NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - INSIDE SLANT
Quarterbacks T.J. Yates or Case Keenum may soon be searching for a new NFL team.
The Houston Texans will likely enter training camp with only three quarterbacks, coach Bill O'Brien said Monday at NRG Stadium. If the Texans trim their roster from four to three quarterbacks, either Yates or Keenum is expected to be the odd man out.
"Any time you have four ... I don't think it's easy to divide the reps," said O'Brien, following the seventh day of OTAs. "I think you can really get three guys reps in practice, which is basically what we've been doing. I know that's probably not the easiest thing for those guys. But three out of four have been getting reps."
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, 31, is the Texans' expected Week 1 starter. He signed a two-year, $7.25 million deal this offseason, with $4 million guaranteed.
Rookie Tom Savage was a fourth-round pick and is being groomed by quarterbacks coach George Godsey and O'Brien to eventually take over the position.
The Texans, who are installing a complex new offense under O'Brien, haven't released an official depth chart. But based off last season and Fitzpatrick's experience, the current rotation is believed to be Fitzpatrick, Keenum, Yates and Savage. It could take the final three days of OTAs and a mandatory three-day camp next week for O'Brien to make a decision about which quarterback will be cut.
"We haven't really talked about the roster yet, as it relates to training camp," O'Brien said. "But everything we do will be in the best interest of the team."
The Texans carried only three quarterbacks in 2013. Matt Schaub was the starter, while Yates initially beat out Keenum for the backup position.
Yates briefly took over for Schaub last season but attempted only 22 passes and threw two interceptions with no touchdowns.
Keenum was the full-time midseason replacement for Schaub and went 0-8 as a starter and was clearly declining as the Texans' NFL-worst 2-14 season unfolded. The undrafted rookie (2012) and University of Houston star showed early promise, though, completing 54.2 percent of his overall passes for nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
"These quarterbacks, I have to ... everybody and the fans, especially: These guys have been working extremely hard," O'Brien said. "They've all had really good moments. They're very competitive. They've been in this building seven days a week, studying on their own, studying with myself, studying with George Godsey, mostly. ... It's a very competitive situation."
While the Texans decide which quarterbacks to keep, rookie Jadeveon Clowney is on schedule with his position change to linebacker.
O'Brien said Clowney has been putting in extra work at his new position, while tutoring under first-year linebackers coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
"He's really worked hard," O'Brien said. "That position has worked extremely hard, just like all the positions. He's a guy that's come in here and really put in extra time so far and he needs to keep doing it."
Clowney has devoted extra time in the training room to improve his flexibility, while doing more than what's officially required on the practice field.
"I think we're on the right track (with Clowney) and I think the whole linebacker position is on the right track," O'Brien said.
The Texans are teaching Clowney linebacker on a step-by-step basis, first familiarizing him with strong-side responsibilities.
"That's what Romeo always does and I like that," O'Brien said. "There is a foundation there. Then you move from there to the next package, which was nickel and then the next package, which was dime."
As with all defenders, the Texans are preaching versatility for Clowney. Defensive end, three-technique and even nose tackle are on the agenda.
"Sometimes he moves around. ... You do it by package so he can in his own mind, along with all the players that do those things, they can segment in their mind and understand the importance of each package," O'Brien said.
Clowney signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $22.2 million contract last week. He plans to buy his mother a house, but has otherwise been focused on learning a new playbook and adapting to a new team.
"I've been looking forward to it for my whole life," Clowney said. "Now I get paid (for) something I love to do: play football."
NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Texans' quarterback competition remains wide open through two weeks of OTAs. But coach Bill O'Brien said Thursday all four quarterbacks are on track with the team's installation schedule.
"The quarterbacks have worked very hard," O'Brien said at NRG Stadium. "All of them have put a lot of time into studying and knowing what their assignments are. Each guy has gone in there and had some good moments and, you know, each guy has had some moments that weren't so good. It looks to me like that position is being coached very well and it's progressing right along like we expect it to."
