Houston Texans 2021 Training Camp Preview

Hello, it's been a while - about two months - since my last article. I took some time off to clear my head of the constant negativity surrounding the Texans, work on myself a bit and focus on some career opportunities. NOW IM BACK BABY!

With the 2021 NFL season knocking on the doorstep we've got one big checkpoint to pass, training camp. Our Houston Texans will meet back up and look to implement new schemes, build more chemistry among players+coaches and of course, COMPETE. To keep this intro relatively short and sweet, here's my preview for what to look for and expect out of the next month.

IF you aren't a big fan of reading, I get it! Here's a video version of this article for my fellow Texans fans with poor attention spans like me!

The Elephant in the Room

Let's begin by addressing the MVP caliber QB sized elephant in the room, Deshaun Watson.

I've mostly strayed away from this topic for several reasons; majority of leaked information is skewed by either party to shape their respective narratives, the severity of the subject should be treated delicately and with fair judgement to both sides which is a level of morality that is rarely seen among mass public discourse and I'm honestly not educated enough on all the legal aspects to bring a well-informed deep dive from that perspective.

So, why am I bringing it up now? Well, while it is difficult to navigate the rocky waters of the allegations, it would be disingenuous to ignore it completely, so, here's my best attempt.

I'm not going to share my belief on which side I believe is true, or if there is a clean truth at all, however I will discuss the football ramifications.

These next 72 hours will likely act as a nuclear countdown to many Texans fans, hoping and praying that the shreds of hope of a Deshaun return were not for nothing.

Liked tweets, Instagram stories, leaks from his camp, they don't really matter until Wednesday at 9:00am CT, when the chance to re-establish himself as the starting QB for the Texans arises.


See, I had written more about the hypothetical situation of Deshaun Watson reporting for training camp, but as of Sunday morning, it's being reported that THAT hypothetical is becoming a reality. Deshaun will be at training camp.

Plenty of natural questions came to mind after reading that alarming notification from my phone.

1. Why is he returning now?

2. What's it going to take for him to play for the Texans in 2021?

3. What does this mean for a potential trade?

Let's answer them: firstly, Deshaun reporting for training camp is likely heavily influenced by the fact that he would've been fined $50,000 for each day of camp he missed.

While Deshaun has made good money from his rookie contract, a lot of his sponsorships were cancelled/postponed and he is only on year 1 of his mega-extension. Thus, it's in his best interest to show up for a relatively low maintenance, injury-free (fingers crossed) camp where he can send a message to the rest of the NFL that he's motivated to play, while making some good dough.

As for question two, based on the reporting that Deshaun has not changed his stance on wanting to be traded from the Texans, I don't think him reporting to camp makes it substantially more likely that he'll don the Battle Red in 2021. I do think it is one of the few steps that needed to be taken to help reconcile this broken relationship, though.

Simply getting Deshaun in the building for the next month allows for the opportunity to change his mind. It'll likely take a marriage of factors for this to happen though; believing in the culture change that Nick Caserio and David Culley are so insistent they've brought, believing in a more talented team with better surrounding pieces that could lead to a more competitive season, and even peer pressure (for lack of a better term) from teammates to recommit to the process and avoid the label of being a "quitter" that so many fans have quickly thrown around.

Do I like the odds of Deshaun as a Texan going forward, not particularly. But, I like them a whole lot more today than I did yesterday, and the slightest shred of good news is something I'll happily accept with how this past season+offseason has gone.

Now, question 3; much has been made about the timing and package of an eventual Deshaun trade and I am of the belief that you should not under any circumstance trade an MVP caliber QB who is just 25 years old and getting better every season.

However, these are no normal circumstances and thus we must entertain the hypotheticals. If Deshaun's reporting to training camp is nothing more than trying to earn the money provided on his contract and reparations with the franchise are deemed impossible, trading Deshaun cannot happen until the 2022 NFL Draft order is set.

