By TPR Staff

For the first time since football has been back in the great city of Houston, there are higher expectations for the Texans than to simply make the playoffs. With that monkey finally off of their collective backs, the goal of 2012 for the players is quite easy to narrow down; anything less than a Super Bowl appearance is a disappointment for them.

It’s tough to argue against their chances, honestly. If healthy, from top to bottom, this just might be the most complete team in football. With Matt Schaub returning from a freak injury, paired up with arguably the best players in the league at their position in Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, the offensive attack of Houston will be quite formidable again.

And on the other side of the ball, with a season of defensive guru Wade Phillips’ scheme under their belt, the Texans defense looks to be the next long-term dominant unit in the game. Finishing with the 2nd ranked overall defense in the league last year, Houston felt good enough about where this group was going that they let Mario Williams walk and traded defensive Captain DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia for not being a fit in Phillips 3-4 scheme.

On paper, they look to be one of the favorites to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy in the 2012 season. But as we all know, the game isn’t played on paper. With that said, and training camp starting tomorrow morning, I will be there in person at each open practice to cover the team and here are a handful of things I’ll looking for.

  • Is Matt Schaub fully 100% recovered from his lisfranc injury?

If he doesn’t go down with the freak lisfranc injury while the team is riding a seven game win streak that is seeing them absolutely crush their opponents, who knows how differently 2011 turns out for the Texans. But with Schaub getting the green light to return to practice, one would imagine he will be quite limited and probably won’t even run this week. He is in a contract year, so if he’s healthy, as he continuously reiterates that he is on local radio, I’d expect him to have a big year. The team has said they’re going to take a wait and see approach on Schaub in regards to a new deal, which has concerned some Texans fans about just how ready he really is. I probably won’t be able to tell too much about him at the practices, since he’ll be extremely limited. But to see him without a walking boot will be quite a welcome sight.

  • Who will win the back up quarterback spots?

Most people usually say “who cares” to this kind of question, but after last year that saw Houston end with their third string quarterback, folks here will be paying a little more attention. T.J. Yates, who played about as admirably as anyone could have expected of him last season, will likely be the back up. The team felt good enough about him to let Matt Leinart go and bring in veteran John Beck as well as signing undrafted free agent, and local kid, Case Keenum.

Beck likely has the edge over Keenum due to knowing the system and having some experience, while Yates is the sure fire back up after last season. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if Keenum can outplay Beck and pry the third string job away. It’s unlikely, but Beck has done very little in his career up to this point to call him a lock.

  • What will the plans for first round rookie Whitney Mercilus be?

The dumbest thing I heard Texans fans saying before the draft was that the team wouldn’t take another pass rusher in the early rounds because they had enough of them on the roster. Hi, have you met Wade Phillips? You can never have enough pass rushers or linebackers in a Wade defense. But with the success of Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed last year, where will Mercilus fit in? He isn’t as strong in coverage as he is as a pass rusher, so I’d imagine he would be planned to be that third down guy. But Reed doesn’t have that position locked up, necessarily. He had a good season filling in in 2011 and he will start camp penciled in as the starter, but it will be in pencil. If Mercilus comes in camp and looks like a top 15 pick, which he was projected to be, he could go from a rotation player to a starter very quickly.

  • Who besides Andre Johnson can catch the ball?

I won’t go too far into this one as I have written about the Texans wide receiver battles again and again here. But there is no question that this will be the biggest area to pay attention to this week. Kevin Walter is currently the team’s number two guy, but it’s more by default and experience than talent. Rookie DeVier Posey has his work cut out for him and some scouts have already been down on him after OTA’s. Keshawn Martin will see time returning the ball than anything, most likely.

Rookie Dwight Jones just decided he didn’t care to play football anymore, but the team has apparently left the door open for him to return. Lestar Jean seems to be the fan favorite at the moment, but I still want to see him do something besides make a catch against a guy who was cut from the Jets the same night. And instead of signing Roy Williams, the team brought back veteran Bryant Johnson for another year. None of these options, besides one of the rookies breaking out in camp, are very exciting. But this will be the most competitive camp battle to watch.

  • Who wins the kicker battle?

Yes, it has to be training camp when things like the kicker and back up quarterbacks are brought up. But a journeyman and a rookie kicker are still quite a concern for this team. No one wants a big game in the playoffs resting on the leg of an inexperienced rookie kicker, but the Texans felt good enough about Randy Bullock to spend a fifth round pick on him. As expected, the team brought in Shayne Graham, an 11 year veteran, to compete with him. To think the team wouldn’t keep a guy they used a fifth on is ludicrous, so unless Bullock is absolutely awful, it’s his spot to lose.

There are plenty of other things to watch for such as how moving Brian Cushing over and inserting Ryans’ replacement Bradie James into the starting rotation will work, if J.J. Watt can actually get better and who will step in to replace Jason Allen in the secondary. There are a lot more stories going on with this team than you think and I’ll be reporting here all week on what I learn while standing  in the 104 degree heat that is being forecasted.

Does the heat bother me? Sure. It’s hot. But would I easily suffer it for the return of football? Every freaking year.

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