After completing their rookie minicamp, the Texans begin the next part of the offseason program with the first of nine Organized Team Activities on Monday at Houston Methodist Training Center. The first offseason program of DeMeco Ryans’ head-coaching career ends after the mandatory minicamp on June 13-14. Then players will scatter for vacations before reporting for training camp in late July.
OTAs are an important part of a rookie’s development, and the coaches – not to mention fans and media – will be keeping a close eye on nine draft choices, especially quarterback C.J. Stroud, defensive end Will Anderson Jr. and receiver Tank Dell.
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Stroud will get the most attention because of the nature of his position and where he was drafted -- second overall behind Carolina quarterback Bryce Young. The only quarterback selected higher than Stroud in the Texans’ 22 drafts was David Carr, taken first overall in 2002.
Stroud will work closely with two new coaches, offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and quarterback coach Jerrod Johnson. Davis Mills and Case Keenum also are on the roster. Stroud will have to work his way up the depth chart, and, barring a snag in his development, he should be the starter when the Texans play their first regular season game at Baltimore.
Anderson, who’ll be learning the defense installed by Ryans and new coordinator Matt Burke, shouldn’t take too long earning a starting job. After all, general manager Nick Caserio paid a steep price to trade up to the third overall pick to get him.
Dell, who played at the University of Houston, already has a built-in fan base because he starred for the Cougars. He’s a 5-8, 165-pound dynamo who caught 29 touchdown passes over his last two seasons with the Cougars, and when he touches the ball, he’s instant excitement. Texans’ fans are going to love him, too.
Caserio drafted nine players. Some will develop faster than others. A few should take advantage of opportunities to start, and others will contribute off the bench. As the Texans get ready for the next phase of their offseason program, this is a good time to look at what’s expected from prospects selected in the draft.
1a. QB C.J. Stroud
One reason Case Keenum, 35, was signed for a third tour with the Texans was because he’ll be a mentor to Stroud. Keenum will be like an extra coach, and not many quarterbacks have more experience with more organizations than Keenum. Davis Mills, the starter last season, should begin first team on the depth chart, but it’s only a matter of time before Stroud works his way into the lineup. Knowing the Texans, they may not make his promotion into the starting role official until the first game against the Ravens. Stroud, 21-4 as a starter at Ohio State, has impressed the Texans with his work ethic and eagerness to learn. He should be a nice fit into the kind of offense Bobby Slowik is going to run, which requires the quarterback to roll out quite a bit. When he’s on the field with veteran receivers and tight ends for the first time, Stroud will work on developing a rapport with them.
1b. DE Will Anderson Jr.
Anderson, a terrific pass rusher off the edge, was the highest-rated defensive prospect in the draft. After trading with Arizona to select him, the Texans still have picks in the first, second and third rounds of the 2024 draft. Critics of the price Caserio paid neglect to point out the Texans still have eight picks, including one in each of the first three rounds. Anderson has incredible quickness off the ball and a great closing burst to the quarterback. He’s got moves and knows how to use his hands. Jerry Hughes, who led the team with nine sacks last season, and Jonathan Greenard, the leader with eight in 2021, are the starters. It shouldn’t take long for Anderson to earn his spot in the lineup. If Greenard can stay healthy in the last year of his contract and Hughes continues to play like a veteran who’s younger than 35 when the season starts, defensive coordinator Matt Burke will have a formidable trio of edge rushers.
2. C Juice Scruggs
Caserio didn’t trade back into the second round to put Scruggs at guard. The Texans went into the draft needing a center, and they came out of the draft with two – Scruggs and Jarrett Patterson, both of whom can also play guard. Scruggs, who overcame a severe back injury at Penn State, should begin playing behind Scott Quessenberry, who started 16 games last season. How long it’ll take for Scruggs to be elevated depends on how well Quessenberry performs and how fast Scruggs develops. At some point during the season, Scruggs should be snapping the ball to C.J. Stroud.
3. WR Tank Dell
Caserio and Ryans got a steal in the third round. The well-traveled Dell had been projected for the second round. He’s a slot receiver with exceptional quickness and excellent moves. He can stop and start in a flash, and even though he doesn’t have breath-taking speed, his 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine was good enough. In his last two seasons with the Cougars, Dell caught 199 passes for 2,227 yards and 29 touchdowns. He averaged 17.9 yards on punt returns as a senior last season. He could be a dynamic punt returner. Frank Ross, the special teams coordinator, had the best special teams in the NFL last season, and if they want a repeat performance, Dell can certainly enhance that possibility.
4. DE Dylan Horton
He’ll join the crowd of edge rushers. Horton had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. When he’s on the field, he could help improve a run defense that’s been dreadful for the last three seasons. Expect him to play a reserve role and be part of the special teams.
5. LB Henry To’oTo’o
The four-year starter at Tennessee and Alabama was a defensive leader for the Crimson Tide the last two seasons. Will Anderson Jr. was the most decorated defensive player at Alabama, but To’oTo’o was one of the best and most dependable. He’s got good speed and makes plays sideline to sideline. He also works hard in coverage. He should excel on special teams. At some point this season, it won’t be surprising for him to start with another Alabama player, Christian Harris.
6a. C/G Jarrett Patterson
He was named as a team captain his last two years at Notre Dame as a center and left guard. He didn’t allow a sack in college. He’s expected to back up at guard and possibly center. He could start his career on the practice squad because of the logjam in the offensive line.
6b. WR Xavier Hutchinson
He’s an outside receiver who didn’t work out well and lasted until the sixth round but crushed Big 12 opponents for three seasons at Iowa State, catching 254 passes for 2,929 yards and 15 touchdowns. Last season, Hutchinson had 107 receptions for 1,171 yards and six touchdowns. The Texans need an outside receiver to develop. Nico Collins has been injured in each of his first two seasons. The offense doesn’t have a big-play receiver on the outside. Hutchinson is an acrobatic possession receiver who might be able to help as a rookie.
7. S Brandon Hill
The two-year starter at strong safety at Pittsburgh could help on special teams, but he also could wind up on the practice squad. He’s a physical player who likes to be around the line of scrimmage so he can hit people. If Hill makes the 53-man roster, he can back up at safety and play on special teams. He could be terrific on coverage teams.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He writes three times a week and does two Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.