During every training camp (and preseason), a player rises up in training camp, grabs a lot of attention, and (hopefully) translates that to the regular season. With this year’s abbreviated offseason, the window to rise up is tighter than normal, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one (or more) players who thrust themselves into the spotlight.
Today’s question: Who do you think will be that player in 2020?
I don’t know if he will qualify as a camp surprise, since he was an actual draft pick, but there is a good bit of reporting about John Reid to this point in camp. Setting aside any Penn State biases I might have, Reid comes in with experience playing against higher-level competition. Also, based on his final season at Penn State and combine/pre-draft workout data, it would appear he overcame his torn ACL that cost him his junior season. Also, BO’B, who tried to recruit him while coach at Penn State, is familiar with Reid, and Reid does possess the football IQ to pick up concepts quickly, which in this disrupted NFL off-season, is a highly valuable trait.
While I don’t expect him to start Day 1 as a lock-down corner, the Texans’ secondary has plenty of openings for a player like Reid to step in and get some playing time. At the very minimum, he should turn out to be a quality special teams player (coverage or as a possible return man), giving him a chance to shine and prove to the coaching staff that he deserves more time on the field.
Truth be told, the player I want to hear making significant improvement is Brandon Dunn. With D.J. Reader gone, Dunn will be asked to anchor the middle of the defensive line. While we don’t quite know what Anthony Weaver’s final vision for the defense will be (base 3-4 or a series of flexible formations), the Texans will need all the help they can get on defense. While Reader’s price might have been too rich for the Texans, that they didn’t make much of an effort to keep him around seems to indicate they think that Dunn can step in and hold the middle of the line. Dunn didn’t exactly overwhelm last season, but now with no Reader and increased expectations, Dunn will need to up his game substantially.
I think it will be Lonnie Johnson Jr. Last year’s second round pick had a tough go of it and was thrust into the spotlight when Aaron Colvin was released.
Jeez, that name has been wiped from our collective Texans conscious.
But anyway, cornerbacks are notorious for a big leap in their second season. Johnson is a physical corner who can disrupt a receivers route off the ball. His play recognition and confidence need to improve, but that comes with time. If Lonnie can cover the second best player on the field, I think we will be in good shape. Johnson’s best friend may actually be Dylan Cole because Cole is much better at covering tight ends.
Charles Omenihu is the guy. He’s been walking alongside J.J. Watt for quite a while, has more opportunity to grab the brass ring now that Duke Ejiofor’s season (and maybe career) is officially over, and I read somewhere that new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is really high on Omenihu. He can set the edge, play on the line or off it, and in many ways, he’s a poor man’s Jadeveon Clowney in what role he can fill. Granted, he’s not the freakish athlete Clowney is, but few are or ever will be.
J.J. Watt on how important the development of Charles Omenihu and Jacob Martin will be in 2020: "Extremely important ... with our third-down package you have to have pressure coming from all different places." pic.twitter.com/2XKNpYL8Jm— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) August 4, 2020
In a next-man-up culture, Omenihu has the opportunity to be that man in 2020. In a world where J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus devour double teams, Omenihu should also benefit from solo or non-existent attention from opposing blockers. If Weaver can put him in the right spots at the right time and Omenihu can make the most of his reps, weight lifting, film study and such, he’s be the guy everyone is talking about when 2020 is all said and done.
After Omenihu, I really hope rookie cornerback John Reid makes a quick transition to the pros. The Texans didn’t do anything to improve their defensive backfield in the offseason, aside from drafting Reid, and it was a bottom five unit in 2019. While Omenihu, Watt, Mercilus and Jacob Martin can make the DBs’ lives easier with better pressure from the front seven, we can’t expect Justin Reid and Bradley Roby to do all the work in the defensive backfield by themselves.
I’m interested to see how Gareon Conley improves in camp, and I think he’ll solidify his position as a starting corner for 2020. While he had a delayed start to this year’s camp because of offseason ankle surgery, Conley finished last season strong (27 tackles, 11 pass breakups in 8 games). Bradley Roby is our #1 corner and both Lonnie Johnson and Vernon Hargreaves III are aiming to establish themselves, so Conley is going to have to perform in order to prove his worth. If he can continue to improve on his play from the end of the 2019 season, he’ll be much more than just starting caliber in 2020.
Matt “I’m Baaaccckk” Weston:
Darren Fells, at age 33, had the best season of his career boxing out linebackers and catching cute hook route touchdowns. He ran the fast break into the flat with Deshaun Watson in Houston’s zone read dump-off offense that stopped working once they played teams with competent linebackers. He’s 34 this season. The touchdowns aren’t going to stick in 2020. He’s also one of the worst blocking tight ends in the league. You have eyes. You have a brain. You don’t need Football Outsiders’ charting stats that pegged him with 21 blown blocks, the most in the league at the tight end position, to tell you this; it’s there if you need it. Fells also doesn’t run the seam and stretch linebackers vertically to open up crossing routes either.
Re-signing him was a mistake. His 2019 season was more about the opportunities he received than his performance.
Houston has three young tight ends on the roster. Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins (who is like 29 already, I guess), and Kahale Warring. Thomas can’t block, but has the build and has some speed. Akins can’t block, but already has an understanding of how to find the ball when Watson puts his manna to use and produces after the catch. Warring’s college video was great. He blocked double teams well and could run vertical routes from the tight end position. So far Bill O’Brien has been jealous of Warring’s Chadness and hasn’t had the courage to get him on the field. All three are wild cards. Yet I’m hopeful that one of these three can step up, provide some actual blocking ability, stretch the middle of the field consistently in camp, and take over for Fells this season.
Who do you think is going to rise up this year? Have your eye on one player in particular? Convinced it’s going to be someone we’ve not mentioned? Join the conversation in the comments.