Niners-Texans: Five Players to Watch

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By now, four weeks into the preseason, fans should at least have a general idea of how good (or bad) we think their team will be.

Yet, here we are on the morning of the final preseason game, and I'm no closer to knowing exactly what the Texans will be in 2014 than I was when Andre Johnson decided to return to the building on July 25.

Consider the following training camp variables you have to factor into any rational assessment of this team:


* With shuffling casts on the field (but the same quarterbacks available in all three games), this team lost 32-0 (and looked like a high school team in the process), won 32-7 (and looked sneaky opportunistic) and won 18-17 (and showed toughness and balls). So which one are they, football gods? Oh, they're ALL of them? Well, thanks for nothing!!

* Arian Foster hardly practiced and didn't play in the preseason. Ditto, Johnathan Joseph. Brian Cushing played two series against Denver. Andre Johnson played a half against Denver. Those players have, like, a LOT of Pro Bowls combined.

* The offensive line was juggled around, especially on the interior, to where it looked like a game of duck-duck-goose at times. Newton on the right, now Newton on the left. Su'a-Filo on the left, now Su'a-Filo on the right. Ben Jones on the left, now Ben Jones in the middle.

* Rookie beast Jadeveon Clowney played a total of 29 snaps in three games. Of course, he looked like the most dangerous monster on the field in those 29 snaps, but still, only 29 snaps. (He was like a hitter in baseball batting .655 but only getting 29 at-bats.) J.J. Watt and Clowney were on the field together for less than a dozen snaps in live game action. That we saw them on the field together this little actually makes me even more excited for the regular season.

My overall point here is that you can put together a case that this team will go 10-6 (defense has top 10 potential, running game gets going again, improvement on special teams), and you can put together a case that they will pick first in the draft again (more injuries, EVIL Ryan Fitzpatrick showing up).

I have no clue, and I'll admit it...this is kind of fun.

So Thursday night, the 49ers come to town, a few months removed from being just a few downs away from a return trip to the Super Bowl earlier this year. Word is quarterback Colin Kaepernick may actually see some snaps, to get some confidence going or whatever. We will see.

For now, here are a few Texans who are battling on Thursday, for various reasons:

5. Travis Labhart
It helps to do well early in camp. Take wide receiver Mike Thomas, for example. In the first couple of weeks in camp, he was one of the top two or three wide receivers easily and showed some juice in the return game, to the extent that he had surpassed Keshawn Martin in both areas. So everyone was like, "WOW, check out Mike Thomas." And then we all start putting our mock 53-man rosters together, and you have to include Mike Thomas because he's doing so awesome as a slot receiver and return guy. Then you just keep assuming and talking about him like he's making the team, not realizing that he's making fewer and fewer plays as camp goes on. Soon you realize, "Shit, that's right. There's a reason Mike Thomas is on his third team in three years. He's MIKE THOMAS." My point is, when it comes time to keep a slot receiver, Bill O'Brien, have some balls and keep Labhart. If for no other reason than that it brings diminutive white slot receivers like David Anderson back into our lives...

4. Brandon Brooks
If you drew a graph for preseason injuries, with perceived severity on the horizontal axis and importance of the player on the vertical axis, there's a good chance that the dot for Brandon Brooks's mystery injury would have been farthest from point zero (or the nexus of the graph, or whatever...you know what I mean). This offensive line needs a healthy Brooks if it's going to reach its potential. His return last week was a nice surprise, and his 55 snaps on Saturday against Denver was a fantastic surprise. He should get the most snaps of all the regulars as the effort to continue chipping rust off of him for the opener continues.

3. Josh Victorian
So let's make our list of cornerbacks who are going to make this team. Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, obviously. A.J. Bouye seems entrenched as the third guy. Elbert Mack is making some plays, as is Andre Hal. So if they take six cornerbacks, it feels like this comes down to a battle between fourth-year enigma Brandon Harris and Victorian, who's been great as a gunner on special teams and has certainly been no worse than Harris in the secondary.

2. Ronnie Brown
It would appear that two tailback spots are locked up for sure with Arian Foster and Alfred Blue. Jonathan Grimes got a ton of work and made some plays in camp, and should make the team. I can't help but think that Ronnie Brown is in this camp for a reason, though, and I think some of it might be as an elder statesman/veteran-leader type. Can Brown be as productive in what the third running back will be asked to do as Grimes has been, or close enough to Grimes to where the veteran thing is a difference maker for him in making the team? Do they take four running backs? I just have a weird feeling people are writing off Brown and he's not dead yet.

1. Case Keenum
Repeat: Every game in the preseason is Case Keenum's Super Bowl. O'Brien has indicated he plans to have three quarterbacks on the roster, and intimated it would be the three he has, but he kind of has to do that since there aren't others generally available yet. Not until this weekend, at least. Case has yet to really have a moment this preseason where you feel like he can finally make consistent, winning plays if called upon.

On a personal level, I am rooting for Case because he seems like a good dude. On a selfish level, I'm rooting for him to either wind up the starter at some point or get cut in some controversial fashion, just so the city melts down again like it did last year with Case in the mix.

From a radio and blog standpoint, it's what's best for business...

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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