SCOUTING THE COMBINE

Lance Zierlein: Some potential offensive line targets for the Texans

The Texans offensive line has been in shambles, even before they traded Duane Brown. They will be monitoring the combine. Tim Warner/Getty Images

So long, suckers! I’m off to Indianapolis for the 2018 Combine. As many of you already know, by morning I’m a sports talk host on “The Bench” with John Granato from 7 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. each weekday. However, the rest of my day (at least from November through April) is filled with watching college game tape and writing the player profiles for NFL.com. I’m also responsible for the team needs of all 32 teams which certainly helps with my mock drafts.

I can sense that there is no buzz surrounding the 2018 NFL Draft here in Houston, and why would there be any? The Texans are without a second round pick because Rick Smith felt like he had to give it away to trade away the contract of Brock Osweiller (rather than just sucking it up and taking a reasonable cap hit) and the first rounder was spent securing Deshaun Watson which was a plus move by the former GM.

If you are going to be watching the Combine coverage, check it out on NFL.com or the NFL Now mobile app because your boy is going to be part of the broadcast. Even if you are just watching on NFL Network, it’s my job as a local with inside player knowledge to give you a heads-up about offensive linemen who won’t get Deshaun Watson killed and who might be good fits for the Texans based on the draft picks they have. With three picks in the third round, the Texans have some ammo to move up into the second, so I will include a few second round types as well.

Guards / Tackles

Because the tackle position is so coveted (and light in talent this year), players will likely be pushed up the draft board so we’ll include some tackles the Texans may have to trade up for. As for guards, it is easier to find starters in the middle round so I would be less likely to trade up for a guard.

Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State: I’m a little higher on Jones that others, but that’s a relative term. He’s got good arm length and decent quickness and should have enough anchor and athletic ability to become a starter at left tackle. He’s not always pretty, but guys get blocked.

Will Richardson, OT, N.C. State: He’s not the greatest athlete, but he’s good enough to handle right tackle duties. He’s been well-coached and is an adequate run blocker with a strong punch in pass protection. Richardson also has the ability to play guard.

Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU: I will tell you right up front that I thought Noteboom looked more like a later round pick when I studied him on tape, but his solid Senior Bowl practices has made me reassess  who he can be. Noteboom has long arms and good foot quickness and showed better power than I expected. He could be a third round target by the Texans.

Braden Smith, OG, Auburn: This guy is a weight-room monster and proved against Alabama that he has the strength to fight power with power. The downside? He’s a little inconsistent in pass protection and that is one of the big concerns the Texans have had with Xavier Su’a-Filo. Smith is projected to be a mid-round pick.

Austin Corbett, OG, Nevada: I can almost promise you that Bill O’Brien and his staff will like Corbett. He has good size, big hands and has the ability play tackle or center if you need him to in a pinch. Corbett is a good athlete and he’s very smart. I think he’ll be an average run blocker in O’Brien’s scheme, but an above average pass protector.




 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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