I don't care which star player is rumored to be unhappy and could be "getable" in a trade, the most important realistic capital the Texans can receive is future draft picks, particularly ones who can help land us the next Deshaun or blue-chip prospect on a rookie deal.

Thus, trading for Miami, Philly, New York or whoever's first round pick(s) before we know where they land would be idiotic.

The volatility and unpredictability of win/loss records year-to-year is wild, take the Texans giving the Dolphins the #3 pick in 2021 as part of the Laremy Tunsil trade for example.

We've waited this long for a conclusion to the standoff, the Texans need to stand their ground too and recoup the maximum capital possible, NEXT offseason.


Position Battles to Watch

Say it with me now, C-O-M-P-E-T-I-T-I-O-N. That's been new Texans GM, Nick Caserio's mantra since he's been hired and based on press conferences, you can tell it's trickled down to the coaching staff and some players.

While I'd argue competition should always be apparent whether you're projected to be #1 or #32 in the power rankings, there will be plenty of exciting competing to be analyzed for the Texans. So, let's take a look at my favorite position battles to watch for this training camp.

This is the section of the article that I really go more in-depth on 2-3 more options per position, within the video version!

Defensive End: Last year, majority of the EDGE position snaps were manned by a combination of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and ugh Brennan Scarlett.

This year provides the potential for a huge overhaul. Shaq Lawson is deserving of the starting spot on the right side of the defense and will provide strong run defense and some intriguing power rushes.

However, the left side is truly open to at least 4 names, in my opinion. The Texans would be stupid to go the veteran route of Mercilus, and I strongly fear he's already penciled in.

We know who he is at this point in his career and his timeline simply doesn't match that of a rebuilding team. The only reason I'll be happy to see him in the game is for him to build on his minuscule trade value.


Instead, the Texans should be giving snaps and opportunities to the younger guns. Jordan Jenkins' 17 sacks over the past 3 seasons on the Jets warrants more exploration (watch me breakdown his film here) and he'd be finally rushing on his natural side - the left instead of the right - plus be fully recovered from a torn labrum that he played through but caused a down 2020 season. He is the best combination of previous production and future potential, entering his prime at 27 years old.

Who should start: Jordan Jenkins

Who will start: Whitney Mercilus :(

Cornerback #2: One position that will be pivotal to figure out is the outside CB opposite Bradley Roby. Desmond King will lock down the slot, but who will take on the WR2s?

Terrance Mitchell was signed from the Browns this offseason and has the best track record of any of his competition.

His 13 PBUs last year would've ranked first on the Texans; however, digging into his film allowed me to reveal a player who has serious flaws. He won't give up too many plays, but when he does, they are usually for big gains. As evidenced by a solid 58% completion percentage allowed, but 825 total yards, with 14.2 yards/completion and 6 TDs allowed.

As I mentioned with my logic behind not starting Mercilus, we know who Mitchell is at this stage of his career and he doesn't fit our timeline. So, let's look elsewhere…


John Reid has become a bit of a forgotten man, but he was a solid pick in the 4th round of the 2020 draft.

Often, a new regime change will cause a lack of care towards a previous regime's draft class but I strongly hope that's not the case here.

Reid possesses the feistiness I love in CBs, he's physical at the catch point and can play a mixture of zone and man coverage which is always valuable.

He was also a sound tackler in college, an attribute that Lovie Smith will demand out of his CBs. Give him a fair shot to show his development and build off his rookie season where he saw limited action.

Who should start: John Reid

Who will start: Terrance Mitchell

Defensive Tackle (1-tech): One last COMPETITION on defense and it's the actual biggest hole on the entire team (minus QB, of course).

The competition at 1-tech DT is dire for numerous reasons, firstly because of a lack of talent added at the position whether it was through trade, free agency or the draft. Secondly, because of the Texans league-worst run defense in 2020. Thirdly, because of the natural importance of the position within Lovie Smith's scheme and desired personnel.

