Training Camp is underway and every year there are position battles that can make or break the team. Here are three battles I’m looking at as camp progresses to the 53-Man Roster.
1. Defensive End – This position is highlighted because of JJ Watt’s recovery from back surgery. The Texans came into training camp expecting to have competition at one starting spot, but face the possibility of having 2 new starters at the ends, at least for the (very) early portion of the regular season. Christian Covington would seem to be a favorite at one spot. Brandon Dunn provides beef against the run, at 6-2, 300 pounds. After him, Devon Still has a really good opportunity here, following a few years of dealing with his daughter’s serious health issues. Jeoffrey Pagan hasn’t distinguished himself in the first 2 years of his NFL career.
On the face of it, this is one of the weakest d-lines in the NFL, minus Watt. There have been some encouraging words about Vince Wilfork so far, which is a positive. The Texans need to get competent play from the DEs in the early weeks. Last year, the Bears and Chiefs (the first 2 opponents) ranked 5th and 1st, respectively, in run offense DVOA. Right now, I would take solid play from the DE spots, until Watt returns.
2. Safety – I am very excited about the potential of Andre Hal. He had a very encouraging sophomore campaign, and looks like a possible long-term solution as a starting safety. He had a nice INT off Brock Osweiler on the first day of training camp on Sunday.
Thus, I’m not worried about Hal. The intrigue is at the spot opposite him, where the likes of Quintin Demps, Kurtis Drummond, Antonio Allen, and Eddie Pleasant, are competing for a starting spot. Demps is the incumbent, coming in late last August and holding down the fort decently. Allen was improving with the Jets before he tore his Achilles tendon last season. Pleasant strikes me as more of a hybrid LB/S, an in-the-box type player who can cover tight ends on shorter routes in front of him.
My main curiosity here is if the Texans can find more of a long-term solution than Demps. It’s unlikely to happen early this season, but they do have some other hopefuls in KJ Dillon and Lonnie Ballentine. Dillon is a 5th-round rookie, so it’s hard to project much at this moment. Ballentine has a very good size/speed ratio, but has been completely unable to stay healthy through his first 2 NFL seasons.
3. Tight End – The big question here is if, and from where, the Texans actually receive production in the regular season. The TEs combined to catch 41 passes last season. CJ Fiedorowicz needs to prove his value both in blocking, which he should be decent at, and receiving. I’ve always thought Ryan Griffin had more talent than his stats indicate, but he’s had trouble consistently catching the ball. Griffin is also coming off of an Achilles injury from last season, and received the day off on Wednesday. That’s something to monitor.
The most interesting player here is Stephen Anderson, the rookie from Cal. He’s gotten pretty good reviews so far in training camp, although he definitely has the physical build of a receiver more than a TE. I wonder about play tendencies with a guy like Anderson on the field. Can the Texans run the ball effectively with him at TE? If they can’t, are they showing the defense that the play call is a pass?
I want to see some hope out of this spot. Bill O’Brien was able to utilize the tight end spot successfully both in New England and at Penn State. This is a cliche, but a reliable TE can truly be the best friend to a quarterback, especially a new starter. I don’t expect 100 catches between these guys, but it would be nice to see signs of life after 2 years in the doldrums.