Seven Position Battles to Watch This Training Camp
Pay attention to these position battles ahead of the start of training camp.
The Houston Texans get their 2023 season started this Wednesday as training camp begins.
Here are seven position battles to pay attention to as camp gets started.
Starting Defensive End
The defensive end room, and the rotation, are one of the intriguing aspects of this defense. Surely Will Anderson will do enough in training camp to cement himself as one of the defensive ends. The spot opposite him is totally up for grabs.
Veteran Jerry Hughes amassed nine sacks last season after 11 total the previous three seasons combined. He will be 35 years old this season, but if the production is identical he’d be the favorite to start. Jonathan Greenard should be a factor if healthy. Greenard’s 2022 season was wrecked by injuries. If there is anything more to Greenard this staff should get it out of him.
Slot Wide Receiver
I’m operating with the assumption Robert Woods and Nico Collins are the team’s outside wideouts. Woods possesses plenty of versatility and can bump inside, but I am unsure who would be the outside pass catcher. Plus, Woods ran over 70 percent of his routes outside last year, a 15 percent increase from 2021.
Noah Brown, who was signed in the offseason, could keep the younger players on the bench. Brown also has some inside-out versatility, but saw his snaps inside in 2022 rise from less than 20 percent in 2021 to more than 40 percent.
John Metchie, who missed all of last season, and rookie Tank Dell will battle for pass-catching chances inside. Each player presents potential but there is an expected learning curve. I tend to lean more towards Metchie making an impact, but Dell’s quickness is a weapon that will be utilized.
One thing to note from San Franciso last season is the number of routes run by tight ends. George Kittle ran the third-most routes from the slot for the 49ers and nearly 50 percent of backup tight end Ross Dwelley’s routes were run from the slot. It won’t be strange to see Dalton Schultz in the slot a bunch, most of his routes the past two seasons came from the slot. (Numbers thanks to Fantasy Points Data Suite)
Derek Stingley will start at one cornerback spot and the battle for the one opposite him could be fierce. I say could because Steven Nelson is a bit of a wildcard. Nelson is seemingly unhappy with his contract and didn’t hide his displeasure with Texans general manager Nick Caserio.
If Nelson is indeed on the team and competing for a spot he will have a tough battle against the now healthy Shaquill Griffin. Griffin detailed in June the difficult road in his recovery from back surgery.
Having the surgery, I felt good about the surgery. Felt a lot better, walked right out. That was a blessing. But then I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even sweat, and then I’m out here watching my team go out there and grind it out every day, being successful. As a person who loves the game so much, it was tough. - Shaquill Griffin
Desmond King might be a factor, but his abilities are maximized with his inside/outside flexibility. A healthy Griffin will be hard to beat, but perhaps a motivated Nelson has that chance.
The tough part about an offensive line competition is there are seemingly fewer than two games worth of realistic snaps for all of training camp. There will be some work in padded practices, joint practices, and preseason games. The Texans have at least five center options to comb through in the limited real reps!
Rookie second round pick Juice Scruggs should win this job, but it won’t be handed to him. Scott Quessenberry is still on the roster and has starting experience from last season. Michael Deiter was added in free agency and he has some NFL starts under his belt. Jimmy Morrissey is still around and the other center drafted by the team is rookie Jarrett Patterson.
Christian Harris is going to start. His potential and talent feel like an undeniable aspect of the linebacker room. Denzel Perryman explained in June is healthy and if he is closer to his 2021 form where he was a Pro Bowler he is a starter too.
This is where it gets complicated. There is no shortage of options with varying levels of commitment to them. Cory Littleton was signed in free agency for slightly more than Denzel Perryman. Christian Kirksey was a leader last year and has one of the highest cap hits on the team. Blake Cashman and Jake Hansen were depth pieces last year. Garret Wallow is hopefully healthy and can be a factor. Henry To'oTo'o will be on the team as a depth piece too.
Tight End Two
Signing Dalton Schultz as a free agent was quite the coup for Nick Caserio this offseason. Schultz is a proven commodity at the position and will be a key element for the passing game. He should also be a clear candidate for a contract extension if he plays well this season.
Behind Schultz is a lot of question marks. Brevin Jordan has lacked consistency heading into his third season. Teagan Quitoriano was injured last year before playing sparingly in the second half of the season and scoring two touchdowns. Andrew Beck should make this team as a tight end and fullback. Beyond those players are former undrafted free agent Mason Schreck and undrafted free agent Jordan Murray.
It isn’t out of the question another veteran could be added here either through trade or signed as a free agent. I would also expect if a solid tight end was cut on cutdown day, there would be some interest in said player.
Kick and Punt Return
The Texans have Desmond King back who was the punt return leader in 2022 for Houston. The leading kick returner, Tremon Smith, is now in Denver. This battle really comes down to King against rookie Tank Dell.
Last year King was 10th in yards per return among punt returners with at least 20 opportunities. Though Dell didn’t return a lot of punts, just nine on the season, his average would’ve been in the top ten if he qualified and he still finished 31st in total punt return yards.
Neither were featured as kick returners last year. Dell returned zero kickoffs and King just one. Dell returned 13 kickoffs in 2021. Amari Rodgers, who the Texans claimed off waivers in 2022 from the Green Bay Packers, has return experience but none since he put on a Texans uniform.
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