UNDERRATED OPTIONS

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

DeAndre Hopkins
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
DeAndre Hopkins

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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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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