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Minnesota Vikings Offer First Preseason Test for Reloaded Houston Texans

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COMMENTARY | The first preseason game for the Houston Texans has arrived with Friday's trip to face the Minnesota Vikings.

Expectations are higher than ever in 2013 with veteran and Super Bowl champ Ed Reed from the Baltimore Ravens added to an already stout defense.

His leadership, vast experience and fearless approach should boost the Houston secondary.

The return of Brian Cushing should also add another weapon to Wade Phillips' defense that was ranked No. 7 in the league in 2012.

Two rookies have stood out on defense for the Texans so far in camp. Second-round pick D.J. Swearinger from South Carolina is expected to contribute at safety and should add depth behind the talented safety duo of Danieal Manning and Ed Reed, and third-rounder Sam Montgomery from LSU should provide depth at linebacker.

Offensively, rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has impressed with one-handed catches in practice against the top defensive players on the Texans' roster. Hopkins, drafted in the first round from Clemson, could prove to be the second option to compliment veteran Andre Johnson that the team has lacked in the past.

Some could argue that Kevin Walter was a reliable option, but he profiles as more of a slot receiver. The decision to cut Walter likely had to do with salary, but his ability to snag a ball in traffic and take a hit could be missed.

One free-agent signing that likely flew under the radar of most casual fans was punter Shane Lechler from the Oakland Raiders.

Lechler is from East Bernard, not far from Houston, and is considered one of the best in the NFL at his position. Field position can often decide a game, and Lechler has the talent to put the ball wherever the coaching staff would like.

Dallas Cowboys fans sipped a bit too much of the team's Kool-Aid after Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins in the Hall of Fame game.

Expect the Texans to look even better against a middle-of-the-pack Vikings team. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail on the south end of Interstate 45.

After Friday's preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, the Texans will host the Miami Dolphins in their first home game of the preseason Aug. 29.

Neither of the first two games captivates the imagination of the average fan. But, the next two dates should serve as a strong gauge of where the team stands heading into the season when the New Orleans Saints visit Reliant Stadium on Aug. 25.

Then, a dose of the state-rival Dallas Cowboys at Jerry's World, aka Dallas Cowboys Stadium and now known as AT&T Stadium in Arlington, wraps up the preseason on Aug. 29.

The five-day stretch with two games should give Texans coach Gary Kubiak a chance to get one last look at fringe players and make final decisions. Houston fans just hope the tight scheduling doesn't result in a key injury.

Houston may be caught up in excitement about the Rockets signing Dwight Howard to join James Harden in October. But, when the Texans kick off Sept. 9 against San Diego, the spotlight will quickly shift to the talented squad that calls Reliant Stadium home.

Scott Joiner is the sports editor of the Fort Bend Herald in the Greater Houston Area and has covered the Houston Texans for two years and has followed the team since its inception.

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