We're severely lacking a 1-tech DT in Lovie's 4-3 defense who can eat up space, take on double teams and play fast at the same time. With all the smaller, quicker, more adept in coverage than run defense LBs we've signed, you need a powerful, run-stuffing DT who can compliment them, keep LBs unblocked and help them survive the physical tribulations of the run game. Let's take a look at the best options we have available.

First up is Brandon Dunn, he started most of the season at NT in Anthony Weaver's 3-4 defense last year. A switch to 1-tech DT in a 4-3 isn't too different, and could actually benefit Dunn.

He lacked the pure size, girth and length required as a true nose, but as a 1-tech, he could fare better. While I'm concerned with how his lack of athleticism will be more magnified in this role, I do believe he's the best we've got.


Getting back to the theme of youth, Ross Blacklock SHOULD be the starter at 1-tech DT, barring variables. However, the unknown is scary, and Blacklock simply didn't get enough of an opportunity last season to become a known commodity. He lacked the pure play strength to hold up at the point of attack last year and the game never seemed to slow down for him.

Until I see how he's added functional strength to his underwhelming frame, it's difficult for me to project him as an effective starter.

I want to be optimistic about our highest overall pick in the past 2 years however, and so if he's become stronger, picked up the new playbook well and can play fast, the #STARTROSS campaign will be out in full force.

Who should start: Ross Blacklock

Who will start: Brandon Dunn

WR2: Moving over to the offensive side of the ball and one battle I'll be watching is the starting WR across from Brandin Cooks.

Presumably, he and Randall Cobb (maybe Anthony Miller? Breakdown coming soon!) should hold down two of the starting positions, but who will join them? The WR depth has been injected with serious quantity, however, the latest addition should reign supreme.

Nico Collins, 3rd round draft pick in 2021, has the long-term ceiling and some immediate traits that make him the best option for this role.

His blend of height, speed and catch radius give whoever's at QB a fun threat to throw up the ball in the intermediate and deep areas of the field.

I think Nico should be given a long leash to work through typical rookie mistakes as in-game reps prove to be uber-valuable for development.

In addition, he's the type of WR who excels when he can build a level of chemistry and trust with his QB, to help forge the connection required for his specialty 50-50 jump balls.

Yanking Nico in and out of the rotation to get a more dependable vet in for meaningless games would be a confidence killer and poor decision.


After Nico, I think the guy who will come closest to forcing the coaches' hands will be Chris Conley. The former Jaguar has shown he can provide big plays throughout his career and is in his prime at 28.

He provides the height (6'3) and speed (4.35) that would compliment Cooks+Cobb nicely. One of the many veterans on a prove it deal, I wouldn't be surprised if he turns heads in preseason.

Who should start: Nico Collins

Who will start: Chris Conley early, Nico after 5ish games

OL Musical Chairs: This section will be a bit different from the others because I think there are numerous starting positions up for grabs and, well you know me, I like to talk, a lot.

First up is Right Tackle and I swear to god if anyone not named Tytus Howard is starting here, I will throw a fit like a child.

Tytus Howard is a better RT than Marcus Cannon, START HIM THERE. Marcus Cannon is better at guard than tackle due to diminishing athletic ability, START HIM AT GUARD.

There is no reason to throw a potential wrench in your most recent first round pick's development for a 33-year-old who only has 2 years left on his contract.

It's really a simple formula to figure out the right side of the line, DON’T OVERTHINK IT.


Left Guard is another position up for battle and this one is simple too, stop messing with Max Scharping's development and give him a consistent shot to earn the starting role.

Don't yank him in and out of the lineup after every mistake, like Mike Devlin did in 2020. He was better than any guard last year, and has a higher ceiling than anyone we've signed this year. Please James Campen, just #DDWDD (Don't Do What Devlin Did).

Lastly, Center has numerous options available since the Texans signed many interior offensive linemen with positional flexibility for guard and center.

However, with how quickly they pounced on signing Justin Britt, they must think highly of him and I expect Britt to hold this down.

Keep an eye out for UDFA Ryan McCollum though, I think out of our massive UDFA class he has the best odds of making the team.

