HOUSTON – The regular season can't get here soon enough. The Houston Texans opened their four-game preseason slate with a 28-26 loss at the Green Bay Packers. There are three more games to get through that all carry the exact same top objective: Stay healthy. They were unable to do that on their trip to Green Bay, with at least three players coming back to Houston with uncertainty about their availability for the regular season.
Second-year wide receiver Keke Coutee and reserve offensive lineman Greg Mancz each took a cart back to the Texans' locker room in the first half of the game after suffering leg injuries. Quarterback A.J. McCarron missed the game entirely after injuring his right thumb during Thursday's joint practice with the Packers.
Taking into account injuries, training camp practices and the first preseason game, here's my first crack at what the initial 53-man roster for the regular season will look like for the Texans.
QB (3): Deshaun Watson, A.J. McCarron, Joe Webb
Watson may not take a snap during the preseason in an attempt to keep him as healthy as possible for the Monday night opener at the New Orleans Saints. Indications are McCarron will be healthy in time to be active for the opener. Webb is a nice insurance policy because he can fill in at both WR and QB along with his role on special teams. Webb would play QB during a game where both Watson and McCarron got hurt. He would not enter any game week as the starter, thus his spot on the team is always in jeopardy.
RB (5): Lamar Miller, Duke Johnson, Damarea Crockett, Buddy Howell, Cullen Gillaspia (on the bubble: Taiwan Jones)
Miller will likely be the workhorse again, though the acquisition of Duke Johnson gives them a legitimate, proven threat in the passing game. Crockett has the upper hand among the younger running backs and can contribute on special teams. Howell is among the best special teamers the Texans have, and because of that, the Texans might not carry both him and Crockett, especially knowing Crockett could be a practice squad candidate. Gillaspia, a seventh-round pick from Texas A&M and Katy Taylor, is the only fullback on the roster, and the hope is he's a strong special teams contributor.
WR (5): DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Vyncint Smith, Deandre Carter (on the bubble: Tyron Johnson)
This group was pretty well set from the onset of camp. Carter is the insurance for Coutee in the slot, but if Hopkins, Fuller and Coutee are healthy, this top three could be special and will be on the field together a lot. Johnson has been impressive since he arrived as an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State.
TE (4): Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring, Darren Fells (on the bubble: Jerell Adams)
Thomas, Akins and Warring were all acquired in the last two drafts, and all appear to be very capable in the passing game. Fells is a proven veteran blocker but has not been much of a receiving threat. Because Thomas and Warring have already missed significant camp time, Fells likely makes the team out of camp.
OL (9): Seantrel Henderson, Max Scharping, Nick Martin, Tytus Howard, Julien Davenport, Matt Kalil, Greg Mancz, Zach Fulton, Martinas Rankin
The Texans would prefer to carry just eight lineman, but they would be wise to go with nine. Three of this group are in their first or second season (Scharping, Howard, Rankin). Four others have significant injury concerns (Henderson, Martin, Kalil, Mancz). An outside veteran addition, especially at tackle, is something they might consider.
DL (7): J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Angelo Blackson, Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Dunn, Joel Heath, Charles Omenihu
Angelo Blackson has really emerged as a positive on the Texans defensive line and continues to get better. Joel Heath will likely be given one more chance to show that he can stay healthy and be a factor, while the rookie Omenihu will be given time to develop.
LB (6): Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett, Dylan Cole, Peter Kalambayi
McKinney and Cunningham really proved to be a strong duo on the inside last season. The pass rush from this group, though, was very disappointing. Mercilus is far too talented not to be turned loose more often. Cole's speed and acceleration is an asset all across the field. Kalambayi is a key special teamer.
S (4): Justin Reid, Tashaun Gipson, Jahleel Addae, A.J. Moore
How's this for turnover: Only Reid took significant snaps for the Texans among this group. Moore was with the team last season but mainly as a special teamer. It appears they are growing more comfortable with him at safety. Gipson is a much different player than Tyrann Mathieu, whom he is essentially replacing. Addae comes over from the San Diego Chargers, and as a whole, this foursome is much more athletic and brings significantly more speed than the group from last season.
CB: (7) Johnathan Joseph, Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Aaron Colvin, Johnson Bademosi, Xavier Crawford
The cornerback group, like the safeties, also will look much different, with just Joseph and Colvin returning among the key contributors. Roby signed a one-year deal and is clearly in "prove it" mode. The team desperately needs him to play well and needs his speed badly. Lonnie Johnson is the biggest corner they’ll have and will need to be a quick learner on the outside, where he may be one of the top three corners alongside Joseph and Roby.
Special teams (3): Jon Weeks (LS), Trevor Daniel (P), Ka'imi Fairbairn (PK)
While the team did sign veteran punter Brian Anger, there doesn’t appear to be much of a competition between him and second-year punter Trevor Daniel. Weeks and Fairbairn are among the league’s best.