UNDERRATED OPTIONS

Replacing DeAndre Hopkins' production could come down to this for Texans

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's no secret that all eyes will be on the Texans offense when they open the season up in Kansas City on a Thursday night in less than three weeks. The controversial decision to trade All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona has been a talking point all offseason and rightfully so.

Without Hopkins as the clear cut #1 target on the team, quarterback Deshaun Watson is going to have to throw to a new group of receivers in the offense that include Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Replacing Hopkins' 2019 stat line of over 100 catches, 1,100 yards, and 7 touchdowns will not be easy but what if another unit on offense takes a big step forward to help the other receivers make up for Hopkins' production?

The tight end group for Houston might be the most underrated unit on the team. The team elected to bring back Darren Fells on a two-year contract after the 6-7 270 pound athlete excelled last year in the red zone. Fells' 7 touchdowns matched Hopkins for the team lead.

"Here's a guy that didn't even play college football. He was a basketball player," said Texans Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien. "Really a guy that is just a really mature, good person who cares about winning, who cares about being a good teammate. He really works hard to improve. We do a lot of things with the tight ends and he came into our system last year and he really learns well. He was able to produce. Deshaun (Watson) has a lot of confidence in him in the passing game."

In addition to Fells, the Texans' tight end room also boasts Jordan Atkins. Atkins, entering his 3rd season in the league after being drafted in the 3rd round in 2018, should be able to continue his development and improve on his 36 catches for 418 yards and 2 touchdowns. His coach is expecting a big jump.

"Jordan Akins had a really good day yesterday," said O'Brien. "With Jordan, it's all about consistency and just being consistent. He's a great guy. A really talented guy."

Rounding out the room includes 2018 6th round pick Jordan Thomas and 2019 3rd round pick Kahle Warring. After missing the entire 2019 season with an injury, Warring is essentially going through his rookie season in 2020 according to O'Brien.

"Kahale is a good, young player. He's very talented." O'Brien said. "He's dealt with some injuries early on in his career. He works really hard. He's a good, good kid. I see a good future for him. He's just got to keep working. He's got to keep working and gain experience. He hasn't played a lot of football in his life. He's learning the pro game and he works hard. He's a really good guy to work with."

The Texans offense will be predicated on Deshaun Watson continuing to ascend in his 4th season under center but if the tight end room takes another leap forward that could make all the difference in the win/loss column on gamedays.

"It's a big group that each one of those guys definitely can do a lot of different things," O'Brien said about his tight end room. "They're all very dynamic and can make big plays. They can help this team, help especially this offense, take it to a whole 'nother level."


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Yuli Gurriel had a monster night at the plate Friday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Although they lost the series 2-1, the Astros ended their road trip with a nice win over the Yankees to head home on a positive note. On Friday, they welcomed in the Toronto Blue Jays and former teammate George Springer, currently on the IL, to start a three-game series and long homestand. They had an excellent night at the plate, along with a strong start from Jose Urquidy, cruising past the Blue Jays to take the opener.

Final Score: Astros 10, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 17-15, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (3-2)

Losing Pitcher: Ross Stripling (0-2)

Jays strike first, then Houston responds and never looks back

It first appeared that Urquidy may be in for a long night, giving up two solo home runs early in Friday's game, one to Bo Bichette in the top of the first with one out to put Toronto up 1-0, then another to Danny Jansen in the top of the third. However, Urquidy would lock-in, and his offense would back him up strongly.

Houston ended up sending nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the second, getting two runs on a homer by Carlos Correa, then later loading the bases to set up an RBI walk by Alex Bregman. In the bottom of the fifth, with a one-run lead at 3-2, Yuli Gurriel expanded the lead to three runs on a two-run shot.

Gurriel went on to have a fantastic night, going 4-for-4 at the plate with 4 RBI. His third of those came in the bottom of the seventh, extending the lead again with an RBI single to make it 6-2. Kyle Tucker made it a five-run game that same inning with an RBI double, then more insurance came in the bottom of the eighth. They reached double-digits that inning, with Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Yuli Gurriel, his fourth of the night, all getting an RBI to make it 10-2.

Urquidy finishes seven, then Emanuel finishes it off

Those gave Urquidy plenty of support, though he would bounce back after the two early homers and have a nice night on the mound. He allowed just two other hits, working around both, en route to a seven-inning two-run performance to earn him the win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 84 P.

He likely could have gone longer, but Dusty Baker turned the ball over to Kent Emanuel to wrap things up with the significant lead. He did so, despite allowing a two-run home run to former-Astro Teoscor Hernandez in the top of the ninth to make the score 10-4. The win kept the Astros above .500 and two games back of the A's, who sit atop the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be a 6:10 PM start Saturday night. The pitching matchup will be Steven Matz (4-2, 4.78 ERA) for Toronto and the electric Cristian Javier (3-0, 1.75 ERA) for Houston.

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