Who should start: Tunsil-Scharping-Britt-Cannon-Howard

Who will start (kill me if true): Tunsil-Howard-Britt-Taylor-Cannon

Sophomore Surge or Slump

Ross Blacklock: Surge

Ross was a good player coming out of college, an inconsistent one, but a good one.

Gaining functional strength and having the game slow down for him are natural progressions that are seen moving from year 1 to year 2.

DT is a position that usually takes a bit longer to see translate to the NFL, however, if given the proper amount of snaps, I think we see far more of the TCU flashes that made him a high 2nd round pick.

Jonathan Greenard: Surge

My projection of Jonathan might be a bit biased because he was my ideal EDGE prospect to target in the 3rd round, and I fancied his game as a Gator quite a bit.

However, pairing his advanced level of skill as a pass rusher with his instincts+physicality as a run defender and the scheme change from 3-4 to 4-3, I really think Greenard can boom.

Simplifying his role by not dropping in coverage anymore (something he was asked to do as an OLB) allows Jonathan to think less when on the field and just play fast, leading to improved results.

Charlie Heck: Slump

I find it incredibly difficult to have an optimistic projection of Charlie, especially this season.

First off, where will the snaps come from barring no injuries? Tunsil and Tytus should man the two tackle spots - if it's not Tytus, Cannon will likely be there - and Roderick Johnson is one of the better swing tackle's in the NFL.

It would take injuries to the 3 tackles ahead of him - in my imaginary depth chart - or some funky offensive formations with extra linemen for Heck to see the field. I guess it shouldn't really be called a slump if he's constantly inactive though, right?

John Reid: Surge… I hope

This prediction is completely predicated on whether or not the Texans will actually prioritize their youth is position battles versus waning veterans.

I'm confident there is a player here in John Reid - we can debate his ultimate ceiling another day - but the Texans might not be the organization to discover that potential if they don't play him.

Funny enough, he was a starter last year in the first game of the season vs the Chiefs, but was seemingly put in the dog house for the rest of the season after a rocky start due to being thrown to the wolves.

If given patience and time to work through his mistakes, I'm confident that Reid's IQ and work ethic will win out.

Isaiah Coulter: Slump

This was the toughest decision of them all, and really had nothing to do with my evaluation of Isaiah as a player, I really like his physical tools and when I interviewed him, was impressed with his self-awareness and desire to improve.

I just think there are too many cooks in the WR kitchen for him to get enough playing time to show off his surge. It would take Cooks getting injured or Nico not translating right away+vets like Conley, Erickson, Moncrief, Moore all having bad years for Coulter to get some time.

Even if the Texans correctly prioritize youth, the WR depth chart would still likely have Coulter as WR4, and is that enough snaps to prove himself?

Especially on a team that is projected to be pretty run heavy and run a lot of 2 WR sets anyways (a la the Ravens and past Pep Hamilton teams)?

I wish Isaiah the best, and hope he can stick with another team that has more opportunities for him.

Concluding Thoughts

My final sentiment might come off as a confusing one - enjoy the pleasures of training camp, but don't build up unattainable expectations.

David Culley will talk about how players have shown up in the best shape of their lives and bought into the team culture. Lovie Smith will preach putting his defense in position to play to their strengths, getting after the QB more often and forcing turnovers. Hype will be heaped upon the QB group to try and disguise the elephant in the room.

Take all of that for what it is - the team filtering information and saying what they want to say, while producing a positive image to liven fan hope after one of the most challenging off-seasons in franchise history.

Every team does it, I'm not trying to bash the Texans for partaking in a common industry practice. I understand it's the right business decision to make. I'm just someone who cares more about the product on the field, than selling tickets.

So enjoy training camp however you want to enjoy it. There's not many football-less Sundays remaining and I'm truly excited to see our guys hit the field. I'm not expecting more than 4 wins but you can bet I'll be rooting for a Texans W every week. It's football time baby, I'm hyped.