HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans will add a piece to their offense this season, not via trade or the draft, but through the return of center Nick Martin.

Last year's second-round pick impressed early in training camp, and he was set to serve as the Texans' starting center for his rookie season. Unfortunately his first year was wiped out during the preseason after he injured his ankle in a joint practice against the New Orleans Saints -- requiring season-ending surgery.

 Houston Texans center Nick Martin Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsNick Martin said he spent the past year learning the mental aspects of the pro game.

Martin, who participated in the team's organized team activities this week, said his ankle is "good to go."

Although Greg Mancz played well last season in Martin's absence, the former Notre Dame standout entered the offseason as the team's starting center. Before he got hurt last summer, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien praised the rookie's progress and said he was going to be an important part of the offense.

Earlier this offseason, veteran left tackle Duane Brown said he thinks Martin is going to be a "great player."

"He showed some great flashes as a young player," Brown said. "That position is very instrumental to our success. The game isn't too big for him. He showed a lot of promise, so I'm looking forward to getting him back."

Although Martin wasn't able to be on the field last season, he said he spent a lot of time working on the mental part of the game, including learning the Texans' "large playbook," and studying how the team operates on and off the field.

"It [was] definitely tough, but at the same time you have to take the positives," Martin said. "There's a lot of things I learned: routine-wise, learn from older guys, mentally, film, all of that. Really tried to make the best out of it.

"[I spent] a lot of time in the training room. As much as it takes. Still trying to go to meetings, like I said, learn mentally, keep up with that and try to balance both. Especially being in your first year in this system."

Tom SavageTroy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTom Savage knows that his spot as the Texans' starting quarterback isn't secure.

HOUSTON -- Every time Tom Savage has addressed that he is the Houston Texans' starting quarterback, he repeats that it doesn't change the fact that he has to prove himself in the NFL.

He knows he's never thrown a touchdown pass. He knows he's only started two games and that he hasn't made it through a season healthy.

And that's why he's spent the offseason working to earn that starting job. Savage was asked Tuesday during OTAs what has changed now that he has been named the team's No. 1 quarterback. He brought up leadership and knows that starts with results on the field.

"First of all, in order to be leader, you have to go out there and you have to make plays," Savage said. "I've started two NFL games in this league, so first of all you have to go out there and make plays.

"I think that’s what kind of promotes the leadership, is going out there and performing and executing what you need to do before you can take that vocal jump. Obviously, you need some juice out there on offense but I think you just have to make plays first."

Savage has played in just five games over his first three NFL seasons, and yet, despite the fact that Houston drafted Deshaun Watson, Savage will be given every chance to win the job going into the 2017 regular season. He might also have a short leash if he cannot produce, but Watson isn't just going to win the starting job just because the team traded two first-round picks to draft him at No. 12.

Savage and Watson both had up-and-down days during the first OTA practice open to the media -- in fact, it was Brandon Weeden who looked the best on Tuesday -- but as Savage pointed out, it's May. And as head coach Bill O'Brien said, "it's not real football" because the players aren’t in pads.

One area it was clear all three quarterbacks were taking advantage of was working and communicating with the Texans' receivers. Last year, Brock Osweiler focused heavily on his tight ends, and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was less involved with the offense -- going from 111 catches for 1,521 yards in 2015 to to 78 catches for 954 yards the next season. Savage said this time during the offseason -- working on being a leader -- has been important to evolving his relationship with the receiving group.

"I think it's all trust," Savage said. "I think we just have to keep going out there and staying after practice and throwing and getting together and just kind of doing what we need to do to understand where we're at mentally. It just really comes down to trust."

David QuessenberryAP Photo/David J. PhillipDavid Quessenberry is returning to the practice field after a long battle with cancer.

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans offensive tackle David Quessenberry returned to the practice field this week for the first time since he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T-lymphoblastic lymphoma three years ago.

Quessenberry was waived by the Texans after the 2015 season but was put on the non-football illness list and remained on the team's roster.

The 26-year-old finished his last chemotherapy treatment in early April and said that while it was a long fight, "it feels amazing" to be focusing on football now.

Quessenberry said there were a lot of times when he wondered whether he was going to be able to play again, saying when he finished his intensive treatment, he "felt like the furthest thing from a football player -- no hair, skinny -- but your body is an amazing thing."

He said he came out of the treatments "stronger, both physically and mentally," feeling grateful for the support the Texans gave him while he fought the cancer.

