AFC South: Houston Texans

Texans Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
4:42
PM ET
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.


  • Defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan, one of the Texans' three sixth-round picks this year, has appeared to catch on pretty well after missing the entire spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. His position coach, though, is not ready to assess Pagan's progress. "He's been out [here] for less than a week," Bill Kollar said. "Right now I really don't have an opinion one way or another. He's getting a little bit better technique-wise, but again, like everybody else he has a long way to go right now." What does a rookie fall the most behind on when he misses practices? "You fall behind on everything. Conditioning, technique, everything. Football is a sport, it has got to be hands on. You can watch all the film you want and stuff, but you have to be out there actually playing the technique to improve."
  • Two new players were at Texans camp on Tuesday: offensive lineman Mike Farrell, a Penn State alumnus, and running back Tim Cornett . Cornett went to UNLV but attended high school in the Houston area. The rookie running back made his presence felt during a team drill in which he bulldozed a defensive back. The Texans also released Ricky Sapp, according to the league's transaction list.
  • Once the pads came on, fullback Jay Prosch's blocking ability really began to stand out. He'll be a boon in the running game.
  • I've really liked watching running back Alfred Blue. He's very talented as a runner, a hard worker and coachable. The aspect of the game that young running backs struggle with the most is pass protection. It'll be interesting to see his ability there.
  • Head coach Bill O'Brien said offensive guard Brandon Brooks is close to returning. Earlier in the week he declined to share what had landed Brooks on the active/non-football injury list. Safety Lonnie Ballentine was not practicing with an injury he suffered during camp. On Ballentine, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, O'Brien used the same line: "I don't think it's life threatening."
  • And since I mentioned the offense struggling in an earlier post, I should also mention this. The receivers continued looking terrific. EZ Nwachukwu is making a serious case for himself.

Texans Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
4:40
PM ET
HOUSTON -- A review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • The Texans were in full pads on Monday for the first time since training camp started. Per NFL rules, Monday, or the third day of practice, was the first time they were allowed to have a padded practice. "I think the acclimation period really helps," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "You kind of ramp it up from shells to pads, from conditioning to shells to pads. I think that helps. These guys went out there and competed. I’m not saying everything was the prettiest brand of football in the world, but I thought these guys got better today."
  • It's often difficult to see the defensive and offensive linemen work because of this year's practice setup, but they worked close to the area of the field where media were allowed Monday and I saw a cool little scene from it. Defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, a sixth-round pick who missed spring workouts because of shoulder surgery, worked against J.J. Watt on one drill. When the drill finished, Watt stopped Pagan to give him a few tips on hand placement. Watt talked earlier this week about the newness of his being in that veteran role. But he's embracing it.
  • The offensive and defensive lines went one-on-one against each other. There were a few times the defensive player got past the offensive player, only to fall as he passed. Defensive line coach Bill Kollar reminded them they couldn't do much good on the ground like that.
  • Brooks Reed spent all of spring working at inside linebacker. It's a skill he has honed for the past few offseasons. Now that he's in training camp, though, Reed has taken a lot more reps at outside linebacker. "Brooks, you can be rest assured, that he’s going to get a good day's work in," linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said. "He’s going to bring his hard hat and his lunch-pail out and he's going to work for two hours, three hours, however long we're out here, he's going to work and he's going to go back in and study. I appreciate that about him. It's a great example to our whole unit."
  • In addition to Arian Foster, rookie safety Lonnie Ballentine and linebacker Akeem Dent, the veteran the Texans acquired for T.J. Yates, did not practice either. Both suffered some sort of injury during Sunday's practice.
HOUSTON -- The two of them walked off the field together, teammates who were separated for one season.

Now EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart are after the same goal: making an NFL roster, or at least a practice squad, with the Houston Texans.

Labhart signed as an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M this season, while Nwachukwu did the same last season. Nwachukwu was on the Texans practice squad for all of the 2013 season. Meanwhile, Labhart, once a walk-on in College Station, played in 12 games for the Aggies last season, starting in his final five. By that time Labhart had earned a scholarship, and in his senior season he caught 51 passes for eight touchdowns and 626 yards.

