Training camp is much like summer camp you went to as a kid. You’ll see your old buddies, meet new faces, play lots of competitive games, watch kids go home early, sweat, work, become exhausted, sleep like a rock on uncomfy mattresses and ultimately learn something along the way. At least that was my experience when I was growing up.
The Houston Texans are headed to West Virginia this week as the 2017 NFL training camps are quickly underway. With old faces and new faces joining together under camp counselor Bill O’Brien, we’re certain to see some exciting news heading out of John Denver’s mountains sooner than one can imagine.
Placing bold calls before a team even takes a preseason snap is about the same as going all-in on a poker hand before the cards are even dealt; you’re either an idiot or lucky. Just because the X’s and O’s haven’t been run on the field yet doesn’t mean that there’s no guarantee you could be right or wrong with predictions this early.
Here are five bold predictions we can expect to see before the Jacksonville Jaguars sneak into town on Sept. 10.
DeShaun Watson blows up, wins starting QB job
At this point, anything said about the quarterback battle on NRG drive isn’t really bold, but rather opinionated. However, saying that a guy blows his competitor out of the water could be a bold call for now.
The talk of the Texans offseason comes in the form of the Texans quarterback battle between fourth-year quarterback Tom Savage and what many Texans fans are calling “the chosen one” DeShaun Watson. When you boil it down to literally the bare minimum, the pair even up as if they’ve never played an NFL game. In three starts, Savage has yet to throw a touchdown and only ran in one while throwing one interception last season. Watson hasn’t even suited up yet.
Still, O’Brien has praised the young quarterback’s work ethic and ability to learn the playbook on the fly. Out in West Virginia, we should at least see some fair competition between the two, working both first and second team reps. It’ll all be based off what happens on the field, however, to see who will be the starting quarterback week 1.
Watson has a strong arm, better vision and has played in more clutch moment situations than Savage has in his career. Having pressure on his back is nothing new for the two-time Heisman finalist. It is however for Savage. With a strong performance against the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints, Watson will have shown enough to his coach and teammates he’s ready to become the Texans starter in Week 1.
He may not lead them to the Super Bowl in 2017, but another AFC South title win isn’t farfetched if he shows improvement.
Will Fuller doesn’t drop a pass in preseason
One of the biggest disappointments last season was the emergence of Will Fuller early on and the rapid decline down the stretch. With back to back 100+ yard games a pair of touchdowns, people better remember Fuller’s rookie season by one play in Foxborough that summarized the Texans offense perfectly in 2016.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fuller posted an 11.8 drop ratio last season. While that’s a rapid decreased from his 36.1 percent ratio in college, that’s still not a number that excites fans looking for a deep threat receiver.
With the arrival of Wes Welker as a new coach, Fuller should be in luck to learn a thing or two about catching the ball. One of the lowest drop ratios during his time, Fuller should learn how to better use his hands down the field rather than his body in a “basket” style type catch.
Although it could take a while for them to come up to speed, Fuller’s football IQ and work with Welker should allow him to see his drop ratio plummet even more into his second season. With a strong training camp, Fuller shouldn’t drop a single catchable pass in preseason, making Texans fan glad they were able to grab him early.
Duane Brown is a complete no-show
At this point, it’s no secret that the Texans and offensive tackle Duane Brown are not on the same page. After failing to come to OTAs or mandatory mini camp, there are speculations that Brown will also miss out on training camp until a deal is reached. While Seattle’s Cam Chancellor is the most memorable of holdouts, Brown could follow in his footsteps and miss all the summer activities.
A solid left tackle in the NFL and a key piece of the Texans offense since 2008, Brown did will be 32 this season and still is in the prime of his career. While Houston Chronicle’s John McClain has stated that he doesn’t think Brown will miss any time, training camp is underway and he’s still AWOL.
At this point, there are too many issues for the Texans to worry about than contract disputes. Brown will suit up and be up to speed Week 1 this season, but don’t expect DeShaun Watson or Tom Savage to be safe this preseason.
Xavier Su’a-Filo is “X”ed off the roster
Sometimes veterans get lucky sneaking by. Other times, their attitudes or work ethic will cost them a starting spot. Most of the time however, poor outputs and terrible in game play will send them packing. Unfortunately Texans fans, the guy picked just three picks before Derek Carr will be packing up this offseason.
Since joining the league, Su’a-Filo has done nothing to impress a first pick of day 2 during the 2014 draft. Known for his skilled run blocking abilities coming out of UCLA, so far those skills have been adequate or below adequate at best. His initial steps are slow and his pulling abilities were horrendous the past two seasons.
It’s his passing blocking abilities however that will be his downfall. Last season, Su’a Filo allowed seven sacks, six tackles for losses and 26 quarterback hurries last season according to Pro Football Focus. Center Greg Mancz was one of the highest-rated pass blocking centers last season. Meanwhile former second round pick Nick Martin was known in college for his high motor and pass protection skills. He also played both guard and center during his time at Notre Dame.
Su’a-Filo needs to have the preseason of his life with Martin and Mancz quickly closing in. I haven’t seen anything that’s pointing into that direction and don’t think this is the year. Veterans are cut all the time, Su’a Filo might be the next one.
Undrafted rookie Dylan Cole is the Texans Preseason MVP
Not all heroes wear capes and not all MVPs are household names when they begin their careers. That will be the story of Dylan Cole, as he will be the Texans star this preseason and turn from being an undrafted free agent to potential super star down in the Lone Star State.
With over 300 tackles and back to back 100+ tackle seasons at Missouri State, Cole’s work ethic, versatile playing style and special teams ability should allow him to at least make the roster. His bench press video is now a human highlight reel and although he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, his numbers were up with some of the top linebacker prospects, including first round pick Haason Reddick.
In preseason, chances are Cole will see tons of second half action as a potential long-shot to make the roster. He’ll need one game to lock himself into a 53-man spot. But he’ll do more than that. Playing three different linebacker positions and collecting at least 75 tackles at each, Cole will be an effective run stopper and play well in pass coverage. His ability to read an offensive line is tremendous and his hard hitting skills could be bring back glory days of Brian Urlacher.
In the end, Cole will lead the team in tackles, tackles for losses and pressures when preseason is over. It’ll be hard for Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel to keep him off the field heading into this upcoming season.