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    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      We're thrilled to host a Texans roundtable with three popular Texans bloggers/writers:

      1. Steph Stradley who blogs at the Houston Chronicle http://blog.chron.com/ultim...
      2. Tim McHale who runs www.battleredblog.com
      3. Patrick Starr who runs and owns stateofthetexans.com

      Thrilled to have you all here. The three of you have seen enough training camp and preseason (and with the 53 man roster set) to have an informed discussion about the Texans.

      I'll get it rolling with a question.

      But, before we get into X's and O's, who, at this moment in time, if they walked into a local restaurant would get more of a star-struck reaction from Houstonians than JJ Watt? And, is the insanity around JJ Watt specifically a JJ Watt thing or is this about the Texans finally being good?
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      No one.

      Being at training camp it is all about J.J. Watt. He is on another level, that superstar level. Fans wait for him and you know when he is getting near with the way the crowd calls for him. Watt is a genuine person, and he always says hello to the kids, but more importantly works when he gets on the field.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      J.J. Watt is the perfect combination of maturity, athletic gifts, wanting to develop his athletic gifts, astounding results, and love of the game. He understands his responsibilities to his teammates and the fan base as a group.

      His popularity among Houston fans is beyond rock star stuff.

      He gets moms at camp yelling things like, "Thank you for being a role model to our kids!"

      He poses with babies, and then some dude in the crowd will yell out, "HOLD ME NEXT, J.J.!"

      When dudes are considering getting "Mrs. J.J. Watt" shirts...in Texas...you know he is a special guy.

      The loudest moment I've ever heard in Reliant Stadium was his interception his rookie year against the Bengals for a TD. The concrete under my permanent seats were shaking.

      Houston has loved various talented athletes, but Watt is unique in how much he tries to love Houstonians back. He tries. At everything. Showing how much you care about stuff and trying may not be considered cool, but he's trying to make everything cool.
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      Patrick, stateofthetexans.com is very good when it comes to covering ALL 53 players on the roster, not just the ones who say "namaste."

      So let's start this discussion with you: which lesser known Texan will be the bigger household name with NFL fans by the end of the season? Earl Mitchell, Garret Graham or none of the above?
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      Earl came on strong last season and he was lost in the shuffle with Watt's season. As for Garrett Graham, if you paid attention to the season, the offense was a mess after Graham went down. Those are two that will carry strong seasons from last season into this year.

      As for the new name from the group, I would venture to say Brandon Brooks. Brooks is a large human being, and has all the tools he needs to be a top rated offensive lineman. He will have his growing pains, but his strength is impressive and is athletic for his 335 lbs. frame.

      The crazy thing is to think he was 345+ when he arrived to Houston. Focused and weight under control he could be the next big name that doesn't play the "sexy" position.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Brandon Brooks so looks the part that most people aren't even discussing him as a possible issue as a second year player who hasn't played much. Will be interesting to see how much growing pains there are.
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      Of course he is going to have growing pains, but the right side of the line with Newton showed what they can do when they get a line of scrimmage moved. Those two have made impressive strides in the running game and in the preseason against the Saints is showed.

      I get the reason for concern, but there is concern in plenty of places on this team.
       
    • Tim McHale

       
       
       
      Fair points by both of you. I'll readily admit that I'm buying the hype about B. Brooks, and one of the biggest reasons is that the hole at RT makes the RG play more important than ever.
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      Brooks and Newton have more talent than Brisiel and Winston, just a question if they can put it together fast enough to start the season.
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      Okay, who amongst the three of you can make the case against the Cushing signing (extra points if you can do it without mentioning the words PEDs or ACL)?
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      I like the deal, especially with what Cushing brings to the team. This is about a player who is a difference maker, and rewarding a player that has been loyal to the franchise and vice versa.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      I haven't seen the terms of the deal yet. Typically, for early deals, they try to structure it where it is a win-win. Cushing gets injury security of early deal, Texans get cost certainty maybe not paying the max amount that they'd have to pay when pushed to free agency. With any of deals of this sort, the Texans are betting on the player to do well.

      Theoretically, the deal that Connor Barwin passed on may have been a better deal for him than the Texans. I know the Matt Schaub deal got criticized but I'd rather be paying the money that he got versus the money that Joe Flacco got. Even bad quarterbacks get paid in the NFL because there's not 32 NFL quality QBs.

      I don't even want to contemplate how they will be able to work a deal for J.J. Watt that doesn't cripple the team. And Kareem Jackson's deal will be coming up too with no replacement guy in the wings. I wouldn't want to be the cap guy for a NFL team.

      But back to the original question, it is hard to be too down on the Cushing deal even if you are a curmudgeon or reflexively worried. Brian Cushing allows the defense to do so much more than without him. And he is an eat, drink, sleep football guy, so it isn't like the dollars are going to make him shoot guys because of disputes in nightclubs.
       