"This organization has had my back since day one," Quessenberry said in early April. "That alone is something that's rare to find and it's something that's very special. That's what makes this such an awesome place to come into and work every day, knowing that they care about me as a football player and as a person."

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Duane BrownAP Photo/Ric TapiaDuane Brown has two years remaining on his contract, but it does not include any guaranteed money.

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown was not at the first two days of voluntary OTAs, an absence that is thought to be contract related.

Brown has two years left on a six-year contract, but there is no more guaranteed money remaining on the deal. He is scheduled to make a base salary of $9.65 million in 2017 and $9.75 million the following season.

Because the OTAs are voluntary, he cannot be fined for not showing up. He would be subject to fines if he does not report to veteran minicamp in three weeks.

Brown, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate last season, is entering his 10th NFL season. He anchors a Texans offensive line that currently does not have a starting right tackle after the team put Derek Newton on injured reserve.

General manager Rick Smith has also said he wants to sign star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, to an extension during the offseason.


ESPN Texans reporter Sarah Barshop says the Texans are planning to manage J.J. Watt's reps much smarter this year.

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans are past rookie minicamp and started OTAs on Monday, where the rookies got their first chance to share the field with the veterans. Houston coach Bill O'Brien says this time is especially valuable for the rookies as it makes a much bigger impact than just learning a playbook.

"When the veterans get here, it's also good to visually see how it's done," O'Brien said during rookie minicamp. "You know, we're running routes right now, that's the first time these guys have seen these routes, whether it's a quarterback, a receiver, a tight end or a back. We're running runs right now that they never heard of, that maybe they never ran. So on Monday, when we're doing these things, they'll be third team or whatever it is -- all those guys -- and they can observe how it's supposed to be done. That goes a long way toward learning."

Here's an early list of how I'd rank the Texans' seven draft picks, based on potential to have an immediate impact.

QB Deshaun Watson: It remains to be seen whether Watson will win the starting quarterback job to open the season, but chances are he'll see some playing time in 2017. Regardless, general manager Rick Smith and O'Brien hope he is the Texans' long-term solution at quarterback and already are impressed with the strides he's made in his first week in Houston.

RB D'Onta Foreman: Smith was happy Foreman was available in the third round. He will compete with last year's backup, Alfred Blue, for the No. 2 job, and the Texans envision him being able to help spell starter Lamar Miller so he does not have to carry the ball as much this season. With the addition of Foreman, a power running back, and undrafted rookie Dare Ogunbowale, the Texans have a crowded running back room.

ILB Zach Cunningham: Cunningham is a little bit of a wild card, but I could see the second-round pick finding a lot of success with the Texans early on. O'Brien said he thinks Cunningham will have an impact on special teams, and I think they will try to get him on the field often. Cunningham said one of his biggest offseason goals is to live in the weight room before the season starts.

DT Carlos Watkins: Watkins became the fourth Texans player out of Clemson, joining last year's fifth-round pick and fellow defensive tackle D.J. Reader. Smith described Watkins as "a guy who makes plays behind the line of scrimmage" and "plays big in big games."

OT Julin Davenport: The Texans like Davenport's skill set, but the fourth-round pick out of Bucknell has areas of his game he needs to develop due to the level of competition he played against, according to Smith. The GM said the Texans are high on Davenport's athletic ability and leadership, and they are confident he can grow into "a pro football player."

DB Treston Decoud: Decoud was in Houston for rookie minicamp but cannot participate in OTAs because Oregon State is on a quarter system and he is not done with the school year. While that is the case for a lot of NFL players, it does hurt him not to have that time in the building. Decoud will compete with the corners for playing time and could also see time at safety.

C Kyle Fuller: On the last day of the draft, O'Brien emphasized that he's a fan of Fuller's versatility. But if there's one position where the Texans might have a little too much depth, it's at center, with 2016 second-round pick Nick Martin, who is returning from a season-long ankle injury, and Greg Mancz, who played very well in his place last year.video


It's time to reflect on the 2017 offseason. There are a few stray veterans left in the free-agent pool, and teams could still execute something unexpected if injuries arise, but organizations have mostly closed their checkbooks and built the rosters they will take onto the field in September.

Of course, we can know only so much right now. This time last year, there was no way anybody knew that the Cowboys had drafted a franchise quarterback. Kyle Shanahan was lucky to survive the offseason in Atlanta as an offensive coordinator, let alone be considering head-coaching roles.

At the same time, we can look at what each team's goals were (or should have been) heading into March and gain a sense of whether they did enough to address those concerns. In most cases, we also can plot what they have to do before hitting Week 1.

