HOUSTON TEXANS (4-12)
CAMP SITE: Houston
LAST YEAR: The Texans stumbled to an 0-4 start that cost coach Bill O’Brien his job. Romeo Crennel took over, but things didn’t get much better and the Texans finished 4-12 after winning the AFC South the previous two seasons. QB Deshaun Watson led the NFL with a career-high 4,823 yards passing, but his performance wasn’t enough to overcome a terrible running game and run defense.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach David Culley, QB Tyrod Taylor, QB Davis Mills, RB Mark Ingram, DL Shaq Lawson, RB Phillip Lindsay, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Christian Kirksey, WR Donte Moncrief, C Justin Britt, CB Desmond King, DT Maliek Collins, LB Joe Thomas.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE J.J. Watt, WR Will Fuller, ILB Benardrick McKinney, C Nick Martin, RB Duke Johnson, P Bryan Anger, TE Darren Fells.
CAMP NEEDS: The team needs either Taylor or Mills, a third-round draft pick from Stanford, to prove he can lead at quarterback with it becoming increasingly likely that Watson won’t play this season. Watson’s future with the team is in question after 22 women filed lawsuits alleging that he sexually assaulted or harassed them. His relationship with the team was already tenuous before his legal problems after he requested a trade earlier this year, unhappy with the direction of the team. Without Watt, the face of the franchise for the last decade, the defense must establish a new identity. It will be up to young and talented players such as safety Justin Reid and linebacker Zach Cunningham, who ranked second in the NFL in tackles last season, to take ownership of the unit as it tries to bounce back from last season’s struggles.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: Houston enters camp with seven running backs after making several offseason additions in an attempt to improve its running game from 31st in the NFL in yards gained last season. David Johnson had a tough first season in Houston after arriving as part of the trade for superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Despite that he’ll enter camp as the favorite to start, with Lindsay, Ingram, Rex Burkhead and Buddy Howell among others competing for a spot. The competition will also be tough at receiver where veterans Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb lead a group that will look to some new faces to take a step forward with Fuller gone to Miami.
EXPECTATIONS: It’s already shaping up as a difficult first season for Culley, a longtime NFL assistant in his first head coaching job at 65. He’s spent the offseason deflecting questions about Watson’s status, and the drama surrounding the quarterback will certainly follow the team all season even if he isn’t around. Watson’s stellar play was one of the only bright spots in last year’s dismal season, and it’s tough to imagine the Texans will be any better this season if he doesn’t play and with Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, gone to Arizona.
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