Texans season preview: Will offense falter?

Around The NFL's season preview goes to the AFC South.

Change we can believe in

HBO's "Hard Knocks" has done nothing to sway us from the notion that coach Bill O'Brien will eventually make the Texans a perennial playoff contender and a formidable opponent to the Colts in the AFC South. In his first opportunity as a head man in the NFL, O'Brien's poise has shown through despite the one monumental speedbump that all soon-to-be recycled head coaches hit -- uncertainty at the quarterback position.

The choice between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett was not so much a choice as it was an elimination process. O'Brien needed someone who was most capable, and that was his ceiling to choose from. Luckily, he has been blessed with one of the five best defenses in the NFL, and this is without assuming top-level production from former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

Beyond J.J. Watt, the all-universe defensive player, concert security professional, weight room sleeper and cabin purveyor, this team needs to develop its own identity. Watt can disrupt defenses and catch passes, but in order for Houston to truly succeed, it needs to mold itself into O'Brien's complete vision for the franchise.

It will take some time, but it should pay off in the end.

Biggest concern

Arian Foster eventually will be back at running back and might do so sooner than expected despite a rather serious groin injury. Until then, his other-worldly ability to pump out yards and catch passes out of the backfield will not be available to an offense that desperately needs to take the pressure off its quarterback.

As Hoyer showed in Cleveland a year ago, he is entirely capable, but is much better with a bruising running game (who isn't?). The Texans also lost Houston mainstay Andre Johnson this offseason, which won't help. Essentially, we will need to see the best Hoyer has ever been.

Training camp surprise

We forget that Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing has come back from some devastating injuries in the past. There are some athletes who never return from the types of knee-related issues he's had to battle. But as he told the Houston Chronicle this week, Cushing looks -- and feels -- great.

"I'm moving like my old self, I'm feeling like my old self," Cushing said. "I'm not worried about my knee or other injuries or needing any slack or anything really holding me back. It's awesome."

What we'll be saying in February

JJ Watt is incredible ... but now what? The team needs to find an offensive identity and feed DeAndre Hopkins, one of the most underrated receivers in football, before they make the playoffs.

Predicted finish: Second place in AFC South, No. 12 in the AFC, No. 23 overall in Around The NFL's Power Poll.

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