"This opportunity comes around once in a lifetime," Labhart said. "As being a rookie, you learn from veterans. You see Andre (Johnson)... catching Jugs after practice. You just have to wait your turn. For me, I want to make the most of this opportunity. If it means sticking around 30 extra minutes catching passes and trying to figure out what I need to work on. If it’s not catching passes, maybe it is working on routes or timing with quarterbacks."

The receivers are generally the last players to leave the field. Labhart and Nwachukwu have been among the group that has stayed after each of the Texans' morning training camp practices to work with the Jugs machines.

They've been impressive during team drills as well, fighting for catches, avoiding drops and running crisp routes.

"I mean, you know, rookie year I think things are going 1,000 miles per hour," Nwachukwu said. "Having a year under your belt and being able to know what to look for and know how to study film, you can think less and play more."

Nwachukwu believes his route-running is the area that has improved the most since his rookie season. He's paid more attention to being aware of the field, rather than simply running a route without that awareness. In college, on his way to 19 career touchdowns, which tied him for third in Texas A&M history, Nwachukwu could often get away with that.

"Coming from A&M, on some plays you can just go out there and use your athletic ability," Nwachukwu said. "You can win routes. But out here, you know, you’ve got guys like J-Jo (Johnathan Joseph) and K-Jack (Kareem Jackson), and if you do that you’re probably going to be in the sand somewhere. You definitely have to stay on your details and make sure your technique is right."

Making the team won't be easy for either player. The Texans have five receivers with game experience, all of whom have been focused and precise during training camp, ahead of Labhart and Nwachukwu. But one refrain around professional athletes is that they control only what they can. From that standpoint, Labhart and Nwachukwu have looked like they belong.
HOUSTON -- Toward the end of practice, Andre Johnson sat on a trainer's table with a towel draped over his head. Beside him was Houston Texans' running back Arian Foster, wearing the sweats he'd worn all practice. Together they watched a team to which their health is paramount go through a training camp practice.

Johnson
Foster
Foster
Foster and Johnson are dealing with what Texans' coach Bill O'Brien termed as minor injuries. Nobody seems very concerned with either player's injury, which should be good news for the Texans.

"I just got a little tight," Johnson said. "Just a precaution. I'm going to go in and see what's what. ...It's nothing bad. I'm not worried about it."

Johnson injured his right hamstring while making a diving catch from Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a beautiful pass (which isn't always the case with Fitzpatrick's deep balls) and catch while Aloe Blacc's "The Man" blasted from the speakers. Once Johnson hit the ground, cornerback Brandon Harris backed away from him with his arms up in the air. He's not allowed to knock Johnson around and was hilariously trying to show he didn't. Harris was even reluctant to touch him to make him down by contact.

Johnson said afterward that he isn't worried about the injury, but having played football a long time, he's going to make sure to take care of it. He was on his way into the facility to get it looked at just before talking to reporters.

The good news about Johnson is that his on-field rapport with Fitzpatrick seems to be getting better each day -- and that play was a good example of it.

"I definitely felt more comfortable today than I did the past two days," Johnson said. "Hopefully things will get better and better."

Foster did not practice at all on Monday, after only going through half of Sunday's practice. During Sunday's practice, which was open to the public, Foster spent some time having his left hamstring stretched. He then went back into a drill before concluding all activities about an hour before practice ended.

"Those guys have played a lot of football," O'Brien said. "We'll make sure we do a good job of managing them through the season."
Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Fitzpatrick is the starter, and got back the man who will be his favorite target for training camp. He and Andre Johnson spent extra time together Friday night, on the eve of their first practice. Savage isn't ready to start yet, but they didn't draft him expecting that. Keenum is the only quarterback on this roster who was not brought in by new coach Bill O'Brien, but I think he keeps him. Having three quarterbacks prevents you from being forced to start an unprepared rookie in case of injuries. Savage's development is paramount.

RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS (4)

Blue, a sixth-round pick, and Brown, a free-agent pickup, will battle during camp to be Foster's backup. That's an important role, given the questions about Foster's health. He's healthy now, but that's always a moving target with running backs, especially those in their late 20s. Prosch, another draft pick, blocked well during the offseason. He'll stick around as the only fullback on the roster.

