Camp Countdown

Texans training camp preview: Running backs

Texans training camp preview: Running backs
The Texans need more from Lamar Miller. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As the Texans gear up for training camp there are still concerns about the group of running backs they have assembled. The group is mostly the same; led by Lamar Miller with back-ups Alfred Blue who was re-signed in the offseason and D’onta Foreman who will probably be on the Physically Unable to Perform List to begin the season. That leaves room for holdovers Tyler Ervin and Troymaine Pope as well as rookies Lavon Coleman or Terry Swanson to step up and earn some snaps. Competition will be fierce and there should be plenty to go around.

As a team the Texans finished the season just inside the top half of the league in rushing yards and just outside the top ten in attempts. But they were firmly near the bottom of the league with only eight rushing touchdowns for the season. An improved interior offensive line and a healthy Deshaun Watson will contribute to an improved running game but it might not be enough to make the run game a scary aspect of the offense.

Lamar Miller will still be the starter but a disappointing 888 yards with a 3.7 yards per carry average demonstrated a real need for improvement. That’s why D’Onta Foreman was a third-round draft choice last year and by Week 11 was ready to break out. His season ended that same week and it was up to Miller and Blue to finish it out.

Speaking of Blue, it was a little bit of a head scratcher when he was re-signed this offseason. In his four seasons he has demonstrated that he can be nothing more than a third or fourth option in the backfield. Maybe it was the injury to Foreman that caused the Texans to sign a familiar face but his one-year contract is cheap to get out of if he doesn’t out-perform those behind him on the depth chart.

Tyler Ervin played in only four games last year, almost exclusively on special teams before a torn patellar tendon ended his season. At the time he was averaging 18.6 yards per kick return and 7.5 yards per punt return. He will have a tough road ahead but he should be ready for the start of camp. If he can show the injury hasn’t slowed him down he might still make the roster as a kick returner, leaving the door open for one of the two rookies to fight for playing time.

Houston brought in undrafted free agents Lavon Coleman and Terry Swanson to round out the group this offseason. These might both be long shot guys when it comes to offensive carries, but special teams can always use players with their size and speed.

Coleman is a big guy with some ability to get outside and enough elusiveness to make a move. He will need to adjust to the size and power of NFL defenses but a good camp could get him in the role that Foreman was meant to play behind Miller.

Swanson is more a match for what Miller brings. He is a speedy guy with great vision who was a priority signing for Houston as soon as the draft ended. He shared his college backfield with last year’s breakout rookie Kareem Hunt and the Texans hope they can get something similar. It’s not out of the question for a good camp to jump him ahead of a player like Alfred Blue or Tyler Ervin.

What we know so far is that there is at least one more year of Lamar Miller leading this group. He is still in position to get a lion’s share of the work because the depth behind him is either unable or unknown. That’s not a good position to be in if you’re the Texans. There are still a few free agents who can help available to sign, the most notable being Adrian Peterson. I’m not sure I can even posture a guess at what they might do. There’s upside with the two rookies and a sense of patience with the recovery of D’Onta Foreman so all they need is to stay near the middle of the league and hope that the improved offensive line and return of Deshaun Watson make up the difference.

 

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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