July 24, that's the day the Texans report to camp, and the day the drought of life without football will finally be over. We'll actually be able to hear about position battles that are settled on the field, as opposed to imagined scenarios on sports pages and websites. We'll hear what rookies are impressing coaches, and what second-year players have made the biggest leap from their first year in the league. I can't wait. This is a hungry football team with many players just beginning to scratch the surface of their prime.
Where to start? That's a tough call because I'm excited about both sides of the ball. This team went 8-8 last season while suffering an unprecedented rash of injuries. Who knows what they're capable of given a relatively clean bill of health? It's also important to remember that this is Kubiak's third season as head coach, and he's the first to admit he's learned a lot form the previous two. Still, it's going to be nice for Kubes to be able to lean on new assistant head coach and offensive line guru Alex Gibb's wealth of experience. Kubiak and Gibbs have a history that goes back to Denver where Gibbs was so successful in implementing his zone-blocking scheme. Kubiak also added coaching experience on the defensive side of the ball in the form of Ray Rhodes. Rhodes, a former head coach who made his name in Philadelphia, will be coaching the defensive backs - an admitted weakness of this team. It's nice to know that with all the young talent being stockpiled on this team, there will be some veteran coaches here to refine that raw ability.
The first look on the offensive side of the ball reveals a myriad of unknowns. These unknowns are mostly a result of what could have been. Imagine what Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Ahman Green could have done last year if they'd all stayed healthy? The three produced beautifully together on the rare occasion that they appeared on the field simultaneously. Alas, that would only be for a few games. Obviously health is the big issue here. Matt Schaub was injured for the better part of 7 games, but still passed for well over 2,000 yards. Andre Johnson missed 8 games and just fell short of the Pro Bowl. Ahman Green...well, let's just say he'd better be healthy this year, or that will be it for him as a Texan. So with the past aside, every player on this side of the ball is healthy going into training camp. Here's a quick look by position and what the key concerns are for each:
QB - Matt Schaub is the starter and if he can manage to stay healthy most pundits around the NFL believe he will be a productive passer. He should improve upon his touchdown to interception ratio in his second year, and if he is injured Sage Rosenfels has proven himself to be a very productive backup. Houston does not plan on being a pass-first team, so as long as the QB position is filled by one of these two, they'll always be in a spot to win the game.
WR - Andre Johnson is a stud, plain and simple. Hopefully last season was just a fluke and 'Dre won't miss much playing time in 2008. If that's the case, then this offense could finish inside the top ten in the league for the first time. He makes the other guys around him that much better. Kevin Walter is a capable slot receiver who had a quality year filling in for #80. Andre Davis stretches the field with above average deep speed, and he makes highlight-reel catches. Jacoby Jones is a second year player who showed flashes of star quality last season, but disappeared far too often. He needs to fight for playing time, and prove that he belongs among the starters. Owen Daniels is the rare tight end who can make plays downfield. Although he isn't much of a blocker, he runs precise routes and makes spectacular catches. He does have to work on holding onto the football as he has a tendency to fumble, but he has that nose for the endzone that all coaches look for.
RB - Last season Ahman Green looked good to start the season, but the wheels fell off after the first few games. He says he has healed and is ready to go. If not, Houston brought in ex-Titan Chris Brown to pick up the slack. Brown has had injury problems of his own, but has proven that he can be a successful back in this league when he's on the field. Chris Taylor is another back who is coming off an injury. He tore his ACL at the beginning of camp last year, but before that he had caught the eye of the coaching staff with his ability to fit into the ZBS. Also, rookie third-down back Steve Slaton is expected to bring excitement to Reliant with his elusive running style. Many fantasy experts are high on him as sleeper candidate. Lastly, if all three of the above stay relatively healthy Darius Walker will not make this team.
OL - The line did an unexpectedly good job last season in protecting the QB. They gave up the fewest sacks in team history on their way to developing into a cohesive unit. The Texans brought in Alex Gibbs to install his trademarked version of the ZBS, and he was rewarded with the Texans #1 overall draft pick, left tackle Duane Brown. Gibbs had scouted Brown, and believes that he's a smooth fit into his system. Right tackle Eric Winston is the best lineman on the team, and might have a chance at the Pro Bowl this season. When all is said and done, the play of the offensive line will determine whether or not this team can make the playoffs. If they can block against the Colts, Titans, Jags, and Steelers, then Houston will be a very good football team.
...Because it's been lonely on this blog for far too long.
...Coming up next time, The Raging Bull Defense of your Houston Texans.