RECEIVERS (5)

I had second-year player Alan Bonner on the list, but Bonner left camp with an injury on the first day. Tough break for a guy who spent last season on injured reserve. Martin, on the other hand, has played really well in the first few days of camp and is getting a large share of the punt return reps. The receivers as a whole have looked great.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

The Texans kept only three tight ends for most of last season, but they'll need more for this offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The only remaining battle on the offensive line is between Jones and Su'a-Filo at left guard. Drafted with the first pick of the second round, Su'a-Filo has starting-level talent, but he missed most of the offseason. Now he'll have to play catch-up; Jones has a head start. Elsewhere: left tackle Brown, center Myers, right guard Brooks and right tackle Newton. Brooks is on the team's active/non-football injury list, which usually means his injury isn't something that should keep him out long. Clabo is a veteran who was signed just before camp and is now focused on making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

This is assuming Pagan, a sixth-round pick, recovers from his injury and does enough to remain on the roster. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Pagan had shoulder surgery after college. Powe's speed and size were really impressive during OTAs, as was Crick's athleticism. And, of course, there's Watt.

LINEBACKERS (9)

The Texans added two outside linebackers -- Quentin Groves and Lawrence Sidbury -- after Day 1 of training camp. They could wind up on the next version of the projected roster, but for now I'll wait to see more of them. This will be a much talked-about position because of the addition of Clowney, the first overall draft pick. The Texans get versatility from Reed and Tuggle, who can play both inside and outside, and return Cushing, the heart of this defense who hasn't finished the past two seasons. He's confident he'll stay healthy this season. Bullough could make the team as an undrafted rookie, the only one I have on the list this year. Reed raved about him on Friday.

CORNERBACKS (6)

Jackson suddenly found himself the elder statesman this offseason, with Joseph working to the side as he recovers from offseason surgery. Joseph came back for training camp and is on a program set by trainers for how long. Hal is tentatively on this list, but the seventh-round pick could be usurped during training camp. Bouye was a promising undrafted rookie last season and has drawn compliments from O'Brien. Slot corner is another question mark for the Texans. Jackson has played there some.

SAFETIES (5)

Lewis, who has played in Romeo Crennel's defense before, started next to Swearinger during the offseason and should be competing against Clemons during training camp to be the team's starting free safety.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Bullock's kicking and confidence improved at the end of last season. He's competing with undrafted rookie Chris Boswell to be the Texans' kicker and we'll get a better feel for how he does as training camp progresses.

Texans Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
6:58
PM ET
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • The Texans suffered two significant injuries on their first day of training camp, then signed two outside linebackers after it was over. Offensive lineman Cody White suffered a torn Achilles while receiver Alan Bonner, a second-year player who has showed some promise at times, suffered a broken foot. Both players were waived/injured, which means if nobody claims them off waivers, they'll be placed on injured reserve. One option for the team is to reach an injury settlement with the players, which would then release them completely. It's really a shame for Bonner, who also spent last season on injured reserve. Replacing their roster spots were a pair of outside linebacker, Quentin Groves and Lawrence Sidbury.
  • Fewer heat issues today as the Texans, at least the ones who weren't used to it prior, acclimated. Coach Bill O'Brien brushed off the issue of heat. "I mean, it is Texas. It is hot, whatever. These guys are doing fine. We’re not expecting an Alaskan cold front to come in wiping through here."
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick had a nice day, especially when doing the things he does best -- short and intermediate routes. His deep balls were more of a mixed bag, though he had some nice throws there, too. It was difficult to see all of practice because of the way the media is quarantined now, but I saw two interceptions, one to rookie cornerback Andre Hal and one to veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
  • The backup quarterback battle is one the Texans are going to take their time resolving. Right now, Case Keenum holds the spot. He got significantly more reps than rookie Tom Savage today, but Keenum had a bit of a rough day. He struggled with accuracy on several passes.
  • It wasn't all bad for running back Dennis Johnson, but he was visibly furious with himself after dropping two passes thrown his way. One of them popped up and safety Eddie Pleasant intercepted it.
  • The Texans' afternoon walkthroughs are closed to the public and media, but O'Brien said today that he uses them to go over mistakes from the morning with the team. Coaches watch film of practice between the sessions. "We correct some things that have to be fixed," O'Brien said. "We talk a lot about fixing problem within a game. You’ve got to fix problems in the game. You can’t wait until halftime or Monday to fix something that came up in the game. We’ve got to fix those problems either on the practice field or in the walkthrough, and then move on to the next practice."
HOUSTON -- The plan began early in practice. I wanted to count drops as a measure of how focused the Houston Texans receivers were today.

