The Houston Texans open training camp on July 31 at Methodist Training Center in Houston. Here’s a closer look at the Texans’ camp, which wraps up on Aug. 25:
Top storyline: The most important position on the field will be determined sometime early in training camp, likely after the Texans face Washington for joint training camp practices in Richmond, Virginia, during the first week of August. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett have competed for the job during the offseason. Mallett originally came to the Texans last August in a trade with the New England Patriots, then re-signed in free agency this March with a two-year deal. He started two games for Houston in 2014, winning the first in Cleveland and then losing the second against Cincinnati, a game in which he played with a torn pectoral muscle. Hoyer signed in free agency after a two-year stint in Cleveland, and his deal with the Texans also lasts two years. The move reunited Hoyer, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Patriots, with Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who also entered the league with the Patriots.
Position battles to watch: Setting aside the quarterback battle, the Texans must also determine their receiver, safety and return depth charts. After releasing Andre Johnson in March, the Texans added veteran receivers Cecil Shorts III and Nate Washington in free agency and drafted Jaelen Strong and Keith Mumphery. The safety position will also feature two new starters, one of them Rahim Moore, another free-agent pickup. The Texans also signed Stevie Brown in free agency, a safety who had a fairly versatile career with the New York Giants prior to joining the Texans. Brown was out of the Texans' offseason practices with an undisclosed injury, and during that time, the Texans rotated several other safeties. As for returns, the Texans ranked 29th in yards per kickoff return and 31st in yards per punt return last season.
+ Veterans to watch: Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is entering a new stage of his career after 11 years and two Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots. The narrative about Wilfork has often centered around his mentoring ability, but there's much more the Texans want out of him and much more he plans to give them. Wilfork's play on the field will cause additional issues for opposing offenses who already had J.J. Watt to handle.
+ Rookies to watch: Receiver Jaelen Strong seems to thrive with a chip on his shoulder (he chose the No. 11 to remind himself that 10 receivers were drafted before him), and he's got one heading into training camp. Strong suffered a hamstring injury in the Texans' first organized team activity practice, and that injury kept him out of all but one of the Texans' offseason practices. The Texans traded up in the third round to take Strong and have high expectations for him. Nose tackle Louis Nix is not technically a rookie, but because he didn't play last season, we can count this as a sort of second rookie year for Nix. He's well aware many have written him off already after an injury-riddled rookie season in which O'Brien spoke harshly of his professionalism, and he relishes the opportunity to disprove those opinions.
Bubble watch: The Texans cleared out most of their aging players earlier in the offseason -- Johnson and longtime center Chris Myers were players whose age and salary cap numbers would have made them bubble watch targets, but both players were released this offseason, clearing up significant cap space for the Texans. It's still possible Myers will return for less money. One younger veteran in a critical year is Keshawn Martin, a receiver who also handled return duties for the Texans last season. Martin will have to fight his way onto the roster as the Texans have added players to compete in both roles.
Clowney watch: The Texans invested a first overall pick in outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney last year, and as such, his recovery from having two surgeries on his right knee last season will be very critical to the team this year. Clowney first had a simple arthroscopic knee surgery in September after suffering a lateral meniscus tear in the Texans' season opener. He tried to return several weeks later, but it gradually became clear that the swelling and pain in his knee indicated bigger issues. Due to articular cartilage damage in the knee, Clowney underwent microfracture surgery in December. His youth and elite athletic ability offer reasons for optimism, and the Texans were pleased with the work he put into his rehab this offseason.