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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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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