    • Tim McHale

       
       
       
      Reports are that the deal is for $55.643 mil, with $21 mil guaranteed.
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      Are the figures relevant here or is this just a case where you either buy Cushing's value or you don't?
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      And one other question -- what do each of you do with the PED story from a few years back. I caught myself reading the comments section on PFT tonight -- which is clearly bad for the soul -- and I found myself getting defensive about the steroids-related comments directed at Cushing, when, in fact, the league did suspend Cushing for PED use.

      I have some of my own theories here about Cush, but I'm much more curious to hear yours. I'm a huge Cushing fan, but why is it okay to keep rooting for a guy who was dinged by the league for steroid use?
       
    • Tim McHale

       
       
       
      The figures are ALWAYS relevant. Ask the Jets and Mark Sanchez.
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      Guaranteed money is all that matters and $21 million over six seasons is easy to be happy with the deal.

      For me it is ok to root for the PED player, especially when TWO of your better core player have been suspended for it. What was it? We don't know and it doesn't matter at this point. He has been clean since he was suspended, or better yet not tested positive.

      He is our guy, a Houston guy from the beginning. So there will be some reason to fight for him and what he has meant to the team. Doesn't matter in the long run.

      Ray Lewis has heard the hate, Von Miller will be labeled too. Mess up once people will forgive, become a habitual issue then people will walk away.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      The Cushing suspension story was completely botched by most everyone at the time. Cushing' agent was AWOL. Cushing's lawyer was overly-lawyerly. The limited press conference made things more confusing. Hello, not hard lawyer-agent peoples to put out clear, non-confusing statements to get out ahead of a story.

      Then Bob Freaking McNair actually went to NYC to show additional evidence to get the suspension overturned. Which, of course, Goodell summarily ignored.

      It isn't surprising that Cushing ditched his agent shortly after this.

      To get a sense of how odd all this was, read this blog post which was my attempt to sort out what was real and not. http://blog.chron.com/texan...

      I've heard most all the rumors and the theories. That for just about every theory, there is a counterargument why it wouldn't make sense. Either pro- or anti-Cushing. None of it I wish to rehash.

      A few things are relevant now from the events then: 1. He is a liar OR has a untreatable medical issue that can cause positive tests OR he inadvertently ingested something that can cause a positive test. None of those options is great. Particularly because 2. If he gets another positive test again for whatever the unknown for sure to us reason, the punishment will be much more severe. The good news is that this hasn't happened again since 2009, so hopefully that is something that won't reoccur.

      What I do know for certain is that it is easy to root for someone who works as hard as Brian Cushing does to be as good as he is at his job.

      I try not to judge too harshly on things I have strong suspicions about but don't know for sure, because I do know that sometimes the mob gets stuff wrong. I know that may seem to be a homer point of view, but I tend to feel that way about a lot of high profile matters of non-Texans things as well.

      Think all Houston fans should feel that way after how some in the media treated J.R. Richard. For folks who don't know his story, wiki him.

      In sum, I'd be a terrible PFT commenter.

       
    • Albert K

      Added by: Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Are there still reasons to doubt Gary Kubiak as a head coach or are we past that at this point? Where, in general, do you guys rate him on an NFL coaches "power ranking"?
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Albert. Of course, every head coach has strengths and weaknesses. When Kubiak came to the Texans, he had a pretty terrible situation. Andre Johnson, a cap mess and no history of winning, not even getting a .500 season. So it is hard to make fair comparisons to coaches who came to better situations.

      In sum, Kubiak is an offensive minded head coach who needed a quality defensive coordinator. There was rightful concerns with his DC choices, but it isn't like there's a ton of good ones--all of the guys he could have chosen from were all fired. In a pass-oriented league, it is tough to be a DC these days.

      As for "power rankings," I eye roll and make fart noises whenever I see that phrase. Readers like those sorts of debates and editors ask writers to write for that but I find all of that a tiresome exercise. Because who cares what anyone thinks on such things? I don't. They play the games and history decides.

      Any sort of power rankings are sort of irrelevant. You either win the whole deal or you don't. FWIW, he has three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach, and has been to the big game as a player, so it isn't like it is a totally alien concept.
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      I agree with Steph on her thoughts, but I will add the only thing that matters is Bob McNair in the equation. As long as Mr. McNair likes Kubiak the rest is irrelevant.

      It is a league of results, and the past two seasons Kubiak and the Texans have produced. As long as he produces and get to the playoffs, and they keep taking positive steps, he will be the coach for the considerable future.
       
