Texans-Cardinals, NFL Preseason Week 1: Five Players to Watch
Depending on who you are, NFL preseason games can serve any number of purposes.
Important first preseason game for these guys.
For some fans (and talk-show hosts who need five hours of radio content every weekday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.), they serve as a celebration that football has finally returned, that we survived the two weeks of the calendar year where there is only Astros baseball to discuss around the water cooler, and that we now have (another) reason to drink beer!
For other fans, they serve as an opportunity to remind everyone how "screwed over" they are for having to pay full boat ticket prices for a meaningless exhibition-caliber product (ignoring the fact that Texans fans have generally been paying for meaningless exhibitions by the time December rolls around almost every year since 2002).
The latter is usually followed by the complainer voluntarily scratching out a check AGAIN for season tickets, so let's not shed too many tears for the poor people who fail to understand capitalism and free-market concepts.
But I digress.
For players, the preseason can mean anything from a chance to tune up a few things to literally fighting for their NFL lives. For the Texans and the Cardinals this Saturday night, in the first competitive football outing of the Bill O'Brien era, let's home in briefly on Texans players to watch, with both categories represented:
5. Safety D.J. Swearinger
In last season's preseason opener against the Vikings, in the first action of his rookie year, Swearinger tried to come up and make a big hit on Vikings running back Zach Line on a dump pass out of the backfield. On a play that merely needed a benign form tackle, Swearinger went for the explosive highlight play, overcommitted and missed, and Line (who will never be confused with Adrian Peterson) took it to the house for a 61-yard touchdown. That was a harbinger of things to come for Swearinger, who endured an up-and-down rookie year in 2013. One of the keys to this defense retaking its place among the league's elite, the maturation of Swearinger, his ability to know when to make a play and when to make a PLAY, will be a point of interest throughout the preseason.
4. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus
When the depth chart was released on Wednesday, there weren't a ton of great talking points (I did manage to find seven of them), but the most discussed placement of any veteran player had to be former first-round pick Mercilus's being slotted second string behind rookie Jadeveon Clowney at outside linebacker, who hasn't practiced in about a week and will likely play little, if at all, Saturday. Mercilus is heading into a hugely important year for his future as it will be up to the Texans to decide whether or not to exercise his fifth-year option (a decent guaranteed pay day) after the 2014 season. He needs to find some consistency, especially considering he should be in one-on-one battles all season long with J.J. Watt and Clowney drawing double teams routinely.