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5 burning questions as Houston Texans enter training camp

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(Getty Images)

HOUSTON – Welcome to the start of what should be an exciting six months of football in Houston.

Training camp has arrived and the Texans are ready to get to work back here in H-Town after spending the past two camps in West Virginia.

As camp begins, the defending AFC South champs are locked in and ready to prove the doubters wrong in 2019. As is with any team, the Texans enter camp with some question marks. Some are concerning while others will work themselves out during the course of camp and early in the season.

Here are the five burning questions facing the Texans as the whistle blows on training camp.

1. Will the offensive line be able to protect Deshaun Watson?

Shaq Lawson sacks Deshaun Watson in the second half at NRG Stadium on October 14, 2018, in Houston, Texas.
Shaq Lawson sacks Deshaun Watson in the second half at NRG Stadium on October 14, 2018, in Houston, Texas.

This should be the No. 1 concern internally with the Texans not to mention all of the team's fans who witnessed the debacle in this area last year.

The offensive line in 2018 was horrendous and that has to change immediately after allowing 62 sacks. The line has to show marked improved, especially on Watson’s blindside to avoid the physical beating he took last year. Remember the Cowboys game, the rib and lung injuries, and the bus ride to Jacksonville that Watson had to take just to play against the Jaguars?

That can’t happen again.

Top draft pick Tytus Howard is versatile and ideally left tackle would be his landing spot but expect to see him at left guard.

Julie’n Davenport should get the early look at left tackle but he needs to show he can be counted on after a season highlighted by too many penalties that hurt drives. Other guys, like Senio Kelemete and Martinas Rankin, need to show they can produce consistently.

Keep an eye on rookie Max Scharping as well. He’s impressed the coaches with his knowledge of the system during offseason organized team activities and minicamp.

Nick Martin is back at center and should have a nice season.

Guard Zach Fulton is a starter and Seantrel Henderson is at right tackle.

Health is a concern for the entire group.

2. Can Watson take his game to a new level?

Deshaun Watson celebrates with DeAndre Hopkins after hooking up on a 16-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 18, 2018, in Landover, Maryland.
Deshaun Watson celebrates with DeAndre Hopkins after hooking up on a 16-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 18, 2018, in Landover, Maryland.

Where do we start with Watson?

He’s the leader on offense and any setback will prove to be costly for the Texans. As mentioned above regarding the offensive line, keeping Watson upright is a priority.

If he is given time in the pocket, Watson can hurt teams with his arm and his legs.

Entering his third season in the NFL, Watson has shown he has earned superstar status. Are there parts of his game that need improvement? Absolutely, and that really goes for any quarterback in the league. Defenses are improving league-wide and Watson needs to continue to read what he’s seeing, be patient and get the ball into the hands of his receivers and tight ends.

The tight ends, by the way, will be a fun group to watch with the likes of Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins and rookie Kahale Warring who was the third-round pick out of San Diego State and who has already shown coaches he can be a factor.

3. Is Jadeveon Clowney’s expected absence from camp a distraction?

Jadeveon Clowney is seen during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on October 21, 2018, in Jacksonville, Florida.
Jadeveon Clowney is seen during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on October 21, 2018, in Jacksonville, Florida.

This is something to watch closely because it has the potential of blowing up for both sides. Clowney and his agent Bus Cook wanted a new long term extension in the $100 million range and talks never materialized. No deal was done and Clowney has been AWOL the entire offseason.

He was franchise-tagged by the team and will earn $15.9 million in 2019. At this time, though, he is an unsigned franchise player, which means he can stay away and not be fined by the team. Most believe Clowney will sit out camp and preseason to make his statement and not show up until the week the season begins, which is when game checks start arriving. Will he be in game shape and ready to produce and dominate from game one against the Saints? That’s a big question and another one is will the drama be a distraction during and after camp?

With Clowney out during camp, others will get reps and of course, the go-to guys like Whitney Mercilus and Bernardrick McKinney will be there to lead the way along with J.J. Watt.

Watt is beginning camp on the Active/ PUP list as he eases into the workload. I expect we will see very little if any of Watt on the field during the preseason even when they play the Packers in Green Bay Aug. 8.

As for Clowney, he can also be franchise-tagged next year as well or perhaps get that extension if he has a monster season. If it gets ugly, don’t rule out a trade either but from the way I see it, the Texans would be foolish to trade Clowney.

4. What will the receiver group look like and can they stay healthy?

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins celebrates a second-quarter touchdown catch during a game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 4, 2018, in Denver, Colorado.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins celebrates a second-quarter touchdown catch during a game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 4, 2018, in Denver, Colorado.

Last season was another great one for DeAndre Hopkins but by the end of the season, he was banged up, including the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Hopkins had big numbers in 2018 (115 catches for 1,572 yards and 11 TDs) and will need more of the same in 2019. Something tells me he’ll get what he wants. Remember, Hopkins dropped zero passes last season, which is an incredible stat to take in. The man has those big hands and he’s a lock every time Watson throws his way.

The question Bill O’Brien and his coaches have to find out is what is around Hopkins as in healthy pieces to the receiving puzzle. Yes, Will Fuller is a deep threat but he is coming off of an ACL injury so can he stay on the field for all 16 games? The odds say no.

Then there is the most intriguing piece to the WR room last year in Keke Coutee out of Texas Tech. He’s a great slot guy when he’s healthy. He had 11 catches in a game last year and was a favorite of Watson’s, but Coutee battled constant hamstring problems during his rookie season in which he played only a total of six games. Coutee is a critical X-Factor in my opinion not only in camp but definitely during the season. He needs to prove that he can be a guy the team can count on.

5. Were changes in the secondary enough to see improvement in 2019?

Tashaun Gipson (L) and Bradley Roby (R)
Tashaun Gipson (L) and Bradley Roby (R)

How often did we see opposing quarterbacks lock-in and rip the Texans secondary apart in 2018?

Too often -- which became a frustrating part of the defense as a whole at times.  Changes were made in the offseason that included the free agency departures of longtime Texan Kareem Jackson and safety Tyrann Mathieu.

New faces with the Texans include safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Bradley Roby.

Gipson comes to Houston from Jacksonville, where he had five interceptions the past two seasons. Roby spent last season with the Broncos.

The duo has work to do to show coaches and teammates they can be relied upon.

Also, watch out for rookie Lonnie Johnson, whom the Texans drafted out of Kentucky in the second round in May. Johnson has a learning curve ahead of him, but has good size at 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. He can make an impact.

The Texans will be facing some great quarterbacks early in the season -- including Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Phillip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck all in the first seven weeks.

So there ya have it -- five burning questions entering camp, and really there could have been close to 10 but we’ll stop there for now.

The bottom line is the NFL is back and the Texans return to defend their AFC South crown. The Colts are the early-season favorites, but the Jaguars, Texans and Titans are not far behind.