The Houston Texans began training camp today at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, and this team has as many question marks as any in the National Football League. There are 47 days until the Week 1 matchup vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars and much still needs to be resolved. While the preseason will provide more important information, training camp brings the whole team together, and head coach Bill O’Brien and company can learn plenty. Here’s what they should be looking for.
1. How far has J.J. Watt come in his recovery?
The most popular person in Houston, Watt’s importance to this team cannot be understated. The Texans’ defense gave the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots all they could handle in the AFC Divisional Round of the 2017 playoffs; the idea of a Top 5 defense adding the best defensive player in the NFL has to have opposing quarterbacks quaking in their cleats.
But ideas are only scary in your imagination, and while even an inhibited Watt can do some damage to any offense, this team reaching its maximum potential requires a healthy Watt. With so many question marks on the offensive side of the ball, this defense needs Watt to return to world-beater status to carry whoever is starting at quarterback.
2. What kind of command does Deshaun Watson have of this offense?
Let me be clear—the Texans do not need to decide their starting quarterback by the end of training camp. Would it be nice? Sure. And if you ask literally anyone on the team, coaching staff or the front office, they already have. And his name is Tom Savage.
That said, Savage has never finished a season healthy, so the Deshaun Watson Era could begin at any point. It’s crucial for Watson to be ready when his number is called. The rookie has had plenty of time to study the playbook by now, but O’Brien’s scheme is known as one of the most complicated offenses in the NFL. You could argue that only one quarterback has ever run it successfully, and he just won his fifth Super Bowl.
There will obviously be a learning curve for Watson, but he will need to help himself out as much as possible to help this team as much as possible.
3. How is DeAndre Hopkins’ chemistry with Tom Savage?
I don’t think we can attribute the 2016 performance from Hopkins on the wide receiver alone. Hopkins makes great catches in traffic, and Osweiler, despite the staggering amount of interceptions and poor decisions, was generally unwilling to throw into traffic, choosing to continue through his progressions. As a result, Hopkins was targeted 151 times all season, 41 fewer targets than in 2015.
Osweiler’s accuracy issues are legendary at this point; 59.0% (27th in the NFL) won’t win many games. This contributed to Hopkins’ 51.7% catch percentage in 2016, by far a career-low and good for 178th in the league among qualified players. Consider further that Osweiler was 30th out of 30 qualified passers in yards per attempt (5.8) and it’s easy to understand how Hopkins’ numbers fell off so much in 2016.
Hopkins and Savage don’t have to be best friends. But they need to be on the same page, and Hopkins and Osweiler just were not often last season. Assessing the tandem’s on-field chemistry is important to the future of this team. The offense needs Savage and Hopkins to perform at the peak of their abilities to succeed.