11 Texans questions ahead of training camp

11 Texans questions ahead of training camp
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There's plenty more questions around the Texans but this is about the almost 90 men scheduled to take the field this week with hopes of making that finale 53.

Who benefits from Clowney's absence?

Brennan Scarlett and Whitney Mercilus are the two main benefactors. They will each get opportunities to be Clowney in camp and the team has to prepare as if their franchise tagged defender isn't showing anytime soon.

For Scarlett, he has a chance to continue to elevate his game and become a key piece on this team. He has had a few big plays but adding some more the resume would go a very long way. He's shown a flash of being able to cover from the outside spot and if he can continue that success that is a weapon for the defense.

With Mercilus, he gets to be Whitney Mercilus. I can't explain how or why the Texans used him the way they did last season. It seemed like a waste of what he does best which is rush the passer. Letting Mercilus rush the passer is the best use of him.

What will Will look like?

​Will Fuller should be ready from day one. That is great news considering he had an injury that ended his 2018 campaign. I can make a solid argument he is one of the most important players on this team. He might not be a full participant for the whole camp, but showing signs of the game breaking talent he possess will be a fun watch.

Who is Johnathan Joseph's starting partner at corner?

Yet another season sees Joseph manning one side of the field. Who ends up across from him is your guess as good as mine. Aaron Colvin might be better suited for inside play. Bradley Roby is a big-ticket free agent. Lonnie Johnson Jr. is a player the Texans would love to see end up there. If I had to guess, Roby is the guy but let's see what camp delivers to us.

Tytus time?

Will the first round pick, the much criticsized first round pick, play left tackle? Will he play right tackle? Will he play tackle at all? Those are all sub questions of this big question. Where he lines up now might not be where he lines up week one.

Scharping enough to cut?

This isn't so much about Scharping as much as if the team will have enough faith in the second round pick. If he is serviceable from day one, it could spell doom for some veterans vying for a spot. His potential versatility across the line could mean Matt Kalil, Seantrell Henderson, or Senio Kelemete are on their way out.

Keke are you healthy? 

Training camp was almost wasted for Coutee last year due to injury. It is simple, if he is healthy he's one of the most dangerous players on the offense. If he isn't healthy he leaves one of the biggest holes on the offense. There isn't anyone close to being able to replicate his production.

Four and five who's alive?

The Texans did a poor job with the makeup of their wide receiver room coming out of camp. Coutee's injury put them in a bind but Sammie Coates never made it on the field and Bruce Ellington didn't work as intended. They have a chance to better themselves and I will say, they clearly saw something in Smith as he made the team. Smith looks worlds better than his rookie year. A totally different wideout. If it is as simple as DeAndre Carter here, then so be it. But, if not then Tyron Johnson and Johnnie Dixon could sneak onto the team.

Who will return?

I have no idea who will be the returners for this team. This will be one of the better battles but DeAndre Carter should be the favorite if he gets on the field fast enough. It wouldn't shock me to see a lot of different guys get a turn trying to win this job. Ultimately, if Carter could solidify the spot, it would help the Texans a lot.

I Don't Know is third

I don't believe the team's third running back is on this team right now. If he is, we could see treatment of the running back room a lot like last year where they lean primarily on just the top two backs. Buddy Howell doesn't seem like he is going to ever get a chance to carry the ball so he is barely considered a running back. If I had to pick before any action I would say Josh Ferguson.

Will he be a factor?

Cullen Gillaspia is on this team as a fullback and special teams ace. But will he matter? Will he get the chance to impress with his athleticism on offense? Can he learn the position further after playing it just one season in college? He's a new-age fullback so hopefully the Texans treat him as such.

Who is a long shot to roster spot?

Chris Johnson is a safety from North Alabama. He is 6'3" and ran some fast 40 times in the lead up to the draft. There is room for an athletic special team player who could learn the safety spot over the course of the season. Johnny Dwight played at Alabama. You don't play at Alabama unless there is something there. He didn't play a ton, but Nick Saban let him stick around.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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