by: Mike Meltser (@MikeMeltser)
Houston Texans Official Team Activities begin this week and that means that we will start getting an idea about how the 2017 team will work out. Here are some questions that I think we should be watching during these first practices of the Texans offseason.
How will Deshaun Watson be handled?
– Obviously, the topic of most interest for many fans is the indoctrination of the team’s first round pick. I would view the OTAs for Watson as the rough equivalent of college orientation for a freshman. You’re at school and living there, meeting people, getting used to your surroundings, but you’re not actually taking classes. If Watson is to have the early success that Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott had, my guess is that we would begin to see evidence of that in training camp, as opposed to these workouts in May.
How much will JJ Watt participate?
– Bill O’Brien mentioned in early March that Watt will be out there for OTAs, but he wasn’t sure the extent to which he would participate. We won’t learn much about Watt’s back and health until training camp and possibly preseason camps, depending on how the coaching staff plays it.
Where are the Texans young receivers at?
– Given the major storyline of quarterback that hovered over the entire offseason, one topic that has flown under the radar is the receiver position. This is a big year for Jaelen Strong, and also for the 2nd year receivers, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.
Can Strong stay on the field, gain consistent separation from cornerbacks, and establish a viable role on this team moving forward?
How much has Miller learned from a rocky, injury-plagued first season?
Has/can Fuller improve his hands, specifically on deep balls?
Overall, I expect DeAndre Hopkins to bounce back from 2016 with a much better statistical season this year, but for the offense to improve, one or two of the younger receivers need to step up.
How does the competition to replace Quentin Demps look?
– I’m not quite sure that Demps’s high interception total in 2016 was a completely accurate representation of his overall play, but he clearly had a very solid season in Houston before he signed his multi-year deal with the Bears. That leaves a void at one of the safety spots.
Since Demps missed the Patriots playoff game, the Texans did get a chance to see their safeties without him, and it seemed like Corey Moore showed some flashes late last season. KJ Dillon’s season ended early with a torn ACL. This feels like the make-or-break season for Lonnie Ballentine, who has had major injuries in each of his first three NFL seasons.
I actually think safety has been another under-discussed position in the offseason because there’s not a ton of certainty there. Andre Hal is penciled into one of the starting spots, but I’m still not comfortable with some of the big plays he allows. There’s a lot of opportunity at this position.
Which of the undrafted free agents stands out?
– Regardless of your opinion on GM Rick Smith, I think it’s pretty reasonable to say that his regime has done a nice job of finding quality contributors from the undrafted ranks. They’ve added players like Arian Foster, AJ Bouye, Stephen Anderson, and Greg Mancz as UDFAs.
I won’t pretend to know much about this current group, but I have some familiarity with former Michigan DT Matthew Godin, former Stephen F Austin QB (now TE) Zach Conque, and former Wisconsin RB Dare Ogunbowale. Conque will be an interesting conversion to look at. He looked like a pretty good athlete at the last couple of Battle of the Piney Woods games at NRG Stadium.
Glancing at the roster, I believe that the offensive line, linebacker, and cornerback spots are ones where a very good UDFA could make the roster and make a difference.