I'm tackling these grades division-by-division (see above for the ones I've already done). Today, let's head to the AFC South, where the favorites might be the team that stayed most similar to its 2016 self this offseason.

To go directly to your favorite team, click the link below:

Texans | Colts | Jaguars | Titans

Houston Texans

What went right

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HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans have a lot of speed on offense, and on Thursday, Will Fuller, Wendall Williams and Akeem Hunt raced to see who holds the title as fastest Texan.

Hunt posted the video of the race on Instagram without saying who won the close contest. It appears Williams won and Hunt came in second.

In 2016, Williams made a name for himself when he ran a hand-timed 4.19 40-yard dash at the NFL regional combine. The laser later indicated his time was 4.32, but he showed off his speed on the field during training camp after signing with the Texans as an undrafted free agent. While playing football at University of the Cumberlands, Williams also competed on the track team.

Fuller ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine last year, and Hunt ran it in 4.40 and 4.36 seconds at his pro day in 2015.

Wide receiver Jaelen Strong was among those present at the race, calling the contest “legendary.”

Aaron Rodgers hasn’t met Deshaun Watson, but the two-time MVP said he is already impressed by what he has seen and heard about the Houston Texans' first-round draft pick.

“He seems like a great young man,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said in an interview with WYFF-TV at the BMW Charity Pro-Am golf tournament in Greer, South Carolina. “Obviously very talented. He had a fantastic career. Incredible last game (at Clemson). To throw a little option route right there on the goal line to his little receiver to win (the national championship) was fantastic. He’s had a great career."

Watson, who led Clemson past Alabama for the national title, is in his first week with Houston after starting rookie minicamp last Friday. Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Watson is “a hardworking guy” who pays attention in meetings, is competitive and a lot of fun to work with. And while Watson is battling current starter Tom Savage for the chance to be under center for Week 1, Rodgers said he thinks Watson has put himself in a position to “play effectively.”

“I got to learn for three years behind a legend, and that was great for me,” Rodgers said of his time backing up Brett Favre. “I think you’re seeing the quarterbacks now coming in a lot more ready to play more than I was 13 years ago. I think he’s really put himself in a position to play and play effectively. My hope for him would be that he gets to come along at his own pace and gets in there when he’s ready and has a great career, because like I said, I’ve heard nothing but good things about him.”

Rodgers said Watson is in a good place because he is already surrounded by the elements needed to succeed.

“The key for a young quarterback is really your supporting cast,” Rodgers said. “And he’s going to a team that has some really good pieces in place. You’ve got one of the top receivers in the game in DeAndre [Hopkins], you have a solid defense with J.J. [Watt] coming back off his injury and the way that [Jadeveon] Clowney played last year, and [Brian] Cushing in the middle. So I think the pieces will be in place.

“Bill O’Brien is a very well-respected coach in this game, and if you watched 'Hard Knocks,' I think you appreciate his personality a little bit, too, the way that he coaches those guys.”

Vince WilforkZach Bolinger/Icon SportswireFree-agent Vince Wilfork is undecided if he's going to retire or play in the 2017 season.

Vince Wilfork said Wednesday in an interview with ESPN Radio's Russillo Show that he is still undecided if he will play in 2017 or retire.

"What retirement is, I want to make sure I'm 100 percent committed to whatever I'm going to do," the free-agent defensive tackle said. "I'm not saying that I'm going to retire, and I'm not going to say that I'm retired."

Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, played the past two seasons for the Houston Texans after playing his first 11 seasons with the Patriots.

Texans general manager Rick Smith said last month that he believes Wilfork will retire and that he hasn't talked to him since the past season.

Wilfork said Wednesday that he approves of the Texans' decision to trade up in the draft in order to select quarterback Deshaun Watson, saying "the city loves it. The team loves it.

"I think it was an awesome move because you have a player that brings in a leadership quality and [is] very competitive and a winner, a winner attitude," he said. "He played in a winning system so he knows what it takes to win. Just from his background, you can tell he's a young humble kid, that his dream has finally come true to be the best athlete he can be. Now he has that opportunity."

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HOUSTON -- The Texans added some needed depth to their offensive line on Tuesday by signing tackle Breno Giacomini.

The position will be contested during training camp after right tackle Derek Newton was put on the physically unable to perform list last week. Coach Bill O'Brien said Newton would not be returning in 2017.

Giacomini will compete for the right tackle job with veteran Chris Clark, who started in place of Newton and left tackle Duane Brown while each were dealing with injuries last season. While Clark filled in, he did not prove that he can be a starter next season.

