|David Duprey/AP Photo|
|Defensive end Mario Williams is the leader of a young and emerging defense in Houston.|
2007 season recap
Almost there: Houston's 8-8 record last season was the best in its six-year history, but wasn't enough to earn its first playoff berth. With significant injuries to the team's starting quarterback, top wide receiver, starting running back and best cornerback, a .500 record in what may be the most competitive division in the league is something they can build on heading into 2008.
Key camp questions
Can they stay healthy?
The Texans have been one of the most injured teams over the last two seasons, and last year paid the price with a lack of options behind the likes of RB Ahman Green and WR Andre Johnson, both of whom missed significant time with injuries. QB Matt Schaub also missed five games last season and was unable to finish another four due to injuries, allowing backup Sage Rosenfels to step in. Already, CB Dunta Robinson is slated to miss the start of the season with lingering knee and hamstring injuries, opening the door for Jaques Reeves and Demarcus Faggins to win a starting spot during training camp. The team added LB Rosevelt Colvin in the offseason, but injuries may prevent the nine-year veteran from participating in camp.
Can they improve the pass rush?
The 31 sacks the team totaled last season is not going to cut it for a team trying to make the playoffs, especially when 14 of those sacks come from one player in DE Mario Williams. In addition to the standout Williams, the Texans have an outstanding young defensive nucleus that includes MLB DeMeco Ryans, LB Morlon Greenwood and DT Amobi Okoye. The team opted not to take a pass rusher in the draft, but the addition of Colvin (if healthy) should help.
Can they reduce the turnovers?
The Texans recorded a minus-13 turnover ratio last season, good for second worst in the league behind the Ravens. Head coach Gary Kubiak will want to run more in order to reduce the 21 interceptions thrown by Schaub and backup QB Sage Rosenfels. But with the 31-year old Green coming off a season in which he played just six games, and Chris Brown as the only reliable backup, the pressure will be on Schaub to better his numbers from last season (9 TD, 9 INT, 2,241 yards in 11 games). Rosenfels proved to be a more than adequate backup in nine appearances (five starts) last season and will push Schaub to perform well in his second Texans training camp.
Key position battle
Ephraim Salaam vs. Duane Brown: Salaam just wasn't getting it done in the most important position on the Texans' offensive line. Enter Brown, the Texans first overall pick (26th overall) and the seventh tackle taken in the first round. The Texans are hoping he proves to be as fast of a learner at the pro level as he was at Virginia Tech, where he played both tackle positions after he was converted from tight end. The Texans worked Brown in with the first team in minicamp and are hoping he will provide some solid competition for Salaam once camp starts.
RB Steve Slaton: Slaton's critics will argue that he's a one dimensional player, not capable of running effectively between the tackles. The good news for the Texans is, given the unknowns at running back, Slaton could provide some critical third downs reps.
Player on the spot
DT Amobi Okoye: The second-year defensive tackle was just 19 years old when the Texans chose him at 10th overall in last year's draft, making him the youngest player drafted in the NFL since 1967. Okoye, now 21, is receiving a lot of praise from Kubiak following the Texans' minicamp in June. "In this camp, I think he's the most improved player," Kubiak said. "He was a pretty darn good player to begin with, but what started taking place here over the last three weeks, you saw a guy go from still having some of his rookie habits, but those went away in one week and I haven't noticed them in the last two." Okoye registered 32 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 14 starts last season. The Texans are hoping to see the same kind of development from Okoye in his second training camp that they got from Williams.
RB Chris Taylor: The Texans have a crowded backfield that includes Green, Brown, Slaton and Darius Walker, but owners should remember the name Chris Taylor. The coaching staff loves his upside, and Taylor has some legitimate value as a deep fantasy sleeper.