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Texans' expected Week 1 starter. O'Brien said the nine-year veteran is a strong fit for the team and the push to limit his turnovers and maximize his talent in the Texans' new system has already begun. But since four quarterbacks (Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, rookie Tom Savage and Fitzpatrick) are learning the offense at the same time, no one is a step ahead when it comes to processing the playbook.
"They're all progressing at basically the same rate, as far as their knowledge of the system," O'Brien said.
The Texans are revealing little about their new offensive and defensive systems. But O'Brien acknowledged the team is shifting around its cornerbacks in an attempt to find the best players for each position.
"With Johnathan (Joseph) out for the spring, we've moved Kareem (Jackson) into the slot," O'Brien said. "We've brought (A.J.) Bouye in. We've brought Elbert Mack in. We've brought Josh Victorian in. All of those guys have done a really good job."
As for the Texans' biggest defensive star, J.J. Watt's nose has almost healed and his 20-20-20 talk has been publicly silenced.
Watt is back to his old self in 2014, while buying into O'Brien's team-first focus as much as anyone in blue, red and white.
Wednesday, Watt's nose showed clear improvement. But it still isn't in perfect shape, which the fourth-year defender has come to accept.
"It's fixed itself for the most part," Watt said. "I'm not any model by any means. And I have a new-style helmet now, so it should not open again. I wore it for the last couple games of the regular season and the Pro Bowl. It didn't open up then, and I'm really hoping it stays closed."
Before the Texans' NFL-worst 2-14 season began in 2013, the pumped-up Watt proudly touted his desire for 20-20-20 (sacks, pass deflections, tackles for loss). But with O'Brien intentionally limiting the Texans' individualism, Watt has spent the initial part of offseason training sounding more like a rookie trying to make the team than a two-time All Pro. Quotes about being a good teammate, practicing hard and learning the system have dominated Watt's interviews. He barely budged Wednesday, again declining to go into detail about the Texans' revamped 3-4 defense and how he'll fit into defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's plans.
"Any time there's new staff, there's always change," Watt said. "But I can't tell you how much change there's going to be."
As for 20-20-20, Watt acknowledged all NFL players have personal goals. But after struggling to accept and adjust to losing last season, Watt is spending 2014 placing the spotlight on 53 players instead of one.
"One of the biggest things (the 2013 season) did is last year is last year," Watt said. "I've had a really good time with this new staff, with the team. ... I'm really enjoying myself this year."
Watt is also catching up on lost time.
The native of small-town Pewaukee, Wis., had to fight to become a standout at the University of Wisconsin, then had to adjust to a sudden rise as one of the NFL's biggest defensive stars.
As a result, Watt has led a somewhat secluded life in recent years, saying last season he didn't have time for a girlfriend while acknowledging it had become hard for him to go out without being hounded by fans.
"A lot of guys that know me well know that I haven't seen many movies," Watt said.
Which partly explains why it took him 25 years to finally see "Rocky." After watching parts I-III, Watt is hooked on Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire and one of the biggest sports film series of all time.
"A kid working his way to the top, and then he has to handle everything that comes with being on top. It's definitely interesting to look at from my perspective," Watt said.
NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Texans' picks:
Round 1/1 -- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, 6-5, 266, South Carolina
--Texans resisted opportunities to trade down and selected the highest-rated prospect in the draft. Has tremendous pass-rush skills, but must play hard on every down. Will play outside linebacker on weak side in base 3-4 scheme and drop down to right end in passing situations.
Round 2/33 -- Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, 6-4, 307, UCLA
--Completed a two-year mission and should start at left guard immediately. Says he tries to emulate Logan Mankins, the Patriots' Pro Bowl guard. He has the kind of nasty streak coaches love. Also played tackle but will focus on inside with Texans.
Round 3/65 -- C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, 6-6, 265, Iowa
--Perhaps the best blocking tight end in the draft. He fits because Bill O'Brien wants to use formations with multiple tight ends. He wanted a physical blocker to play with Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin, both of whom are better receivers than blockers.
