Breaking down 3 Texans position battles

Breaking down 3 Texans position battles
July 1, 2013, 9:00 am
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Texans training camp doesn't start until July 26, but we're getting closer.

There will be plenty to watch during the couple of weeks under the hot Houston summer sun, but position battles are always intriguing. And every team has them.

Many of the Texans have their spots cemented either as starters or reserve players but there are some spots up for grabs and the team will make decisions after watching practices and preseason games.

1. Third-string running back

Last season the Texans had a real luxury with Justin Forsett on the roster. Forsett was a veteran with some NFL experience under his belt. He ended up with 63 rushing attempts (374 yards) last season, just two fewer than backup running back Ben Tate.

Tate had a great 2011 season, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards. But in 2012, a hamstring injury kept him off the field. He also missed his entire rookie season due to injury.

That's why the third-string running back job is so important for the Texans. They have a running back in Arian Foster, who ran the ball 351 times last year, and a backup who has trouble staying healthy.

In 2013, the Texans will have a few options for that third running back spot. It seems like the best candidates for the spot are Deji Karim, and undrafted rookies Dennis Johnson and Cierre Wood. They also have undrafted rookie Ray Graham.

Karim is the only one with NFL experience. He's been in the league since 2010 and the Texans know him well; he played for division rival Jacksonville.

But Karim isn’t the frontrunner. In the end, the job might come down to Wood and Johnson. Wood, from Notre Dame, seems like the better pure runner. He's the type of guy who might be able to fill in for Tate, who will be a free agent after this season.

Johnson is smaller, 5-7, 193, but is built well and does everything. He can block, catch out of the backfield and return.

Ultimately, this job might come down to this: Do the Texans need Johnson to return? If not, Wood might make more sense.

2. Right tackle

The right tackle position continues to be the biggest question mark surrounding the 2013 Texans and it could end up being a big problem.

There are really four possible starters at that right tackle spot: Derek Newton, Brennan Williams, Ryan Harris and David Quessenberry.

Newton and Williams were supposed to be the two battling for the job but both missed just about the entire spring with knee injuries. They are both expected to be back for training camp but will have to work to get back into shape. Newton was last year’s starter but is coming off a knee surgery. And Williams is talented but the rookie lost valuable OTA and minicamp time.

Harris re-signed with the Texans on a one-year deal but he’s not supposed to be a starter. The team likes him as a backup. He did work with the first team during the spring out of necessity and could be an option if Newton and Williams aren’t ready.

Then, there’s Quessenberry, a sixth-round pick from San Jose State. He looked good this spring but it’s probably a stretch to expect him to be a starter. Heck, he might have trouble making the team. How many tackles can the team really carry?

3. Backup nose tackle

OK, as long as Earl Mitchell stays healthy, the backup nose tackle position might not be that important. But the battle itself is pretty intriguing. It looks like it’s going to come down to Chris Jones vs. Terrell McClain.

Jones was a sixth-round pick this year and has been working at NT since rookie minicamp. McClain is a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, who has never lived up to his draft status. McClain was actually the first pick in the third round of the 2011 draft.

This battle is interesting. The Texans would probably love to keep their draft pick. In fact, Rick Smith, when asked shortly after the completion of the draft, said Jones was his pick for a late-round player that will surprise people. But will the Texans keep a recent draft pick if McClain is outplaying him, even if it’s just by a little bit?

McClain has looked very good through the spring practices but those practices don’t have any hitting, so we’ll get a better idea once training camp starts. It’s possible the Texans keep McClain and try to get Jones to the practice squad.

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