive line? How will D’Onta Foreman hold up in contact drills?

When the training camp reports start rolling in, we’ll finally get some clarity on these questions. But, while individual performance of the various players is a big one, unit performance is more so—particularly the aforementioned offensive line.

Preliminary predictions have the “new & improved” offensive line looking something like this:

Left Tackle - Matt Khalil

Left Guard - Senio Kelemete

Center - Nick Martin

Right Guard - Zach Fulton

Right Tackle - Tytus Howard

Some places list Howard at left and Houston’s other rookie lineman Max Sharping at right, but heading into the 2019 season with two rookie offensive tackles doesn’t seem like the wisest move Houston could make, especially when both have been labeled projects. Houston no longer has a proven history of growing their own draftees into great o-linemen, and the guy who drafted them was promptly fired, arguably for doing so...

While we’re caught up talking about defensive tackle-for-loss king Jadeveon Clowney, the real secret sauce to Houston’s success (or failure) in 2019 is going to come by way of the offensive line. If they can improve even moderately from last year, Houston will be able to hold status quo with the decidedly more difficult schedule they face. If they remain the same, or worse, digress, Deshaun Watson will have the worst season he’s had since he played intramural ball.

You don’t think it’s as big of a deal as we’re making it out to be? Let’s face it, no one really pays much attention to offensive linemen. In fact, the average NFL fan probably can’t even name one o-lineman, but do know the name of more than one defensive rusher. Either way, it all begins and ends in the trenches.

In fact, last year, ESPN struck out to prove this.

Something to celebrate with this: J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are #4 and #5 on the list of top rushers. The Miami Dolphins are the only other team with two on the top ten list.

As you can imagine, Houston doesn’t have a single offensive lineman on the O Top Ten.

Using Next Gen Stats, what the folks at ESPN have discovered is just how much more important the blockers are than the rushers, even though the rushers get all the attention.

ESPN

In a sentence, teams that blocked well won more than teams that rushed the passer well.

In a given game from 2016-2018, the team with the better season-long PBWR won 60 percent of the time, while the team with the better PRWR won 52 percent of the time (including games played after the contest in question, though only in that season).

And blocking had a stronger correlation to offensive strength than pass rushing did to defensive strength.

So, what does all this mean for Texans Training Camp? The biggest predictor of 2019 success is going to be how fast Bill O’Brien, newly minted offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, offensive line coach Mike Devlin and strength and conditioning coach Brian Cushing turns this ragtag bunch into a brick wall around Deshaun Watson and the running backs.

While reports earlier in the year had Howard trying out all the positions on the line, what makes a great offensive line is static reps and continuity.

Sarah Barshop

(Tytus) Howard certainly has the opportunity to earn a starting spot at either tackle or guard position before the start of the season. He’ll spend the offseason and training camp at all four positions, as he has so far during OTAs. Howard said he can’t wait to protect Deshaun Watson, who said he loves hearing that from the rookie offensive lineman. “I love hearing the idea and the confidence in what he’s saying,” Watson said. “Ever since he got here, he’s been quiet and just going to work. We all love seeing that.”

Good words came from the new lineman’s progress in mini camps, and hopefully that will continue and grow into true production.

Either way, this is the crux of Houston’s off-season right here. Despite nearly everyone’s calls to the contrary, did the Texans do enough to upgrade their terrible offensive line play from 2018? Stay tuned, true believers, we’re about to get some insight into that and so much more.

What are you most excited for when training camp begins? Let us know in the comments section.