The Texans are well into camp, have a preseason game under their belts and are starting to see the roster take shape. Serious questions remain, but there are things that are slowly coming into focus. A quick update:
1) The QB battle might not really be a battle. From Day 1, Brian Hoyer has been the guy getting first run with the starters. He played one series in the first preseason game, the kind of thing you expect to see out of your starter. Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage all had their moments, but preseason games are hard to judge. (Blaine Gabbert of the 49ers had a 125.6 QB rating, which is remarkably high). While head coach Bill O’Brien still says it is a competition, it would be a mild surprise if Mallett wound up being the starter, despite a much higher upside.
2) Running back is going to be a huge question mark moving forward. Arian Foster’s injury has given the starter’s role to Alfred Blue, who should be much better in season 2. But everything behind him is a question mark, and Blue has always been a timeshare player, even in college. He appeared to wear down as the season went on last year. If he gets injured, the offense could be in real trouble. It’s hard to judge the backups too much because they were running behind backup linemen but none of them distinguished themselves. Until (and if) Foster returns, this is going to be an area of concern.
3) Offensive line depth is a real issue. The Texans have three plus-players on the OL in Duane Brown, Derek Newton and Brandon Brooks. But second-year player Xavier Sua-Filo has not seized the other guard position and now is dealing with an injury. The line should be fairly solid even without him, but an injury to one of the Big Three or Ben Jones could be devastating. There simply aren’t many options behind those guys.
4) The receiving corps has potential. There are probably five locks to make the roster in DeAndre Hopkins, Nate Washington, Cecil Shorts and draft picks Jalen Strong and Keith Mumphrey. If Chandler Worthy or Alan Bonner can excel as a returner, the team could wind up keeping six. Keyshawn Martin and Damaris Johnson might be up against it — and those are two players who saw the field a lot last season. Even with the subtraction of Andre Johnson, this group could turn out to be better than expected.
5) Welcome back, Jadeveon Clowney. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft was back on the practice field on Monday, and clearly is ahead of schedule on rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. It remains to be seen how effective he will be and how much he can be on the field — especially early in the season — but if the Texans can get a contribution from him, it will be a great boon to a defense that already looks stout. The Texans might have found something in draft pick Christian Covington, who could add depth to he defensive line. Brian Cushing is looking much better than the player we saw last year. And the Texans might have the best group of corners in the team’s history. If Clowney can add to the pass rush, the defense will be that much better.
It will be interesting to see how Hard Knocks episode 2 looks tomorrow night. The show did not hit on a couple big story lines that will eventually get some air time — Clowney and the comeback attempt of David Quessenberry from cancer — but there was more than enough to carry episode 1. What happens when the real reality TV begins — Week 1 against Kansas City — is yet to be determined.