CAMP COUNTDOWN

Texans training camp preview: Offensive line

Nick Martin, left, a holdover on the offensive line, will try to help lift Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Here we go! The position group everyone wants to talk about. The Texans are only going to go as far as these guys will let them. The running game has to improve. The pass protection has to improve. It’s just the facts. The Texans were the worst offensive line in 2017 and without picks in the first two rounds of the draft they had to make some moves in the offseason.

The new players brought in to help up front are guard Zach Fulton, a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs. Tackle Seantrel Henderson from the Buffalo Bills and guard Senio Kelemete from the New Orleans Saints. These three acquisitions were the first big steps taken to prove that the o-line was going to be better this season.

Kelemete and Fulton started the most games last season but neither were full-time. Seantrel Henderson has been a bit of a disappointment. He battles Crohn’s disease and has been suspended more than once for marijuana use. He was once a highly touted prospect and a top-rated NFL rookie at right tackle for Buffalo. He’s coming to Houston in hopes of reviving his career and boosting a troubled line.

Adding two guards isn’t the sexiest upgrade to the front five, but it may prove to be better than it looks. The Texans have a quarterback who understands how to move in the pocket and avoid pressure. Deshaun Watson can help the pass protection by being himself. But solidifying the interior line along with returning center Nick Martin will give the running backs some extra push they didn’t have last year. Get better yards in the run game, you keep the offense from being one-dimensional.

Big guys get hurt though so there are plenty of backups on the roster fighting for what should be a reserve role. That means that returning guards Greg Mancz, Chad Slade and Kyle Fuller will have to show they belong against newcomers Anthony Coyle and Mason Gentry. This camp is also another chance for David Quessenberry to get his career back on track after recovering from cancer.

On the outside, the Texans have a lot of fresh faces. In addition to Seantrel Henderson, GM Brian Gaine has brought in Roderick Johnson, who was with the Browns organization last year; Jaryd Jones-Smith and third-round pick Martinas Rankin from Mississippi State.

Those four will make a push for playing time against returning tackles Kendall Lamm and Julie’n Davenport. Most analysts are expecting Davenport to start the season at left tackle protecting Watson’s blindside. He was considered a work in progress when he was taken in the 4th round last year and had his feet put to the fire during his rookie season. He is a big guy at 6’7” 320 lbs, but needed work on his technique. Hopefully he’s done that this offseason and is ready to take over the spot that Duane Brown held for so long.

Tackle will be intense during camp because the battle between Henderson and rookie Martinas Rankin at right tackle could go either way. There’s also the possibility that Rankins is the future at left tackle. It might be a pretty open competition with some big ups and downs between now and September. After a forgettable 2017, this group has to look and play a lot better if the Texans want to compete in a tough division.




 

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Walter will host The Night of Champions. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

In 2014, Austin Walter rushed for 2,704 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Crosby High School. Despite falling short of a state title, Walter was named District 19-4A MVP and finished his prep career with a little over 6,000 rushing yards on 613 carries (6,062 yds). Seven years later, Walter will be returning to his high school alma mater to give back to the community that laid the foundation for an NFL career as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's a blessing to be able to come from a small town and be one of the guys who made it out," Walter said. "Not a lot of people made it to the NFL or the NBA from Crosby High School. To be one of the first, it's an amazing feeling. It's a blessing and an honor."

On Thursday, April 15, Walter will host The Night of Champions to benefit the Crosby High School Booster Club from 6-9 p.m. The event will be a weight lifting competition at Crosby High School for student-athletes around the area to showcase their talents and abilities.

In addition to hosting a weight lifting showcase, Walter will also share his life teachings with student-athletes in attendance. Perseverance and not taking no for an answer will be one of the most vital messages the Crosby native will share with aspiring pro-athletes. It's the two virtues Walter has leaned on from little league football to the NFL. And as an undrafted prospect in 2019, it was that same morale that helped him outshine six other running backs during the 49ers rookie training camp that same year.

"Before I started playing football in high school, a lot of people thought I was too small," Walter said. "They thought because we played little league and not in middle school we would not make it in high school. My twin brother [Ashton Walter] and I did not listen to that. We just kept pushing forward."

"When I left Rice, people thought I was going to play in the Canadian league or AFF, and I did not take no for an answer. I believed in myself. And I believed in God. And if I can make it out of a small town like Crosby, anybody can make it...It's the mentality I've had my entire life of not quitting. I feel like that is what got me to the point I am at right now."

Whether their life goal is to play in the NFL or not, Walter's primary objective for The Night of Champions is to be an inspiration and show kids they can find success despite their environment. It is one of the things the former XFL running back (Dallas Renegades) wished he would have seen growing up in Crosby.

After graduating from Crosby High School, Walter went on to have a record-breaking collegiate career at Rice University. He became one of two players in school history to rush for over 1,500 yards (1,744 yds.) and 1,000 kick return yards (1,548 yds.) in four seasons with the Owls. In February, Walter signed a one-year contract extension to re-join the 49ers ahead of the 2021 NFL season.

Click here to learn more about The Night of Champions at Crosby High School or support Walter and the Crosby High School Booster Club.

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