TEAM BUILDING

Texans wrap up NFL draft with focus on special teams, depth

Brian Gaine focused on special teams and depth in the 2018 draft. Houstontexans.com

Saturday was it for the 2018 NFL Draft and Texans GM Brian Gaine continued down the path he started in the third round Friday night. He continued to select players of value that will be important to the 2018 roster.

One thing of note: in all the conversations I have heard in the media, conversations I have had with friends and co-workers, and internal thoughts regarding the roster; I don’t think I’ve ever thought about getting players to fit the dual role of depth at their position and special teams impact. From the look of this draft it’s a good thing the GM did.

Not only did he draft players who fit a need at their position, but he brought in valuable bodies to run the gauntlet on special teams. If you really think about it, the third round and beyond should be guys who can contribute immediately in that regard. If the Texans can solidify that aspect, the talent they have on the rest of the roster should improve along with their win/loss record.

They started strong in the fourth round by selecting wide receiver Keke Coutee out of Texas Tech at pick 103. Then they had to sit back and watch through the fifth round, but with the third pick in the sixth round (177) they chose Duke Ejiofor, the defensive end out of Wake Forest. Not to rest on their laurels they went out and took another tight end at pick 211, Jordan Thomas out of Mississippi State. They came right back three picks later (214) with linebacker Peter Kalambayi from Stanford. With their final pick of the draft they chose defensive back Jermaine Kelly from San Jose State.

Five picks, five potential contributors on day three of the draft. Special teams have long been a knock on the Texans overall team play. On more than one occasion field position felt like a vital part of the Texans’ losses. Getting athletic players who can contribute right away on special teams will be a huge upgrade in 2018.

On the down side, the Texans have taken on a lot of project players with respect to their position. Martinas Rankin, taken in the third round, is a project at offensive tackle and might not be ready for that role in his rookie year. Their third round tight end Jordan Akins has a lot of potential as a receiving tight end but his deficiencies at the line of scrimmage will need to be addressed right away. And Jordan Thomas in the sixth round? This guy will need a lot of work to eventually be a contributor at tight end.

Houston took a lot of athletic talent in this draft that fit a lot of needs. They lost 12 games last year because when their starters went down they didn’t have a well-rounded roster to support the replacements. This draft seems to be a direct attack on that issue.

It will be about three years before we know how to grade this class of incoming players but without a first or second round pick; I think the Texans did the best they could. I look forward to seeing these players compete in training camp for roster spots. Despite their position; special teams may be their immediate calling.

All in all, this looks like a solid draft for the Texans. They didn’t make any trades and picked the best value for the team at the position they were at. As a fan you can’t ask for much more. The depth at need positions will be better when training camp arrives and as a whole; special teams should improve.

For information on the first three picks, please check here.

 

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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