With the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints preparing to kickoff in approximately four hours at the Louisiana Superdome, here are five players I will be paying close attention to in tonight’s game.
NT Hebron Fangupo – With starting NT Shaun Cody sitting this one out with a back injury suffered last week vs. the San Francisco 49ers and NT Rashon Harris lost for the season with a torn triceps injury suffered in practice this past week, Fangupo moves up to backup NT this week behind Earl Mitchell. Fangupo, a rookie undrafted free agent out of BYU, will get a big chance to show the coaching staff that he can be a player in the defensive line rotation this season. At 6’0, 319 lbs he is the biggest NT on the roster, and a good showing tonight will enhance his chances of making the final 53 man roster as opposed to landing on the practice squad this season.
RT Derek Newton – Newton, the second year player out of Arkansas State, is locked in a tight battle with veteran Rashad Butler for the starting right tackle spot vacated when the Texans released Eric Winston, who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. Butler started the first preseason game at the Carolina Panthers and Newton started the second contest vs the 49ers. Coach Gary Kubiak has not announced who will start tonight, but said that both players will play throughout the first 3 quarters with the first team offense. It will be a good test for Newton to go against the Saints pass rush on the turf in a loud and rowdy Superdome. He will need to be on top of his game, but a solid showing could win him a starting job on the o-line.
LB Tim Dobbins – Dobbins, the veteran linebacker in his second season with the Texans is a known commodity, unlike the previous two players mentioned. In his second season with the Texans, Dobbins appeared in 15 games last season and both playoff contests as a backup at inside linebacker. His most memorable play last season was a 4th and 1 goal-line stop on Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in an excellent goal-line stand by the Texans defense in last season’s 20-13 playoff loss to the Ravens. Dobbins has been all over the field making plays this preseason, including another 4th and 1 stop of RB Anthony Dixon of the 49ers last week. With ILB Brian Cushing not playing tonight to rest sore ribs, look for Dobbins to take advantage and make more plays vs the Saints.
CB Kareem Jackson – Ahhh Kareem Jackson, target of many deep balls and also Texans’ fans ire his first two seasons in the NFL. A strong tackler at the corner position, Kareem’s struggles have been the result of poor technique by not making plays on the ball, which is an important trait for any CB in today’s pass happy league. Jackson showed slight improvement last year, as the Texans pass defense improved from 32nd and dead last in 2010 to number 3 in 2011. So far this preseason, Jackson has shown even more improved play, and it would be nice if his 3rd season becomes the one where he lives up to his billing as a 1st round draft pick. In fairness to Jackson, he probably was thrown into the fire too soon, but now should be ready to take the next step in his progression. Cornerbacks have to have a short memory, and last season’s 40-33 Week 3 loss to New Orleans is a game Jackson definitely would like to forget. He was picked on in the 2nd half by Drew Brees and the Saints WRs for many big plays, including a touchdown and two 2 point conversions. He’ll have plenty of chances to redeem himself tonight against Brees and the Saints passing game.
KR/WR Trindon Holliday – Holliday returns to his home state of Louisiana and site of one of his best moments as a football player, the 2007 BCS National Championship victory as an LSU Tiger. In his 3rd season with the Texans, Kubiak has stated that Holliday would have to be a ‘special’ returner in order to make the team. Holliday has appeared to receive the message, with a return for a TD in both games thus far this preseason. He had a 90 yard kickoff return vs the Panthers and followed that up last week with an 89 yard return of a punt to break the game open vs San Francisco. Averaging over 40 yards per KO return, another strong showing tonight could be the clincher for Holliday to cement his spot on the team. Many teams prefer not to use a roster spot for a return specialist only, but if a returner is a dynamic difference maker they will make an exception. If Holliday continues to shine, then he will no doubt make the squad and give the Texans a dangerous weapons on special teams.