More talent and less drama, those are the predominant themes of the Houston Texans 2022 training camp, in which we get the first outdoor training camp exercise of the Lovie Smith Era this morning. The increased talent level is largely due to the incoming rookie class, which includes two first-round picks: CB Derek Stingley, Jr. and O.L. Kenyon Green.
The dwindling drama level has coincided with the March departure of quarterback (and 24-time civil suit claimant) Deshaun Watson. I will miss Watson’s escape from the bag and his rocket of a right arm. I won’t miss the crash courses in civil law and Watson’s occasional gruffness as he watched from the sidelines with the rest of us last summer.
While the amount of talent and drama has undergone massive quantitative swings, the sheer number of questions surrounding this team remains the same. In short, there are a lot of them. Here are the four biggest questions I wonder as the thermometer climbs to 100 degrees for what feels like the 1507th consecutive day:
How does it feel to have Davis Mills as “The Guy”?
This is arguably the biggest single shift from 2021 training camp to today’s camp. I was at every Mills practice session of his rookie season training camp, and I can tell you, it was atrocious. Mills should have come up with a warning label. The first few weeks of camp he was terrible. However, something funny happened throughout the camp and it continued through the season. Mills began to noticeably minimize the repetition of mistakes. Oh, he still made mistakes, but the awareness of his failures was very clear. It will be nice to see Mills operate as the undisputed starter, and see if there is any change in his behavior. The Texans will need a big jump from Mills if they are to exceed expectations in 2022.
Who carries the rock as the lead that runs back?
Last season’s Texas backfield was the worst season I’ve ever seen from a stable of NFL running backs. How bad was it? Until the last few weeks of the season, Mark Ingram, who was traded to the Saints in Week 7, was still the Texans’ leading rusher with 294 yards on the season. How bad was it? Rex Burkhead was the team’s leading rusher, barely exceeding 400 yards this season. How bad was it? David Johnson was on the team. This backfield still has Burkhead, but hopefully in a spare. The safer bets to top the depth chart heading into the season are free agent Marlon Mack (32 carries in the past two years in Indy) and rookie Dameon Pierce, who averaged more than five yards per carry in Florida last season.
What does a Lovie Smith training camp feel like?
For all his amateur craziness in 2021, I will say that former head coach David Culley ran a pretty tight training camp. To put it this way, the pace of exercise and the amount of work done seemed way beyond a Bill O’Brien-led camp. I would expect Lovie Smith to function in the same way. After all, he WAS the defensive coordinator last season. One notable change, given that we’re in the midst of a record heat wave, is that the workout starts every day at 8 a.m. sharp and ends at 10 a.m., before it starts to feel like the surface of the sun. That should keep everyone — players, coaches, media, everyone — much fresher as the August dog days progress.
Which rookies make the biggest impact?
Well, we can cross one rookie off this list, with the sad news that second round WR John Metchie III will miss the season with a highly curable form of leukemia. He will hopefully be back in 2023, but that will undoubtedly be a blow to the attack. I suspect that at least three rookies – first round picks Derek Stingley and Kenyon Green, along with second round safety Jalen Pitre – are favorites to start in their respective positions, and Pierce could be the starter when walking back towards the middle of the grid. season. If I had to pick one rookie to get accolades for the coming season, it would be Pitre, who has a nose for football, and in Smith’s defense, will be a big contender for some game-changing turnovers throughout the season. .
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