    • beardov2002

      Added by: PDS

       
       
       
      whats are realistic expectations for Deandre Hopkins this season, does Schaub trust him and who would be a good comparison for him. Which rookie do you think will contribute the most this season
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      For Hopkins I would expect something comparable to what Walter had in receptions, 41. The only difference is how Hopkins will get those receptions and what he can do with it. He is an upgraded piece of this offense, and I personally think he will have more touchdown receptions that Andre Johnson.

      Hopkins will be the biggest contributor this season for the Texans.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Here's my longform answer to your question, along with a cool picture that Hopkins posed for when I asked him for a picture to give to fans for use in avatars: http://blog.chron.com/texan...

      The Texans have a ton of targets used in the redzone, with the preference of running at will if they can. They often set up with 2 TEs, so those guys are sneaky targets too.

      The main function for Hopkins in the short term is to move the damn chains, run the routes right and catch all the catchable balls. Just plain old wide receiver stuff. Dropped catchable passes derail the offense because it gets them into bad down and distance. Wrong routes can lead to turnovers.

      He's to make YAC, and catch downfield targets when they rarely will come his way.

      The Texans offense at its best is a machine. Kevin Walter stuck around as long as he did because the Texans (rightfully) didn't trust their other non-Andre Johnson wide receivers. With Walter's departure, the training wheels are off, and the Texans need Hopkins to just do his job. They need this rookie to be solid.

      It will be interesting to see if the Texans run more 3/4 WR sets with better options for doing that.

      Given his draft status, his need, his readiness and that so many of the rookies have become hurt, Hopkins has to be the answer for biggest contributor, barring significant injury on his part. (I add that last part as an anti-jinx).
       
    • Tim McHale

       
       
       
      @Albert: There are reasons to doubt every coach. Hell, even Belichick got raked over the coals for going for it on 4th and 2 against the Colts few years ago.

      The two things that impress me the most about Kubes are (1) the players love him and have never quit on him, even in seasons past when things were awfully grim and (2) he puts his ego aside time and again to bring in the best coaching talent available (e.g., a more insecure coach, especially in his first gig as a head coach, would have been wary about bringing in former head coaches as staff members, yet Kubes has welcomed Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman, and Wade Phillips on board [though I'll always believe Wade was a McNair hire]).

      Kubiak has his flaws. But he's not the fatally flawed HC I thought he was in 2010.
       
    • Tim McHale

       
       
       
      @beardov: Hopkins will definitely be the biggest rookie contributor. I think Schaub trusts him as much as Schaub can trust a rookie. That should translate into 50-60 receptions, 600ish yards, and 4-5 TDs, I reckon.
       
    • Marcus

      Added by: Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Dear Texans Fans -
      Congrats on the Greg Jones signing. As a Jags fan - I can't help but see that as a plus for your team. Are any of you optimistic about his lead-blocking bumping up Foster's production a bit this season?
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Thanks Marcus. I think that Jones' contribution will help the run game as a whole, particularly in short yardage/run stuffs which was a big issue last year.

      Usually Texans run stuff numbers (zero or negative runs) are low by design. They'd rather get consistent positive yards versus dancing around trying to get bigger yardage. When run stuffs happen, it makes it harder to disguise run/pass when it puts you in long down and distance passing mode.

      It is obvious that Greg Jones is a better, more traditional fullback than James Casey. The hope is that the Texans get more of the run production they had Arian Foster's year with Vonta Leach. Fullback is not a flashy position, but can be a difference maker for this offense.

      I think that with Ben Tate in a contract year, and Foster coming off of injury and having many touches last year, I think that the Texans would preferably balance out their touches more.

      So Foster's absolute numbers may not go up, but his big play efficiency likely will. (His down to down efficiency may not--when the Texans get a big lead, they run into unfavorable fronts where everyone knows they are running. If the Texans defense is good, the Texans will run a lot in second halves of games).

      With Jones being a more traditional fullback, I also see some of the pass targets that would have gone to hybrid TE/FB James Casey go back to the running back position.
       
    • PDS

       
       
       
      I was more in awe of Greg Jones when I met him at OTAs, and how down to Earth he was. He was very appreciative of his time in Jacksonville, but he understood the business part of it.

      If anything this is a return to what the Texans have done well, running the football. Vonta Leach really put the fullback on the map for the Texans, and Lawrence Vickers was a missing piece in the 2012 season. The Texans realized they need a "real" fullback to service their offense.

      Greg Jones is one of the more athletic players the Texans have, and at 6-1 and 268 lbs. Jones will help this offense. He also has the physical streak that the offense needs, this is a good match for the Texans and Jones.
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      Can we all agree that it sucks to have your team playing a non-home game in the 10pm MNF spot? Not only will I fall asleep by half time, but it means I'm going to have to sit through whatever substitute teacher ESPN puts in this year to call the game.

