FOOTBALL IS COMING

When the NBA and NHL seasons end, the NFL fun begins

Bill O'Brien and the Texans now take center stage. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

We’ve had all of Monday and Tuesday this week to dissect the conclusions to the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals so naturally, it’s time to focus mostly on football with a little bit of mid-season Astros. But really, football. Mini-camp workouts have started so the hype train is loaded up and ready to barrel on down the tracks.

If you’re paying attention you’ve already started to see heavy speculation about players returning from injury. You’ve seen rosters being loaded and unloaded with veteran and undrafted players. You’re starting to feel that twinge of excitement because you know that your busy summer will pass quickly and training camp is on the horizon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s start with what’s currently happening: mandatory three-day mini-camp. Day one was yesterday and Cody Stoots provided SportsMap with his 11 Observations to whet your appetite.

It’s good to see the Texans taking the field and Deshaun Watson appears ready to play, but throwing the ball in an unpadded practice is just a small step in the process. This week is just another step in his continued rehab from his knee injury. I like reading that his receiving options seem to have improved as well. Now I want to see how the defense looks, but I’m glad to see Houston has the best offense in the NFL.

But let’s not forget that it’s a team effort and everything happening right now is learning how to play together while the coaches evaluate their performance. There will still be a lot of shuffling at the bottom of the roster and the Texans should be active this time of year. It could be one of those cast offs that really helps them late in the season.

But for now, let’s look at these last two days as our chance to see the team in action and begin formulating our wildest predictions.

I’ll go ahead and kick things off:

  1. Deshaun Watson is ahead of schedule and won’t miss a beat to start the season.

  2. The addition of receiving options Keke Coutee, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas will be the difference in multiple wins this season.

  3. The defense has a good enough rotation to keep the star players healthy and capable of a top-five finish.

  4. The schedule and the competition will work in their favor on the way to 10 or more wins and a home playoff game.

Time for you to come up with your own or talk trash about mine. There’s plenty of time. Training camp doesn’t start until the end of July and the dates have yet to be released. So, for now, we can only argue and laugh as we speculate on what will happen in the fall.

 

J.J. Watt is headed for illustrious but strange company

Maximize opportunity before Watt gets wasted

Houstontexans.com

Thursday the reality of what J.J. Watt is facing really hit me. The Houston Chronicle reported Watt had a minor offseason knee surgery. The last three years prove he's far from immortal, though the once incredible career is back on track. For how long, no one knows. Then I finally realized it.

J.J. Watt is on pace to be the greatest defensive player to never play for a conference championship or a Super Bowl.

I started digging into the lists of the all-time great defenders and the best pass rushers in the game's history. Most of the players who would easily be considered a great on defense have at the very least won a Lombardi. If they haven't won the big trophy they've either played or been one game away.

Two names stick out on the all-time greats list. Deacon Jones played three postseason games all in the divisional round. Dick Butkus never played in the postseason. You have to go to 24th all-time in sacks, Pat Swilling with 107.5, to find a sack leader who hasn't at least played in a conference championship or better.

It's a line on almost every great's resume and Watt's missing it.

Watt's only 30 sacks away from the top 20 in career sacks. His three defensive player of the year awards in four years cemented an era of dominance rarely matched in NFL history. He will put on the gold jacket one day. It would be bittersweet to find himself among those greats having never played in a game with that level of importance.

Unless he plays in one.

Brian Gaine and Bill O'Brien can't mess this up or they will be accessories to a sports crime: cementing Watt's place as the all-time great without a huge game to his name. The Texans enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. They have to find a way to protect Deshaun Watson as he's the key to making sure Watt's schedule pushes beyond 16 games each year. It's no easy task, but go do it. Make the defense's job just a little easier with some powerful offense.

Give Watt and company just a second more too with better secondary play. Help him out with a better pass rush next to him and not just opposite him. There's so many things the Texans have to get right with their massive cap space and three picks in the top two rounds.

It won't all be Gaine and O'Brien's fault if they don't do it, however they have a chance, with Watson and the rest of this team, to make sure a truly significant game appears on the schedule for Watt. Just one conference championship appearance, then, who knows. Maybe the big one and the Lombardi trophy.

Now here's a thought that will shake all Texans fans.

If the Texans don't nail it this offseason and show the next few seasons they're not legit threats, maybe Watt fills the hole in his distinguished career elsewhere. Reggie White left in his 30's. DeMarcus Ware found glory with the Broncos after a long Cowboys career. It isn't unheard of to see one franchise's legend don another team's colors.

I'm not sure what would hurt Texans fans more. Knowing Watt never played in the biggest games with the Texans or seeing him get to one of those games with another team. It's the hope neither of those things happen. There are almost never happy endings in football, but Watt's story deserves one or more of those chapters.

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