Giacomini was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2008. He spent his last three seasons playing for the New York Jets before being released in February. Before heading to the Jets, Giacomini played three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, including the team's 2013 Super Bowl season.

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HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt was excited about winning the home run derby portion of his charity softball game -- and finally beating punter Shane Lechler -- but it was even more exciting for the Houston Texans that he was out there at all.

Watt, who had two back surgeries in 2016, has said he has returned to his regular offseason training schedule. And on Saturday, before he took the field for the fifth-annual J.J. Watt Charity Classic, he said there was no concern about him swinging the bat.

"No, I feel fantastic," Watt said. "I've done more core work in the past eight months than I think just about anybody in the world. My core is about as tight and locked in as it can get at the moment. So I'm feeling all right swinging the bat.”

Watt did not appear limited at all on Saturday night and won the derby on a three-out swing-off, hitting two home runs in the first round and three in the final and four to win it all. He celebrated the victory by flinging his bat into the air.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year said he plans to limit his reps this season -- being smarter about how and when he uses his body -- to limit the chances of injury again. Prior to his second back surgery in late September, Watt had not missed a game in his first five NFL seasons.

"It mostly comes down to my workouts and just making sure that I'm very smart in my workouts and, like we talked about before, creating a plan where I don't put myself at risk," Watt said last month. "When you really think about it, football is a game of uncertainties. You go out there, you don't know how you're going to have to twist and run and turn. You can't really control what happens on the field. What I can control is my workouts. I can control what I am doing in the weight room, what I am doing on the practice field to make sure that I limit all those risks. That's what we control.

"We control the things we can control and then we go out there and play. We just let it fly. Obviously, you hope for the best."video

Now that the draft is over, coaches around the NFL are searching for ways to utilize their rookies. With Deshaun Watson in Houston, coach Bill O'Brien has a versatile weapon at quarterback who will need to be put in advantageous situations to produce numbers as a rookie. 

I went to the pro tape to find proven schemes that would help the following 10 rookies excel this season in the NFL: Watson (Houston), S/LB Jabrill Peppers (Cleveland), TE O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay), RB Christian McCaffrey (Carolina), S Jamal Adams (New York Jets), WR Corey Davis (Tennessee), RB Dalvin Cook (Minnesota), TE Evan Engram (New York Giants), CB Kevin King (Green Bay) and WR Mike Williams (L.A. Chargers). Let's take a look.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

HOUSTON -- Since the Houston Texans traded Brock Osweiler in mid-March, head coach Bill O’Brien’s message has been the same: Tom Savage is his starting quarterback.

That didn't change, even after the Texans traded two first-round picks to move up and draft Deshaun Watson. That night, O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith said Savage is the starter, and Watson would have to earn the job.

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsThe offseason goals outlined for Deshaun Watson by Texans coach Bill O'Brien are rather simple. "It's a progress league. It's about improvement every single day," O'Brien said.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for Watson to win the job in the near future. O’Brien said he has already given the former Clemson star an outline of what he will have to do to one day lead the Texans under center.

“Show up every day and get better. Simple as that,” O’Brien said. “Every single day, improve on the things that you need to improve on. There’s always going to be something, whether it’s a playcall or footwork or some type of decision at the line of scrimmage, that maybe you made a mistake on the day before or answered a question wrong in the meeting or whatever it is, let’s fix that.

“Let’s get better every single day. It’s a progress league. It’s about improvement every single day.”

Watson began his first set of NFL workouts last week during the Texans’ rookie minicamp and he will be joined soon by the rest of his teammates for OTAs.

After the Texans drafted Watson with the No. 12 pick, the coaching staff started teaching him the basics of O’Brien’s playbook: how to huddle, where to go in the huddle and the verbiage of the playcalls. O’Brien described learning the terminology of a new system, especially while transitioning from college to the NFL, like learning another language, saying it’s just something that takes time and repetition.

And while Watson will learn a great deal from the coaching staff, O’Brien said being around Savage and veteran Brandon Weeden this week and seeing them actually running the plays he is learning will help immensely as well.

Watson said that although he spent two and a half seasons as the starter at Clemson, he still kept a competitive mindset -- something he wants to maintain heading into his first set of offseason workouts.

“Of course, I was a starter at Clemson the past three years, but each and every day I would go into the day thinking I’m not the starter and I could lose my job, so for me that’s natural,” Watson said. “I’m a competitor. I’m going to compete each and every day to get better. Everyone else around me is getting better, so that’s how my mentality has been, is competing and trying to find a way to get better.”