      I'm fine with the Texans playing MNF, but only if I get Jon Gruden praising everyone of my players as if they were Canton-bound!
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Zach- Certainly to use Kubiak-speak, it is "a challenge." You left out the most challenging part. ESPN's Mark Berman is going to be one of the announcers.

      Ideally a home game to start the season would have been nice. Particularly with the Texans relatively inexperienced offensive line facing a defensive line that can do some mischief. That being said, it isn't like they are playing in a particularly loud stadium.
       
    • Tim McHale

       
       
       
      That late MNF game in Week 1 should only ever feature two West Coast teams. A 9:20 p.m. CDT kickoff for fans of one of the teams and/or visiting market is ridiculous.
       
    • Matt

      Matt

      Added by: Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Hello to everyone and thanks for doing this. I read all of your posts and its pretty cool to have all three of y'all in the same place.

      Up to this point, we've heard a lot of DeAndre and DJ, but we havent heard as much about the other young players the Texans decided to gamble on this offseason. (4 UDFA's, the numberous IR stashes, and the other UDFA's kept on the practice squad). Historically, the Texans have had a lot of success with evaluating talent that didn't shine on draft day, but the numbers would indicate that not all of them are going to be studs - or even valid contributors. But with that in mind, I wanted to know what rookies are you most excited by (who aren't named DeAndre or DJ) and what do you envision their roles on the team being for this year and possibly beyond?
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Matt- The obvious rookie to be paying attention to is Cierre Wood, UDFA RB from Notre Dame. Why? 1. Ideal size for the Texans system; 2. The right skill sets for the system. One cut go, has speed, bright, vision, from a college program where the size of the NFL won't overwhelm; 3. Ben Tate is in a contract year and you want to develop what is next; 4. And Wood produced in the preseason in limited minutes.

      As Pro Football Focus noted in their roster analysis: https://www.profootballfocu... "Undrafted rookie running back Cierre Wood averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in three of his four preseason games. His 5.5 yards per carry average across four games was the highest for those with 30 or more carries."

      He is in a perfect situation for the Texans to develop him. Kubiak doesn't like putting rookies RBs on the field because he is rightfully concerned with pass protection ability. That being said, running back is a position where a young player can excel, and he's on the Arian Foster UDFA development track.

      Kubiak says Wood is talented but needs to get better at pass pro and special teams. Which is exactly what he said about Foster.

      As for the rest of the UDFAs, it is all going to be about getting opportunities, and then taking advantage of those opportunities when they get them. Wood has a realistically good opportunity for the #2 RB spot in 2014 given the Tate situation and the injuries that happen at RB, but as for the rest, it is whether they play well enough to get opportunities to shine.
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      Steph, I was hoping youd go with Willie Jefferson here. I'm buying the hype on this guy big time. Mercillus underwhelmed me last year but WJ looks like he can be that outside pass rush the Texans never really had.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Zach- Lots to like about Willie Jefferson's game but at this point, I think he is more like clay for Wade Phillips to do something with. I'd like to see him another year in a NFL weight/training program. The best things to like are his speed, violent hands, want to. Just is raw, wondering how much opportunity he gets on the field.

      He is an unusual body type for football. Very tall and rangy, thinnish legs, not heavy. Looks like a basketball player. He said recently he's at around 248, at a listed height of 6'5" (was 233 lbs as of May 14th--it can be hard to gain good weight during camp because of the calories burned). Often guys that tall become linemen, but originally he was a wide receiver, which suggests that he has some mobility and ball skills.

      He's in the best case scenario situation....Wade Phillips is good at finding out what guys can do and put them in good spots. And it isn't like at this point, there's a dominant guy in front of him at the OLB spot.

      The prototype for the 3-4 OLB according to Bum Phillips was Oiler great Robert "Dr. Doom" Brazile who was 6'4", 245. Which was a nice size back then when he was so good he was named on the 70's All Decade team. Will be interesting to see what Phillips does with him, to see if his small school production in a short period of time can translate to the NFL.

       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      I love guys with non prototype bodies -- the one that always comes to mind for me is James Harrison, who also happens to have particularly violent hands.
       
    • Stephanie Stradley

       
       
       
      Zach- Of course, if your team makes a habit of drafting non-prototypes bodies/measurables, you likely won't be a GM long. The whole Jerry Rice was slowish so slowish WRs are ok. But as a UDFA, that's when you get to project what you might be able to do with a guy with little risk.
       
    • Zach Abramowitz

       
       
       
      I know we were kind of wrapping this panel -- but I have to ask this -- are we really getting on Arian Foster for being a jerk? Every player wants touches -- it's what they live for, and if Andre Johnson were pulled in key situations he'd be just as pissed.

      Arian is snarky and sarcastic, but why is Nick Wright calling him a jerk?
       


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