I know what you’re thinking. “Jermaine, isn’t it a bit early to look at what five Texan players could be key to the team’s success this season?” To you I would reply: It’s NEVER too early to look into ANYTHING regarding football! Football has long been a year round sport. From the time the Super Bowl champ is crowned, most teams it begins as soon as their regular season is over, teams begin strategizing on what they can do to improve their chances at winning the next season.
This offseason saw some changes at the helm of the franchise. Former (?) general manager Rick Smith took an indefinite leave of absence to care for his wife as she battles breast cancer. The team brought in Brian Gaine to run things and gave him a five-year contract. His contract also matches the extension given to head coach Bill O’Brien (O’Brien got a four-year extension since he he had a year left on his original five-year deal). This essentially joined them at the hip.
The duo got to work remaking and remodeling the roster through a myriad of minor moves. They didn’t make a huge splash in free agency, even though they had the cap space, and were prohibited from doing so in the draft thanks to being without a first or second round pick. What they did manage to do was to make wise free agency acquisitions and smart mid to late-round draft picks. It’s not easy working without your top two draft picks, but those moves were made to create the cap space they have, and to draft Deshaun Watson, the team’s first true franchise quarterback.
Sure, it’s easy to name Watson, Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, and Whitney Mercilus or Lamar Miller as the top five Texans as keys to success next season. But that’s not what I’m about. If you know me and have followed my work, I’m not the type to follow the herd. Without further ado, here’s my list (in no particular order):
Kevin Johnson, CB
With Kareem Jackson moving to safety, Johnson will be relied upon just as much, if not more so, than he has before. Sure the team signed Aaron Colvin to provide depth at the position, but Johnson needs to prove he’s worth the first round pick and fifth year option the team picked up.
D’Onta Foreman, RB
Foreman showed some flashes of talent as a rookie. On the very run he tore his Achilles, he flashed his speed and power that made him a third round pick. He was considered the future at running back by many until his injury. If Foreman can come back mid to late season and show any amount of potential, he could help carry the load so Miller won’t be as burdened.
Julie’n Davenport, OT
At 6’7 and 318 pounds, Davenport is a physically imposing guy. However, coming in to play left tackle from Bucknell in his second year, he’s going to be relied upon in a starting role protecting Watson’s blindside. Tough task for a second year guy charged with protecting the franchise QB.
Justin Reid, S
Reid isn’t listed as a starter on the Texans’ depth chart, but he’s as important as anybody to their success. Jackson being moved to safety isn’t a permanent fix. Mathieu may leave after this year for greener pastures. Reid was widely considered a first round talent they got at the top of the third round. That alone places him as a potential building block considering his potential.
Zach Cunningham, LB
I don’t care if Benardrick McKinney got a contract extension this offseason. Cunningham is the future. His sideline-to-sideline speed and coverage ability is what teams are looking for nowadays. McKinney isn’t the cover linebacker Cunningham is. When teams go three and four wide and the Texans play nickel or dime packages, Cunningham should be the linebacker on the field.
It’s way too early to consider this as a definitive list of five surefire guys to be key contributors to Texans’ success this season. But I’d be willing to bet that some of these guys are going to play a major key in the team’s success this season. Give me praise or kill me later, but I’m standing by this way too early look.
It's a new year for the Houston Astros as they return to action for their first game of the spring against the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
Every season we see some adjustments to the roster which means we also see some changes in leadership. As Astros fans, we're all aware of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker's contract situations. Breggy could be gone after the season, and Tucker could follow one year later.
Which means it's pretty clear who the leaders of the team will be for the foreseeable future. Not only are these guys two of the best players on the club, but they're also under contract for several more years. In Altuve's case, through the 2029 season. For Yordan, he won't sniff free agency until 2029.
While these guys aren't your typical vocal leaders, they are both highly respected and lead by example. Leadership is something that's front of mind for Yordan this season, according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome.
On Yordan Alvarez the leader, one of two constants in a clubhouse bracing for change and the responsibility he wants to shoulder as a result - https://t.co/sZGlI5taBQ
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 21, 2024
Another way to be a leader is to do everything you can to be available for your team. Alvarez changed his diet in the offseason hoping it will help him stay healthy this year.
Manager Joe Espada said Alvarez is fully healthy and he plans on playing him earlier than normal this spring.
Currently, Yordan is trending down in games played for three straight seasons. But he's such a great player that he needs fewer games to put up massive numbers.
He finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2022, and he only played in 135 games out of a possible 162.
So with that in mind, how many games does Yordan need to play this year to win an MVP?
Plus, who's going to protect him in the lineup? With new manager Joe Espada in place, it's hard to know what the lineup will look like.
One thing we do know, Espada immediately named Josh Hader his closer when spring training began. He also told the media that he wants Jeremy Pena to know where he's going to hit every day when he comes to the ballpark.
Espada values players knowing their roles, and getting comfortable in their routines. Something very different from last season when manager Dusty Baker moved Pena all over the lineup throughout the season.
So what does all this mean for Yordan?
Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down!
Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.