ROOKIE REPORT

Expectations for each player in the Texans 2020 draft class with the season approaching

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Texans

The first time Bill O'Brien and John Reid crossed paths took place in 2013. The then-head coach of Penn State, O'Brien recruited the junior high schooler to become a member of the Nittany Lions when it was time to begin his collegiate career. Two years later — while draped in blue and white — Reid suited up for Penn State in his first college football game against the Temple Owls. The Nittany Lions fell 27-10 to the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.

In addition to the loss, Reid's debut looked considerably different from what he envisioned two years earlier. Instead of receiving play calls from the person responsible for his recruitment, Reid played under head coach James Franklin. O'Brien was in the middle of his second tenure as head coach of the Houston Texans during Reid's freshman season in 2015.

Seven years after their first encounter, O'Brien will finally have the opportunity to relish at the talents of Reid. The Texans drafted the 5-foot-8 defensive back in the fourth round (141st) of the 2020 NFL Draft, and Reid has been far from a disappointment.

The 24-year-old cornerback has been one of a few rookie standouts from the Texans training camp — receiving praise from his coaches and teammates. Veteran safety Michael Thomas described Reid to be a "young DB coming in and trying to learn NFL football." New Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver says Reid has put the work in every day with the mindset of earning a spot on Houston's 53-man roster.

With the start of the 2020 season less than 10-days away, Reid should have his roster spot secured. But playing time will be tough to come by for the New Jersey DB. Barring any severe injuries to Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves, Lonnie Johnson Jr, or Bradley Roby, Reid could be buried at the end of the Texans' depth chart.

There is a chance Reid will become a rotational player on special teams, but 2020 will be a year the former Nittany Lion will learn the NFL from afar.

"He's a smart player...he's got a lot to learn...but relative to the rookie class he's done a good job," O'Brien said. "He's learning. He plays hard. He's competitive. He's a very smart guy. He can do some different things. He can help on special teams. He can potentially help us on defense. I think he's a guy that's mature. He's been through a lot, injury wise. He's had to overcome things when he was at Penn State and so, yeah, I think he's doing a good job."

The potential is there. And perhaps Reid will play an important role for the Texans secondary within the next year or so. The same can be said for Ross Blacklock, but the Houston native is entering his first season with the most responsibility among all rookies.

A prosperous training camp has given both O'Brien and Weaver lofty expectations in their top draft pick. The aspirations in Blacklock's contribution could lead to a situation where the 22-year-old defensive tackle will have his number called quite often — despite not being a starter right out the gates.

Last season, the Texans struggled heavily at stopping the run. They placed in the 24th percentile for allowing the most rushing yards — giving up a total of 1,937 yardages allowed in 2019. The offseason departure of D.J. Reader to Cincinnati could leave Houston's front seven more vulnerable this coming season, but Blacklock could be the solution to help fill in the void.

A versatile and dynamic playmaker. The NFL Draft Network said Blacklock has the upside to become a building block for an NFL defense. And he is in a great situation to succeed. Not only will Blacklock receive valuable time during his rookie season, but he has the opportunity to do so while learning from his football idol, J.J. Watt — Houston's incumbent defensive building block.

"He's [Watt] a workhorse," Blacklock said. "Just being able to play next to him and play with him, it's an honor. I'm trying to learn as much as I can while I'm here and while he's here. One day hopefully I can be in that status, but that's down the road."

Similar to Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard's upside forecasts a bright future in his pro career. But it may take a year or two for the Florida Alumni to start peeking — parallel to Reid.

Prior to a leg injury that has caused him to miss a handful of practices, Greenard's talent as an edge rusher left Weaver stating "the sky is the limit for that kid." However, veteran Whitney Mercilus says the rookie outside linebacker must improve on his fundamentals.

"I think he's great — he's just got to clean up a few things," Mercilus said. "His learning curve is just fine as far as picking up the defense and doing the correct things. Just like all of us, we've got to be able to pick up our stamina just a little bit in practice and all that, just because it's a unique time, and just clean up the fundamental technique things."

Both Isaiah Coutler and Charlie Heck are in the same situation in terms of rookies receiving little to no snaps in 2020. Not because of their talents, but Coutler (WR) and Heck (OT) play two of the Texans' most well-establish positions and have spent the majority of training camp learning from the older veterans. No preseason to showcase their on-field production may result in Coulter and Heck landing on the Texans' practice squad.

With Keke Coutee sidelined with a minor stress fracture in his foot, Coulter could find his way on Houston's 53-man roster making contributions on special teams given his speed. Even then, that might be a long shot after Coulter missed a couple of practices dealing with his own injury.

"The head coach [O'Brien] has said it multiple times, 'this is a tough year for rookies,' and it absolutely is. There's a bunch of cumulative reps that they've missed out on whether it was in the spring or in preseason games, but at some point in the season because of their work ethic, they're all going to contribute and help us here throughout this year." — Weaver.

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The Astros are a force at home. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Fri, Sept. 18 - ARI: Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.15) vs. HOU: Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.77)

Sat, Sept. 19 - ARI: Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70) vs. HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22)

Sun, Sept. 20 - ARI: Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) vs. HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70)

STORYLINES

Staying Hot at Home? The Astros are now 18-7 at home in 2020 after taking two of three from the Texas Rangers. Conversely, the Diamondbacks are 8-19 on the road. It's a perfect blend for the Astros to continue their winning ways at home and position themselves in a more ideal spot for the playoffs.

Staff Settling in: Greinke and Urquidy taking the bump in a three game series brings a sense of normalcy to the Astros rotation. The days of Brandon Bielak and Luis Garcia getting starts are in the past. McCullers looked fantastic in his outing against the Rangers, and Justin Verlander is close to returning. That is a staff capable of winning a World Series.

Sinking Ship: The Astros win over the Rangers Thursday night kept the Mariners three games back of the Astros with just 10 games left to play. The Astros also own the tiebreaker over Seattle, meaning Seattle really needs to make up four games to jump the Astros for a playoff spot. Of course, the Astros' series in Seattle starting Monday will play a big role in that.

PREDICTION

The Diamondbacks are reeling, and the Astros are a force at home. Zac Gallen presents some problems for a slumping offense, but the Astros break out against Weaver and Bumgarner to take two of three.

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