The Houston Texans made a trip to the NFL Playoffs but were forced to replace some key pieces this offseason. It is an important offseason for Bill O'Brien's team but, with less time to work as a team during the pandemic, they will be forced to adapt. If a return to the postseason is to occur, then some positions will need to be sorted out in training camp.
CBS Sports examines five positions that are up for grabs in August.
The two starting boundary cornerback positions are likely a competition between three players: Gareon Conley, Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson Jr. Conley and Roby are former first-round selections by other clubs. Johnson was a second round pick made by Bill O'Brien last year. He struggled as a rookie but has been putting in a lot of hours with a footwork coach working on his craft this offseason. The trio is stocked with talent but talent is pointless without production.
Vernon Hargreaves, another former first-round selection by another team, is tentatively scheduled to start in the nickelback role. John Reid is a tough player that can push him in camp. The cornerback position has been wildly problematic for several years and that could be the case yet again.
2. Right guard
Zach Fulton is the incumbent starter at right guard but his play in 2019 was uninspiring. The AFC South franchise was forced to try several different starting combinations along the offensive line. The fruits of their labor was essentially finding a combination that worked for them. When the season opens, Fulton may very well start again. However, he should be forced to compete with Senio Kelemete and Charlie Heck for the spot in the rotation.
On average, Watson holds the ball in the pocket longer than most quarterbacks. It is important that they fortify his protection. The defense carried the Texans for years but the offense is beginning to carry their weight with Watson under center.
3. Slot receiver
Houston suddenly has an odd assortment of pass catchers for Deshaun Watson. Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller are the favorites to start on the edge with Kenny Stills serving as competent depth. Those players are facing the challenge of filling the large shoes vacated by DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to Arizona.
There is also a competition for the slot receiver position. Long-time Packers receivers Randall Cobb, who played with the Cowboys last season, is a professional that Watson can rely upon. Keke Coutee has fresher legs but has missed 17 games over two seasons. Comparatively, Cobb has missed 24 games over nine seasons.
4. Tight end
Darren Fells recently turned 34 years old, which is ironic considering he recorded 34 receptions last season. The Texans used two draft choices on the tight end position in 2018. Jordan Akins actually finished the season with more receptions and receiving yards than Fells. Fells was arguably the team's second best red zone option behind Hopkins. Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring are a few other intriguing tight ends on the roster.
It may be wise to play Akins red zone to red zone before inserting Fells for scoring opportunities.
5. Defensive line
J.J. Watt is the unquestioned starter on one side of the defensive line. Whitney Mercilus has a spot on the field regardless of the role Houston asks him to play. Charles Omenihu flashed some of his potential and could command more repetitions this fall.
D.J. Reader left for the Bengals in free agency. His impact was widely underrated across the league. The team attempted to replace him with Timmy Jernigan in free agency but the deal fell through, which left them desperate for some aid at the defensive tackle position. TCU's Ross Blacklock was waiting for them in the second round of the draft. He is a bit raw but will be forced to learn on the job.