Roster Analysis: Houston Texans

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchangeSeptember 6, 2013

Here is an in-depth look at the Houston Texans as they prepare for their season-opener against the San Diego Chargers on Monday, 10:15 p.m. ET.

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matt Schaub. Backups - T.J. Yates, Case Keenum.
This is Schaub's seventh season with the Texans. He's 20-7 as a starter over the last two seasons and coming off a season in which he won a prime-time game on the road for the first time and earned his first playoff victory. He knows the system as well as coach Gary Kubiak. Yates and Keenum were exceptional in preseason. The coaches hope Yates doesn't get on the field unless it's mop-up duty.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Arian Foster, FB Greg Jones. Backups - Ben Tate, Cierre Wood.
Foster hasn't touched the ball since the playoff loss at New England. He missed camp and preseason with calf and back injuries. He's ready for the opener at San Diego and expects to get at least 1,200 yard rushing this year. Injuries hampered Tate last season, but this is the last year of his contract, and he's hoping to cash in. If they stay healthy, Foster and Tate could be the best one-two punch in the league. Jones, a 10-year veteran, left Jacksonville for Houston because he wants to play in a Super Bowl. He's a physical 268-pound bulldozer who'll clear paths. Wood made the team as an undrafted free agent and primarily will contribute on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Owen Daniels. Backups - Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin.
Daniels is coming off his second Pro Bowl season. and is Schaub's second-favorite target behind Andre Johnson. Graham plays a lot in two tight end formations and is good working the seams. Daniels and Graham combined for nine touchdowns last season. Griffin is a talented sixth-round pick who has good size (6-6, 259).
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins. Backups - Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean, DeVier Posey.
Johnson, 32, had 112 catches for 1,598 yards but only four touchdowns last season. Drafting Hopkins in the first round might prevent opponents from focusing so much on JohnsonHopkins is inexperience, but he's a hard worker with terrific ball skills. Martin should play off the bench in the slot. Posey returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon injury.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Derek Newton. Backups - OT Ryan Harris, G/C Ben Jones, LG David Quessenberry, G/C Cody White, OT Andrew Gardner.
A great unit. Brown, Smith and Myers made the Pro Bowl last season. Brown is a premier left tackle who can pass protect and block for the run. Myers improved as a run blocker and pass protector in each of the last three seasons. Smith has to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery that cost him the last part of preseason. Newton and Brooks must make sure the right side of the line is solid. Newton should improve in his second season as a starter. The coaches expect Brooks will solidify right guard. Jones and White can play guard or center. Quessenberry can play guard or tackle. Harris should be the swing tackle over Gardner.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE J.J. Watt, NT Earl Mitchell, DRE Antonio Smith. Backups - DLE Tim Jamison, NT Terrell McClain, DRE Jared Crick.
Watt was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 20.5 sacks and 16 pass deflections. He also had 39 tackles for no gain or loss on running plays. Smith, who's suspended for the San Diego opener, is coming off his best season with seven sacks. Mitchell is a first-time starter with quickness to get up the field and cause trouble. Crick, entering his second season, is expected to start in the one game Smith is suspended. Jamison is coming off surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon/ McClain, who can also played end, was a pleasant surprise during preseason.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB Whitney Mercilus, RILB Joe Mays, LILB Brian Cushing, LOLB Brooks Reed. Backups - ROLB Willie Jefferson, RILB Darryl Sharpton, LILB Tim Dobbins, LOLB Bryan Braman, ROLB Justin Tuggle, ROLB Sam Montgomery.
Getting back a healthy Cushing should help the defense. He's the heart and soul of Wade Phillips' defense. Cushing never comes off the field, is a beast against the run and drops into coverage well. Cushing, Mays, Sharpton and Dobbins ended last season on injured reserve. Mays is a sound run stopper who's limited in coverage. Reed is strong against the run but must improve at getting the quarterback. Mercilus, a first-time starter with six sacks as a rookie, missed preseason with a hamstring injury. Injuries allowed Jefferson and Tuggle, both undrafted free agents, to make the team. Braman is the team's best coverage player.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Kareem Jackson, RCB Johnathan Joseph, SS Danieal Manning, FS Shiloh Keo. Backups - LCB Brice McCain, RCB Brandon Harris, SS Eddie Pleasant, FS Ed Reed, FS D.J. Swearinger.
Jackson improved each season and became a terrific corner last year. Joseph is healthy and should improve on last season when he played hurt but was voted to a second consecutive Pro Bowl. McCain, the slot corner, needs to play like he did in 2011 when he was outstanding. Harris, entering his third season, can play safety in a pinch. Bouye is an undrafted free agent who impressed this summer. Reed has yet to practice after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his hip. Keo started in Reed's place and plays the run well. Manning is a solid veteran and defensive leader who can play both safety positions. Swearinger is a hard hitter who comes off the bench a lot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Randy Bullock, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Weeks, KOR Keshawn Martin, PR Keshawn Martin.
Bullock did an exceptional job in preseason when he connected 7-of-8 field goals and consistently kicked off deep into the end zone or out of the end zone. Lechler is a 14-year veteran who's one of the greatest punters in NFL history. He can affect field position and have an effect on games. Weeks is an outstanding snapper for kicks and punts. Martin did a good job as the primary return man last season after Trindon Holliday was placed on waivers. The kickoff coverage must make significant improvement over last season.