The plan ended early. They weren't dropping anything. (By the end of practice there were one or two drops, but the tally remained very low.)

Today, the second day of training camp, was a great day for the Texans' receivers. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also a good day for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was the best I've seen him since he came to Houston.

In an early drill where receivers ran routes against air, the only ball that hit the ground was an overthrow by rookie quarterback Tom Savage. Later, with one-on-one matchups against defensive backs, it took great coverage for the two passes that did to fall incomplete.

One one such play, with Josh Victorian covering him, undrafted rookie Travis Labhart made a leaping grab after running what looked like a very well-executed route. Later, Fitzpatrick completed a perfectly placed ball deep to Keshawn Martin on a post route.

Mike Thomas caught everything that I saw go his way, grabbing one low throw just before it hit the ground.

EZ Nwachukwu is a guy I haven't seen make mistakes at all. Lacoltan Bester had a great day catching passes mostly from current third-string quarterback Savage.

And I can't leave a post about receivers without praising the (two days of) camp second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins has had. Amid his nice day, Hopkins made an excellent catch up an invisible ladder with Brandon Harris covering him during a 7-on-7 drill.

Really the only player who looked a bit rusty was Andre Johnson, which is probably a result of these being the first days Johnson has caught passes from Fitzpatrick.

Texans Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
4:28
PM ET
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.


  • As the Texans' offense got set before a play during 11-on-11 drills, coach Bill O'Brien stopped them and screamed that all the skill players had to sprint to the sideline and back. Their punishment for not knowing where to be more quickly. "I would say we were intense today and we were competitive, but we weren’t as sharp as we need to be," O'Brien said after practice.
  • Practice ended with a series of sprints for players. But before they did them, O'Brien had a message: "You want to know how to win? Listen to me." One coach actually participated in the sprints -- no surprise it was linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, who sometimes looks like he could still play if he wanted. Rookie Lonnie Ballentine, the last pick in the draft this May, had to re-run one sprint all by himself. While he did it, he had the support of fans in the bleachers who shouted his name as he did it.
  • Every Texans player who participated passed the team's conditioning test. This was pleasing but not surprising to O'Brien, who said the team is in much better shape now than they were April 7, when the team's offseason conditioning program began. He's happy with their conditioning, but says he still needs to get the players into playing shape. So far they haven't put full pads on. During the outdoor practice that lasted from 8 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m., the heat got to a few players who had to go into the training area in the Texans' practice bubble.
  • The music was loud and so was O'Brien. That's not unusual for practices, but Andre Johnson hasn't been through it before. Johnson loved it. In fact, he began his answers to consecutive questions about O'Brien's demeanor with, "I love it." Specifically on how loud O'Brien is, Johnson said this: "It’s great. I think it’s something that was needed around this place. I’m excited about it."
  • Two players left the field on a cart after being checked out on the sideline during practice. Receiver Alan Bonner, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, appeared to strain a hamstring. Cody White, a third-year guard, went down during an 11-on-11 drill. He needed help to get up and then hopped off the field, putting no pressure on his right leg.
All is forgiven between fans and Andre Johnson, if there ever was any animosity there for Johnson's offseason holdout.

The ones at training camp embraced Johnson's return as he sauntered onto the field this morning. It was Johnson's first time catching passes from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, his first time operating within the Texans' new offense under Bill O'Brien. The very first pass in 11-on-11 drills was a bullet from Fitzpatrick to Johnson, and again a roar arose from the crowd.

"So far, the first day install I picked up pretty well," Johnson said. "I went out there and wasn’t really thinking a lot. I got with Fitz after everything last night and me and him went over some stuff. Everybody has been very helpful with me picking up everything. It’s just fun to be back out here and be with my teammates and getting back to football."

That rapport between Johnson and Fitzpatrick will be especially important this season. They first met at J.J. Watt's charity softball game on May 2 and Johnson said he liked Fitzpatrick a lot personally.

