The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Jeffri Chadiha visits the Houston Texans.
Where is NFL Media?
The Texans are holding camp at their facility in Houston. They train in the sweltering heat on practice fields located just across the street from NRG Stadium. Select sessions are open to the public.
1) Don't be surprised if the battle between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer goes down to the wire. Both quarterbacks are splitting reps in practice, and head coach Bill O'Brien wants to make sure they face similar situations -- whether against nickel packages, blitzes or base defenses -- in preseason games. Since O'Brien worked with both players when he was an assistant in New England, there isn't a definitive edge in familiarity here. But Hoyer could be the favorite, simply because he has more experience (17 career starts to Mallett's two) and a higher salary (his two-year deal is worth $10.5 million, while Mallett's two-year pact is valued at $7 million). For what it's worth, Hoyer also started the preseason opener against San Francisco. (Though O'Brien has indicated that Mallett will startthis weekend's game against Denver.)
2) The Texans are hoping second-year pro Alfred Blue can be an effective Plan B at running back, as injured star Arian Foster could miss the first half of the season after undergoing groin surgery. They also aren't asking Blue to be the only backfield option for a team that wants to pound the football. Chris Polk, Jonathan Grimes and rookie Kenny Hilliard are all vying to be part of the rotation. Even with Blue's experience -- he ran for 528 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last season and gained 59 yards on just nine carries in Saturday's preseason win over San Francisco -- the Texans coaches prefer a committee approach until Foster returns. "We don't feel good about losing Arian," O'Brien said. "He's a 1,300-yard rusher and a 60-catch receiver. You don't replace that with one guy."
Vince Wilfork, NT: The 33-year-old nose tackle seems like a strong fit in Houston after spending the previous 11 seasons in New England. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel coached Wilfork with the Patriots, while O'Brien is a former New England assistant and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel is a former Pats teammate. Wilfork also gives the Texans more toughness inside, as well as a willing mentor for young interior linemen like second-year nose tackle Louis Nix III. "He's a great guy, but he's obviously fantastic at what he does," reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt said of Wilfork. "He knows his position well. He does it well. He's had a lot of experience and success in this league, so it's good for the young nose guards to follow his lead."
Kevin Johnson, CB: The Texans' first-round pick already looks like a cornerback who could improve a ball-hawking defense this fall. The former Wake Forest standout brings an aggressive style to the position and has the requisite toughness and quickness to battle receivers all game long. He'll start off as the team's nickelback, with veterans Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson working on the outside.
"Vrabel might be the smartest coach I ever had. He just ... he talks so fast. He is so smart [that] he gets us lost sometimes in meetings. We'll be like, 'What? Slow down, coach. You know you can't talk so fast.' "
-- Jadeveon Clowney, on the intelligence of linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. (For an in-depth look at Clowney's recovery and current status, click here.)
» After a decade of relying on the skills of star wide receiver Andre Johnson, the Texans are trying to see how their receivers perform now that the seven-time Pro Bowler has moved on to the Indianapolis Colts. DeAndre Hopkins is going to be the top target, but free-agent addition Cecil Shorts could emerge as the next best option.
» The Texans' defense was good in 2014 -- ranking seventh in the league in points allowed -- but could be scarier if everyone is healthy and playing at a high level. That unit will have seven first-round picks starting in the season opener if Clowney is fully recovered from microfracture knee surgery.