NFL camp preview: Texans must heal to challenge in 2013

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans report to training camp Thursday, they will look like one of the best teams in the NFL, which they are. But the concerns will begin when the team has its first full-squad practice Friday.
Key phrase there is full squad.
"If you look at our roster, it looks good, but the bottom line is the guys weren't out there, so that's concerning for us as a team and me as a coach," head coach Gary Kubiak said during offseason workouts, addressing an issue that remains as training camp opens.
Of necessity, Kubiak has several key players he will bring along slowly -- inside linebacker Brian Cushing (knee), free safety Ed Reed (hip), right tackle Derek Newton (patellar tendon), cornerback Brice McCain (foot), defensive end Tim Jamison (Achilles tendon) and receiver DeVier Posey.
All but Reed and Posey should be ready for the start of the regular season. Posey could start the season on physically unable to perform. Reed is the wild card because nobody knows when he'll be ready after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight tear in the labrum in his hip.
Cushing and Newton might be 100 percent now or soon, but they won't be rushed back. With players coming off major surgery, Kubiak likes to be conservative when bringing them back. McCain and Jamison won't be rushed back, either, because both will be vital in the regular season.
Right tackle remains a complicated issue on offense because of injuries. Newton, the returning starter, should be 100 percent when camp begins. He spent the offseason recovering from surgery to repair a patellar tendon.
Rookie Brennan Williams, a third-round pick, had a knee scoped after suffering an injury on the second day of rookie minicamp. Veteran Ryan Harris, who's supposed to be the swing tackle, is the current starter. David Quessenberry, a rookie sixth-round pick, split time with Harris during the offseason program.
"I love the way Newton has worked," said Kubiak. "I think he made a lot of progress as a player last year. He played hurt at the end of the year, which was tough on him and us as a team.
"We drafted a young man (Williams) with a lot of ability. I like what Harris has done. He's had a good offseason. I like what I see in Quessenberry. It's all in place, but somebody has to step up and do it when we get back to work."
The biggest concern is Reed, who'll turn 35 in October. He didn't undergo surgery until the end of April. He hasn't missed a game since the sixth week of the 2010 season. He was signed to give them a big-play producer on the back end and to provide leadership on and off the field. When he'll be ready and how much he'll contribute remain to be seen.
With Cushing rehabbing from knee surgery, young inside linebacker prospects got a lot of reps at his position. With Connor Barwin leaving in free agency, the Texans have young guys competing for his position on the roster.
"We're very talented and very young," Kubiak said about the linebackers.
Bryan Braman, a third-year outside linebacker who excels on special teams, worked in the offseason as a starter on the outside. He played Brooks Reed's position. Reed worked inside because they needed another warm body.
Reed will return to his outside spot in camp and start opposite Whitney Mercilus, last year's first-round pick who recorded six sacks as a rookie, tying Reed's team record.
Young outside linebackers getting a lot of reps in the offseason were Trevardo Williams (fourth round), Sam Montgomery (third) and Willie Jefferson, an undrafted rookie free agent. Williams is ahead of Montgomery and Jefferson.
"You're looking at some talented players, but they've never stepped on an NFL field," Kubiak said. "It better happen fast for them."
Meanwhile, young safeties like Shiloh Keo and D.J. Swearinger, the second-round pick, will get a lot of time on the field in practice and preseason games.
One position where there is no concern is defensive left end, which is manned by J.J. Watt, who led the league with 20.5 sacks but was far more than a pass rusher. He was named NFL Defensive Player of The Year after being involved in plays all over the field against the run and the pass. He may be moved around on defense to offset offensive designs that try to account for him.
Quarterback Matt Schaub may have been unfairly blamed for the collapse over the last four games and the decisive playoff loss at New England. But it was a collective effort. The defense was especially bad in two games against the Patriots, although a lot of defenses say that after facing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Last season, Schaub was coming off major surgery on his foot, but he started 18 games, including two in the playoffs. He had a normal offseason, and his teammates say he worked harder than ever on improving his game to try to make sure he's consistent over the entire season.

-- Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.

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