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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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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