Houston Chronicle

More will be known when the pads come on

- John Mcclain

The Texans’ offseason program ends this week, and even though coach Bill O’Brien and his staff are pleased with progress made over the last two months, they’ll have a better idea of where they’ve made the most improvemen­t when they put on pads in training camp and start pounding each other.

The minicamp that begins today is the only part of the offseason program that’s mandatory. Player participat­ion hasn’t been an issue other than those who are rehabbing injuries.

Ask O’Brien or his assistants about their players, and you’ll usually hear praise with this caveat: “We’ve got to see him with pads on.”

That doesn’t include the team’s best players, who have little or nothing to prove other than staying healthy, but the Texans do have a lot of questions that need to be answered before the season starts at New England.

Let’s begin at safety, where Andre Hal started 16 games last season and was expected to start next to Tyrann Mathieu this season until he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The Texans and Hal dis-

closed his situation Friday. They said he’s still getting tested at MD Anderson Cancer Center before deciding on a course of treatment.

Defensive coordinato­r Romeo Crennel has five safeties who are healthy — Mathieu, Justin Reid, Kurtis Drummond, Treston Decoud and Ibraheim Campbell.

Corey Moore, the only returning safety who started any games (three) for the Texans last season, has been rehabbing an injury and should be ready to go in training camp at West Virginia.

Veterans are available

General manager Brian Gaine could sign another safety. Three prominent veterans are still available: Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston and Eric Reid, who’s the older brother of the Texans’ rookie.

One option would be for cornerback Kareem Jackson to spend more time at safety. Jackson, who’s going into his ninth season, has been practicing at safety and cornerback, which is something he’s done in recent years.

Crennel prefers his safeties to be interchang­eable and likes Jackson’s versatilit­y because he can cover inside and outside receivers as well as play safety.

When Gaine used his top draft choice on Reid — the first of three in the third round — they expected him to make a significan­t contributi­on as a rookie. Now he has a chance to prove he can be a starter opposite Mathieu. But will he take advantage of his opportunit­y?

O’Brien said last week that linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has told him he’ll be ready to return at the start of training camp. That would be splendid news for a defense that has a chance to be special again, as it was in 2016, when the Texans led the NFL in fewest yards allowed.

Clowney has been nursing a sore knee that required arthroscop­ic surgery in January. It’s essential the Texans have Clowney on the field with Mathieu, end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus when the Texans open against the Patriots.

Clowney and Watt are rehabbing. Mercilus, who missed the last 11 games with a torn biceps muscle, has been 100 percent for months. If the front seven stays healthy, fans should see substantia­l improvemen­t in a secondary that added Mathieu, Reid and cornerback Aaron Colvin.

Offensivel­y, the biggest question doesn’t involve quarterbac­k Deshaun Watson, who has been participat­ing in the offseason program but has been kept out of 11-on-11 drills to protect his right knee. The Texans have known for weeks that Watson would be ready to go at training camp.

Trying to straighten line

The biggest question — as it was last season — involves the offensive line. Three free-agent additions — right tackle Seantrel Henderson and guards Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete — are expected to start with left tackle Julién Davenport and center Nick Martin, who’s rehabbing an ankle injury suffered late last season.

Offensive line coach Mike Devlin spent a lot of time during the offseason program — on and off the field — helping his players develop the kind of camaraderi­e that’s necessary for communicat­ion and teamwork.

Devlin is satisfied with the progress his new players have made adapting to his system. He likes the hard work the linemen have put in over the last two months. But Devlin is the first to admit he’ll know a lot more at training camp when the Texans start hitting.

In West Virginia, the Texans will need to develop some new starters as well as depth on both sides of the ball. No team knows better than the Texans the devastatin­g effect injuries can have on a team’s hopes and aspiration­s.

 ?? Yi-Chin Lee / Houston Chronicle ?? Rookie saftey Justin Reid will have to step up with Andre Hal being sidelined.
Yi-Chin Lee / Houston Chronicle Rookie saftey Justin Reid will have to step up with Andre Hal being sidelined.
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