During the regular season, I normally post an article about the intertwining storylines heading up the next game of the Houston Texans. For the preseason, I don’t plan on doing that. I don't feel right about treating preseason the same way as regular season. At the end of the day, the game simply does not matter – unless you’re fighting to start or be on the roster at all.
Compared to the previous nine seasons, this is your most competitive Texans roster. By my count, there are legitimate battles for eight starting positions while positions like wide receiver, cornerback, and both safety roles have far more bodies than actual roster spots. You have to tip your hat to general manager Rick Smith and his staff because they have really provided head coach Gary Kubiak a deep roster which should make for an intense August – which starts on Monday night against the New York Jets.
With the starters, the secure ones anyway, only expected to play 10-12 snaps, there will be plenty of opportunity for the talented depth to show what they have. Here are five battles that should keep you watching through the end.
5. Fullback – Lawrence Vickers vs. James Casey
With All-Pro Vonta Leach gone, there is a hole in the starting line-up. While Vickers has cleared the way for three 1,000+ yard running backs in the past four seasons, there is no guarantee he will start. He’s still got to learn the playbook and get himself acclimated to the Houston heat which is what Casey has on him along with incredible athleticism. What Casey doesn’t have? Fullback experience or as some have put it "Carrying an older Jamal Lewis to 1,000 yards on the resume." It’ll be an interesting battle to see who wins out. I think it will be Vickers, but Monday’s game will be an interesting one as both will get their chances to pave the road for backs not named Arian Foster.
4. Nose Tackle – Shaun Cody vs. Earl Mitchell
Cody is listed on the first team via the depth chart on HoustonTexans.com, but it has been Mitchell who has earned the praises of Wade Phillips and company. It’s one preseason game, but I hope Mitchell ends the competition on Monday night. He’s faster, stronger, and has more upside than Cody. Mitchell can do things Cody can’t and should get all the first team reps he can moving forward.
3. Safety – Troy Nolan vs. Shiloh Keo vs. Quentin Demps vs. Dominque Barber vs. Torri Williams
BREAKING NEWS: The Texans had a terrible secondary last year. MORE BREAKING NEWS: They’ve loaded up on bodies in the secondary in hopes that A) they find better players and B) competition will bring out the best in everyone.
I left off an undrafted safety or two, but these five men will battle for two back-up roles behind Glover Quin and Danieal Manning. They all bring something to the table whether it’s ball skills (Nolan), draft crush of the defensive coordinator (Keo), great special teamer (Demps), previous starter (Barber), or size and speed (Williams). With the secondary the butt of many jokes, every back-up spot should be up for grabs making this as wide open of a competition as there is.
2. Wide Receiver – Dorin Dickerson vs. Terrence Toliver vs. Jeff Maehl vs. Lestar Jean vs. Derrick Townsel vs. Paul Williams vs. Trindon Holliday
This battle royale is for the fourth and fifth receiver slots on the roster. One of these guys could find themselves in the returner role while both receivers will be on special teams duties, a few seasons ago fourth receiver David Anderson had 38 receptions so these battles are definitely for more than just depth. Dickerson's got the advantage of being on the 53-man roster last year. The word from camp is that he looks streets ahead of where he was last season and should be a lock for spot four barring horrendous performances in games.
As for the glut of young talent behind him, Maehl has earned a lot of praise. When he was signed, I said he was a prototypical slot receiver and he hasn't disappointed. Toliver hasn't shined as I thought he could, but Monday's a new chance for him. Townsel and Jean have made some nice catches as they try to enter the conversation for a spot on the 53-man roster or eight-man practice squad. Not much has been heard from Paul Williams while Trindon Holliday better hope the new kickoff rules don't prevent him from return chances as that's his only way on the roster.
1. Cornerback - Jason Allen vs. Kareem Jackson
When I look at the revamped defense, there is one glaring hole in my mind – starting cornerback opposite Johnathan Joseph. Jackson, in case you drank 2010 memories out of your mind, was toasted often last season. Rookie cornerbacks have their growing pains, but Jackson was often double-juked out of his cleats. Allen had his share of faults (New York game anyone?), but he also brings ball skills that Jackson hasn't shown yet.
Coming off a six interception season, Allen has played at a high level in camp. It is such a high level that Coach Kubiak has already planted seeds that he could start. According to noted camp tweets @BigRon281 and @PHABKM6, as well as Battle Red Blog's own UprootedTexan, Jackson has performed better since the comments. I still think, as I said in the earlier linked post, that Allen will start, but Jackson isn't just giving up and accepting that. It is the biggest position battle as we head to the regular season and will likely show up on a weekly basis until one breaks away from the other.
As we approach Monday's preseason opener, check back with Battle Red Blog and SB Nation Houston for more news and notes on the game.