"We have to be on the same page, especially in this offense," Johnson said. "There is a lot of communication and a lot of stuff that goes on."

Johnson is a weapon that will only benefit Fitzpatrick, who was named the Texans' starter during their mandatory minicamp.

"He’s a true pro," Fitzpatrick said of Johnson. "I think everybody here knows that and I’ve always admired him from afar. I’ve heard a lot about his work ethic and the way that he attacks everything. It was nice to sit back and throw to him a little bit today."
Texans rookie Jadeveon Clowney drew a big cheer from fans when he jogged onto the field for the first practice of training camp. They were glad to see the first overall pick on the field despite having sports hernia surgery in June.

Clowney
Clowney said he is not 100 percent healthy, but couldn't say exactly how far from that he is right now.

"I don’t know, I hope so," Clowney said when asked if he would be ready for padded practices on Monday. "But I’ll let the trainers make the call. I’m a lot better than where I was. I learned a lot of the playbook already."

Clowney, the first overall pick in the NFL draft in May, participated in many of the half-speed linebacker drills, but sat out of team 11-on-11s.

"We’re staying with the rehab protocol which allows him to practice a little bit," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "... Just like every guy that’s coming off surgery, everybody has a different level of restriction, which is a good way to put it. They're edgy, they want to get going, but it’s a long season, so we bring them back at their pace. When they’re ready to go, they go."

Saturday morning marked the first practice of the Texans' training camp. Players weren't in pads -- that's reserved for Monday -- as they practiced before a crowd of fans. They'll practice this afternoon, too, but that practice is closed to fans and media.
The Texans admitted another defeat from the 2013 draft on Monday. They released third-round pick Brennan Williams, thus officially going 0-2 in the third round last year.

Williams wrote this on twitter:

"I want to thank the Texans and the city of Houston for the great opportunity! It didn't work out how anyone planned, but I am still the same player who was drafted last year. Right now the key is getting healthy and getting back on this horse--don't worry about me I'll be back soon! Thanks for your prayers and support I am truly blessed. You can't keep the the GBO down."

Williams
There were a few red flags that came with both of the Texans third-round picks in 2013.

Sam Montgomery had been singled out by one of his college coaches as not being a hard worker. His interviews during the combine led many NFL personnel people to stay away from him. On the field, Montgomery couldn't manage the transition to outside linebacker and was moved to defensive end. His maturity was always in doubt, and proved to be insurmountable for the defensive end/linebacker who was released in the middle of last season.

Williams didn't have off-the-field concerns. But there were some on-field question marks. He had shoulder surgery and missed the final four games of his senior season at North Carolina. It's a different injury than the one he suffered in the pros, but for some players that's how it goes. His play -- for the small part of the 2013 offseason in which he participated -- left some members of the former coaching staff wanting to release him before that season began. There was talk of releasing Montgomery that early as well.

Today the Texans released Williams after he failed his pre-camp physical. He had hoped to be ready for organized team activities, but instead spent the whole of them rehabbing an injury that required microfracture surgery last year.

A glance at that draft offers plenty of questions once you get past the first and second rounds. First-round pick DeAndre Hopkins and second-round pick D.J. Swearinger aren't game-breakers yet, but they have talent and the potential to be very good players for the Texans.

Then, things get muddy.

We've discussed the third round. Fourth-round pick Trevardo Williams is on the physically unable to perform list. Sixth-round pick Chris Jones was released and wound up with the New England Patriots eventually, where he played more snaps than any Texans draft pick.

Their three other sixth-round picks that year were offensive tackle David Quessenberry, tight end Ryan Griffin and receiver Alan Bonner. We'll remove Quessenberry from this discussion as he fights for his life at MD Anderson, a much more important fight than a mere position battle. Bonner and Griffin have shown promise, but only Griffin has played. Bonner spent last season on injured reserve.

That means just three of nine 2013 draft picks have played any NFL games for the Texans.