Round 3/83 -- Louis Nix III, NT, 6-2, 330, Notre Dame
--General manager Rick Smith gave fourth- and fifth-round picks to Philadelphia to move back into the third round to get Nix, who should fill a big hole in the middle of the defensive line. Nix has to keep his weight under control if he wants to be more than a run-down player.
Round 4/135 -- Tom Savage, QB, 6-4, 235, Pittsburgh
--The well-traveled Savage was outstanding as a true freshman at Rutgers and exceptional as a senior at Pitt. Went 1,024 days without playing because he missed three seasons while transferring. Good size, big arm, solid mechanics. Will be coached hard and won't be rushed into lineup.
Round 6/177 -- Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, 6-3, 310, Alabama
--A one-year starter who's coming off shoulder surgery. Started 11 games as a junior and entered the draft. Should help as a two-gap end that can read and react. They need him to compete for starting job or at least provide enough quality depth to become part of the rotation.
Round 6/181 -- Alfred Blue, RB, 6-2, 223, Louisiana State
--Started 13 games in college. Suffered major knee injury that ended junior year and started two games as a senior. Tall back who makes an inviting target. To make the team as the third back, he'll have to play special teams.
Round 6/211 -- Jay Prosch, FB, 6-1, 256, Auburn
--A large, hard-nosed fullback who specializes in blocking. The Texans won't use many formations with a fullback, but when they do, he's got to be a powerful lead blocker. To make the team, he's got to stand out on special teams.
Round 7/216 -- Andre Hal, CB, 5-11, 188, Vanderbilt
--Defense is looking for depth a corner. He's a high-character guy who was a team leader in college. Plays hard all the time. Improved ball skills. Lacks speed to turn and run with receivers. Might be better in zone.
Round 7/256 -- Lonnie Ballentine, S, 6-3, 215, Memphis
--Mr. Irrelevant will have to make the team as a special teams player. The defense already has depth at safety. He's got good size and excellent 4.4 speed, but he's limited in coverage and doesn't play the run very well. Has natural talent but has to learn to become a player who can cover.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--OT Ryan Harris (not tendered as UFA).
--FB Greg Jones (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Deji Karim (not tendered as UFA).
--LG Wade Smith (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Jadeveon Clowney (1/1); 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (3/65): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT Louis Nix III (3/83): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Tom Savage (4/135): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Jeoffrey Pagan (6/177): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Alfred Blue (6/181): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--FB Jay Prosch (6/211): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Andre Hal (7/216): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Lonnie Ballentine (7/256): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Garrett Graham: UFA; $11.25M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--CB Elbert Mack: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Ricky Sapp: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--RB Andre Brown: UFA Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Chris Clemons: UFA Dolphins; $2.7M/2 yrs, $450,000 SB.
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: FA Titans; $7.5M/2 yrs, $4M guaranteed.
--LB Paul Hazel (waivers Browns).
--S Kendrick Lewis: UFA Chiefs; $795,000/1 yr, $100,000 guaranteed.
--NT Ricardo Mathews: UFA Colts; terms unknown.
--DT Jerrell Powe: Not tendered as ERFA by Chiefs; terms unknown.
--WR Mike Thomas: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--OLB Bryan Braman: Not tendered as RFA/Eagles; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Owen Daniels (released).
--LB Evan Frierson (released).
--T Andrew Gardner: UFA Eagles; terms unknown.
--WR Lestar Jean: Not tendered as RFA/Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Danieal Manning (released).
--ILB Joe Mays: UFA Chiefs; $6M/2 yrs.
--CB Brice McCain (released)
--DE Terrell McClain: Not tendered as RFA/Cowboys; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Earl Mitchell: UFA Dolphins; $16M/4 yrs, $9M guaranteed.
--QB Matt Schaub (traded Raiders).
--ILB Darryl Sharpton: UFA Redskins; terms unknown.
--DE Antonio Smith: UFA Raiders; $9M/2 yrs.
--RB Ben Tate: UFA Browns; $4.7M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB/$2.5M guaranteed ($1.5M total potential per-game RB).