With the Texans in their second week of training camp and with the preseason opener just days away, there’s equal opportunity for the optimists and pessimists out there as the team as it enters its 10th anniversary season.
Five reasons to feel good
- Relative health: I don’t believe in jinxes and I’m knocking on every tree in the Sam Houston National Forest as I type these words, but the Texans are in relatively decent shape healthwise as they finish their second week of camp and get ready for the big bad Jets on Monday night. The team has it’s share of nicks and tweaks (see five reasons to be concerned) but so far they’ve been able to avoid the critical season enders that have hit other teams.
- Stability and depth on offense: The Texans return every starter on the last year’s top five offense except for one, fullback Vonta Leach (see five reasons to be concerned). Not to diminish Vonta’s worth but if you’re one of the many Texans fans who think Vonta was leading the way on each and every Arian Foster run last season, you should take a few minutes and watch this video about the concept of split flow in some of the Texans bread and butter running plays. The offensive line returns intact – resigning Rashad Butler was a key, there’s good wide receiver depth behind all-everything Andre Johnson, and the Texans may even have a legit backup quarterback this season.
- Matt Leinart: In a bit of a surprise, Leinart re-signed with the Texans after the Seahawks decided to sign Tarvaris Jackson. Leinart has a good attitude – he loves Gary Kubiak’s system – and he’s been impressive in camp. He’ll get a lot of reps in preseason so we’ll see how real his progress is. The fate of every Texans season rides on the health of Matt Schaub and Texans fans should feel more comfortable with Leinart at #2 than Dan Orlovsky.
- Running back depth: For the first time ever, the Texans have a very good stable of running backs (see five reasons to be concerned). Lined up behind last year’s league leading rusher Arian Foster is veteran Derrick Ward who was impressive in limited action last season, second year player Ben Tate, Steve Slaton, who will get plenty of reps in preseason and Texas-Ex Chris Ogbonnaya who has been impressive in training camp.
- J.J. Watt and free agent acquistions in the secondary: Watt is big, strong, high-motor, disruptive and will be a handful at the left defensive end position in the Texans 3-4 defense. Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning plug a major hole in the back end of the Texans league worst defense last season.
Five reasons to be nervous
- Naggy injuries: Brian Cushing practiced for the first time today and has a long way to go. Ben Tate has a great practice on Saturday and hasn’t been seen since. Arian Foster has a hammy, Jacoby Jones has a foot issue per reports today and Antonio Smith is losing too much weight. More important, two of the other starting linebackers, Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans, are coming off major injuries and it remains to be seen how they will hold up.
- Work in progress on defense: Some Texans fans are giddy just because Wade Phillips is in the house but despite what the propaganda machine is saying, I think it’s going to take the Texans a while for their defense to hit their stride this season. The Texans have one starter with experience in the 3-4, so in addition to getting starting linebackers healthy, it’s a steep learning curve for nearly every player on the defensive side of the ball. With the Colts, Ravens, Steelers and Saints on the schedule in the first six weeks, that’s not a good look.
- Lack of depth at linebacker: In addition to the Texans linebacker corps all coming off injury and surgeries (Mario – sports hernia, DeMeco – achilles, Barwin – ugly ankle break/dislocation, Cushing – patella tendon) and their lack of experience in the system, the depth is questionable. Darryl Sharpton is the top reserve and it’s important to keep him healthy in preseason. Xavier Adibi has been getting work inside but after that it’s a rookie in a new postiion outside (Brooks Reed), a converted DE on the other side (Jesse Nading), and guys like Stanford Keglar, Tim Dobbins and Cheta Ozougwu. They are not even close to a dependable 2-deep and Wade Phillips took 10 linebackers into week one last season.
- Uncertainty up the middle: Will the combination of Shaun Cody, Earl Mitchell and Damione Lewis at nose tackle be effective enough to protect the second level? Only time will tell. Cody is more of a two gap guy and Mitchell more a penetrator so they may be rotated situationally. Lewis can play outside or inside in a 3-4.
- Fullback: Despite my comments above, fullback is an important postiion in the Texans offense. I’m not buying into the James Casey experiment – he’s just not built to be a lead blocker – and it remains to be seen if Lawrence Vickers can fill the void left by Leach – at least well enough to keep defenses honest.
- Leadership and history: Okay, so I said 5 … call this one 5a but it’s an important one. The Texans have two superb coordinators in Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips but they lack a coaching leader who can rise above the details of the weekly X’s and O’s and focus more on the mental aspects of the game, i.e., a leader that can think and act more on the psychology of leading the team, instilling confidence in his players, developing mental toughness, pushing the right buttons at the right time and overseeing game management – as opposed to worrying about those all important first 15 plays. Texans owner Bob McNair said today that his team needs to be tougher mentally. If Gary was within earshot of that comment, he’d probably say ‘it’s on me,’ and to a large extent he’d be absolutely right. And given the Texans history under Kubiak, what’s the basis (other than hoping that Wade saves the day) for Texans fans to think a 10-win season and playoff berth is finally in store this season?