And that third round wasn't good. That's a place where you can still find starters and the Texans got nothing out of their picks. The blame gets shifted between the former coaching staff and the front office depending on who's doing the blaming. To me the bottom line is this: The final say for that draft rested with Texans general manager Rick Smith. Ultimately, he should shoulder that responsibility.
Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

They traded T.J. Yates to the Atlanta Falcons and brought in the veteran Fitzpatrick as the starter and drafted Savage in the fourth round in May. Savage isn't ready to start yet, but they didn't draft him expecting that. Keenum is the only quarterback on this roster who was not brought in by new coach Bill O'Brien, but I think he keeps him. Having three quarterbacks prevents you from being forced to start an unprepared rookie in case of injuries. Savage's development is paramount.

RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS (4)

Blue, a sixth-round pick, and Brown, a free-agent pickup, will battle during camp to be Foster's backup. That's an important role, given the questions about Foster's health. Prosch, another draft pick, blocked well during the offseason. He'll stick around as the only fullback on the roster.

RECEIVERS (5)

In my first version of the 53-man roster, I opted not to choose between Posey and Keshawn Martin. Martin was the Texans' returner last season and their primary slot receiver, though they didn't use a true slot receiver often. I think the Texans keep five here and there's absolutely a chance Martin fights his way back onto the roster, displacing Posey or Bonner. And, yes, like the Texans, I am expecting Johnson back for the season.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

The Texans kept only three tight ends for most of last season, but they'll need more for this offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The only remaining battle on the offensive line is between Jones and Su'a-Filo at left guard. Drafted with the first pick of the second round, Su'a-Filo has starting level talent, but he missed most of the offseason. Now he'll have to play catch-up; Jones has a head start. Elsewhere: left tackle Brown, center Myers, right guard Brooks and right tackle Newton.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

This is assuming Pagan, a sixth-round pick, recovers from his injury and does enough to remain on the roster. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Pagan had shoulder surgery after college. Powe's speed and size were really impressive during OTAs, as was Crick's athleticism. And, of course, there's Watt.

LINEBACKERS (9)

This will be a much-talked about position because of the addition of Clowney, the first overall draft pick. The Texans get versatility from Reed and Tuggle, who can play both inside and outside, and return Cushing, the heart of this defense who hasn't finished the past two seasons. He's confident he'll stay healthy this season. Bullough could make the team as an undrafted rookie.

CORNERBACKS (6)

Jackson suddenly found himself the elder statesman this offseason, with Joseph working to the side as he recovers from offseason surgery. Joseph expects to be back by training camp. Hal is tentatively on this list, but the seventh-round pick could be usurped during training camp. Bouye was a promising undrafted rookie last season and has drawn compliments from O'Brien. Slot corner is another question mark for the Texans.

SAFETIES (5)

Lewis started next to Swearinger during the offseason and should be competing against Clemons during training camp to be the team's starting free safety.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Bullock's kicking and confidence improved at the end of last season. He's competing with undrafted rookie Chris Boswell to be the Texans' kicker, but that competition won't really ramp up until training camp and the preseason games.

Camp preview: Houston Texans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Tania Ganguli examines the three biggest issues facing the Houston Texans heading into training camp.

Johnson's absence: Texans receiver Andre Johnson already has lost his $1 million roster bonus because of his absences this offseason, and he reportedly has asked for a trade. It could get worse. The Texans can fine him up to $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. Johnson has made a lot of money during his time with the Texans; that investment is part of why they aren't interested in letting him go right now, either by trading or releasing him. They also would take a pretty significant hit to their salary cap. Moving Johnson now would stick the Texans with $12 million in dead money. But Johnson's perspective is sympathetic. He has played on a lot of bad teams and talked frequently before last season about the difficulty of doing so. It shocked him that the Texans went 2-14 during the 2013 season, and his outlook on the 2014 season isn't rosy. Imagine this scenario from Johnson's point of view: He spends 2014 toiling through a rebuilding year at age 33, then gets released or traded next year as his salary rises and cap hit falls. He'd much prefer spending 2014 with a contender.

Return of the wounded: Three important players had surgery during or after the 2013 season, and their progress will be something to follow. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had foot surgery, inside linebacker Brian Cushing had knee surgery and running back Arian Foster had back surgery. It was the second season in a row that Joseph and Cushing had surgeries. Last offseason Joseph had two sports hernia surgeries, and last season Cushing had surgery on his other knee to replace a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Foster was back for organized team activities and the Texans' minicamps. Cushing and Joseph weren't fully practicing, so their health will be important to watch. And, of course, one very important rookie also had surgery in June. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in May, had surgery to repair a sports hernia he might or might not have been dealing with during his final season at South Carolina. Clowney's progress will be key for the Texans, who weren't expecting him to need surgery upon his arrival. They need him to start at outside linebacker and help bolster their pass rush. The good news for Houston is the recovery time for sports hernia surgery -- about six weeks -- lines up perfectly with the start of training camp.

