Houston Texans: Five takeaways from training camp

With training camp in full swing, the Houston Texans have their sights set on another division title. To get back, it all starts with the work put in now.

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With training camp underway and the Hall of Fame game in the rearview mirror, the 2019 preseason is just days away and football is finally back. The Houston Texans have occupied Houston Methodist Training Center for over the past week but soon ship out to Green Bay for a joint practice prior to the opening preseason game.

As camp kicks into full swing, a lot has surfaced on the horizon, as is the case each summer. The Texans enter the season with numerous items to watch on the docket. Whether it’s the abstract offensive line situation, the battle in the backfield or standout sleepers, training camp helps bring clarity. However, most importantly, it marks the start of the football season.

Running back stable solidifying

It was surprising to sit there and watch the cumbersome 2019 NFL Draft roll on without the Texans selecting a running back. In an attempt to bolster the stable, they went out and signed two undrafted rookies and former Colt Josh Ferguson. This brought upon fog to Houston’s RB depth which already included veterans Buddy Howell and Taiwan Jones.

One of the rookies, whether Karan Higdon or Damarea Crockett, was expected to seize the RB3 spot behind Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman, but that wasn’t the case through training camp. Neither Higdon nor Crockett was able to separate themselves in the camp battle. Both were unable to create any hype and will instead look towards the preseason games.

With a firm grasp on the depth roles, the coveted special teams experience presented by Howell and Jones provides them the upper hand to this point. Their versatility has been emphasized by the coaches and the Texans are a particular team who value special teams impact. At this point, Higdon and Crockett are competing for a practice squad spot.

UPDATE: The Houston Texans have parted ways with D’Onta Foreman. Foreman will become a free agent after just two seasons with the Texans.

Tight ends dazzling

The tight end position is one of the more uncertain areas on the team as we head into the preseason. However, the group shined throughout training camp. It started on day one as Jordan Thomas reeled in multiple touchdown passes. It seems he’s all but solidified himself as the red zone target at TE. He showed tons of promise as a rookie and possesses the most potential within the group. Fellow second-year man Jordan Akins has been making noise himself. He dominated day four of camp and also looks to build on a solid rookie season.

As Thomas and Akins lead the charge, there are a couple of others we mustn’t forget about. The 33-year-old Darren Fells was signed this past offseason and the coaches have taken a liking to his veteran presence. Selecting Kahale Warring in the third round was a bit surprising although he certainly diversifies the group. He missed the first few days of camp. Without a clear path to the field, he’ll likely start the season in a reserve role.

Following the 2019 NFL Draft, the thinking was Fells would be the odd man out. If Bill O’Brien and his staff feel Fells’ experience is worth keeping around the young guys, Houston could hold four tight ends on the roster this season.

Optimism on the offensive line

Following their selections of Tytus Howard and Max Scharping to kickoff the 2019 NFL Draft, the Texans drew mixed reviews. Both were perceived as projects rather than plug-and-plays on an offensive line that was desperate for instant contributions. Matt Kalil was also added this offseason as he battles for a starting job.

Reports from training camp have been encouraging. After a rocky start the first couple of days, both Howard and Scharping improved each day thereafter. Howard drew praise in his pass protection as he took snaps from left tackle and left guard. He figures to start at one of those spots come Week 1. Scharping saw time at tackle, guard, and center as his versatility will be coveted in a depth role as a rookie. The staff loves his maturity and he has all the makings of a longtime lineman in Houston.

The buzz circulating around camp was the impressions left from the veteran Kalil. O’Brien raved about Kalil’s work ethic and athleticism. It appears he’s finally fully healthy and ready to start a new chapter of his career. A confusing signing this past spring, Kalil has a strong chance of earning the starting left tackle job come Week 1.

It remains difficult to project the opening day starting offensive line, especially prior to the preseason. However, I’ll take a stab at it:

Kalil – Howard – Martin – Fulton – Davenport

Defensive line flashes dominance

A front which has featured J.J. Watt for nearly the past decade, it’s been easy to overlook Houston hasn’t provided him with a long-term running mate. That’s changed a bit over the past couple of years. D.J. Reader has proved to be a gem of a fifth-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft class. During training camp, he’s picked up right where he left off last season. In a contract year, Reader looks to elevate his play as a stout, two gapping presence. His ability to eat up blocks makes a great impact for the tandem behind him of Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham.

As impressive as Reader has been so far this summer, he hasn’t been the lone standout upfront. Angelo Blackson is expected to step into a starting role and his play through camp has validated that stance. Reports cite that he’s slimmed down and looks much quicker than he has in his past two seasons with the Texans where he’s provided depth.

Then there’s fifth-round pick Charles Omenihu. The rookie out of Texas has taken an apprenticeship under the tutelage of Watt. Raving about Omenihu’s work ethic and preparation, Watt has worked closely with Omenihu, especially in terms of pass-rushing. The rookie has improved each day and looks to solidify a rotational role this season. It’s still a wonder to me how he slipped so far in the draft with his power and length along the line.

Sleeper standouts

A.J. Moore has been a star on multiple days of training camp and perhaps the MVP thus far. The second-year safety was a special teams standout for the Texans after being claimed off waivers from New England. Moore has been on a mission to prove he’s more than just an ace on special teams. Leading up to the preseason he’s displayed phenomenal range and ball-hawking ability as he picked off a handful of passes in camp. In an already talented safety group, Moore instills even more talent and depth.

The UDFA standout from last summer, Vyncint Smith seems to have the WR4 spot all but locked down. He got off to a strong start on day one of camp and has since made big plays scattered throughout the rest of the week. Houston lacks depth behind their top three guys in the receiving corps. However, Smith has been on the ascend since last season and should see a lot more snaps in his second year.

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