Fitzpatrick's learning and teaching: Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team's starting quarterback on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. He said Fitzpatrick earned the position with his ability to pick up the Texans' offense and his steady improvement in it. Fitzpatrick's past includes spots of brilliant mobility, but there also are overextensions and too many turnovers. His responsibility this season will be twofold. First, he's to guide the Texans offense, protect the football and manage the game. Second, he's to help teach rookie Tom Savage the craft of an NFL quarterback. Savage spent his college career with three different programs, lacking the stability needed to really learn and get better. The good news for the Texans is that makes Savage a fairly blank canvas. He shouldn't have habits that make it difficult to learn a new system or be so set in his ways that the learning process gets stuck.
J.J. WattTroy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports
We have a winner.

You fans got it right. With an overwhelming percentage of the vote, Houston Texans fans selected J.J. Watt's famous pick-six as the most memorable play in franchise history.

Watt's play competed against two other finalists: the "Rosencopter" in 2008 and Billy Miller's 2002 touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Rosencopter, of course, was the play in which quarterback Sage Rosenfels fumbled the ball as he twisted like a helicopter, propelling the Indianapolis Colts in a comeback. Miller scored the first touchdown in franchise history against the Cowboys, a score that led to the first win in franchise history during what was the team's first regular-season game.

Score: Texans 31, Bengals 10

Date: January 7, 2012; Site: Reliant Stadium

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Texans' history?

  •  
    74%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 25,024)

What makes a play memorable is how it makes you feel. One fan on Twitter said Miller's touchdown gave fans in Houston a sense that the NFL was truly back. Rosencopter's devastation in that 2008 game stirred strong emotions as well. And, as we talked about earlier this week, humans tend to remember negative experiences more intensely than positive ones.

Ultimately, though, the winner was a play that meant something on a grander scale. Watt's pick-six came just before halftime during the wild-card round of the playoffs following the 2011 season. Houston faced the Cincinnati Bengals and was tied when Watt got in the way of an Andy Dalton pass. He tipped it to himself and returned the interception for a touchdown.

This is a young organization. Its first season was just in 2002, so there isn't a lot of history here yet. It's being created year by year; you get to be part of it. Rivalries and team folklore are created during the playoffs. That's when it means more. Watt has already secured a special place in the story of the Texans.

Texans' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
Fitzpatrick
I suspect this answer will be the same for all the teams that lack the following.

Consistency at quarterback is the biggest key to the Houston Texans' success over the next three years.

Our Insiders have compiled a project in which they provide future power rankings. To accompany it, each of us is offering our thoughts on what the biggest key for future success will be to the team we cover. Houston has pieces in place to be a solid team soon. That doesn't mean things won't change a lot over the next three seasons -- in 2016 the Arian Foster and Andre Johnson eras will likely be over -- but replacing them won't be nearly as difficult as finding a consistently reliable quarterback.

You either have one, or you're looking for one. And they aren't always easy to find.

For a few years there was an overemphasis on this, given the success of men such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But all of them got beat in the playoffs this past season. The quarterback isn't the only thing that matters, but your chances for success increase significantly if you have a QB who won't cost you games.

He might be on the roster now. Perhaps Ryan Fitzpatrick will prove to be one of those late-blooming quarterbacks whose on-field decision-making improves this year. Fitzpatrick has never had a winning record, in part because of the teams around him, in part because of a preponderance of turnovers. Perhaps Tom Savage, finally staying put with one team, will develop into a long-term starter. Savage attended Rutgers, Arizona and Pittsburgh, never having a chance to get comfortable and develop. It could even be Case Keenum, who struggled mightily in his first shot at it last year, going winless in eight starts.

The point is, he hasn't been identified yet. And for the Texans to return to the top of the AFC South, he'll need to be.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider