Houston Texans: Roster Wars – Defense

Nov 16, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Jim Dray (81) and Houston Texans inside linebacker Akeem Dent (50) and Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing (56) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 16, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Jim Dray (81) and Houston Texans inside linebacker Akeem Dent (50) and Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing (56) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Roster wars are most fierce among players on the bubble. At the bottom end of the roster there is a very fine line between the last player who makes the team at a position and the last player that is cut. Roster Wars identifies those players and predicts which player makes the roster.

Defensive Line – Brandon Dunn vs. Devon Still vs. Jeoffrey Pagan – Two of these three will make the roster. All three could make it in the very unlikely event that J. J. Watt is not on the opening day active roster.

Brandon Dunn has been the most consistent of the three in camp. He can play both end and tackle. Dunn did some good things last year in limited playing time.

Devon Still is the sentimental favorite after taking time off to focus on his daughter’s successful fight against cancer. He is now fully focused on football and has had some good days in camp, but he has yet to show the quickness off the ball that top-tier defensive ends have.

Jeoffrey Pagan has had flashes in camp. He is basically a straight ahead bull rusher, solid against the run, but not an effective pass rusher. He came to the Texans injured and has suffered other minor injuries along the way. When available he has contributed, especially against the run.

Prediction – Brandon Dunn and Devon Still make the final roster and compete with Christian Covington for the starting right end position. One will spell J.J. Watt as he returns to form.

Outside Linebacker – Reshard Cliett vs. Carlos Thompson – The coaches seem to love Cliett’s potential, but “potential” means he hasn’t done it yet. So far he is the linebacker version of Lonnie Ballentine, looks good but can’t stay healthy.

Thompson looks solid in camp, but has less upside than Cliett. Being available could be the difference. Don’t sleep on Tony Washington, Jr., though. He’s a longshot, but if he continues to display pass rush skills he could bump both Cliett and Thompson.

Prediction – Cliett makes the roster if he plays well in the preseason. If Cliett has another bout of unavailability expect to see Thompson on the roster and Washington a practice squad candidate.

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Inside Linebacker – Max Bullough vs. Akeem Dent – Whoever wins this competition will be the #3 inside linebacker. The other will be gone. Brian Peters will be #4 because of his pass defense skills and his superior special teams play. Because Bullough and Dent are similar players there is only room for one of them.

Dent is a proven vet that is stronger against the run than the pass. He is a known quantity that has demonstrated his serviceability over time.

Bullough is bigger and younger than Dent. Last year he was primarily a run stopper, but his coverage skills are improving. Like Dent, the Texans wish he was a half step faster, but he is a very instinctive player which partly compensates for his average foot speed.

Prediction – Bullough makes the roster and proves to be a solid #3.

Cornerback – Charles James II  vs. Terrance Mitchell – James isn’t fast enough or long enough to be a top flight corner. He hustles his guts out on every play, especially special teams. He displays an infectious enthusiasm that contributes to team chemistry. He’s a fan favorite.

Mitchell is taller and longer than James. He is a slightly better overall corner, but he must outshine James on special teams to win the roster spot.

Prediction – Charles James II wins the roster spot as special teams play and intangibles carry the day.

Safety – Kurtis Drummond vs. K. J. Dillon – Drummond, Dillon and Antonio Allen are in a pitched battle for the last two safety spots. Lonnie Ballentine could join that battle if he gets back on the field. Until Ballentine proves he can get healthy and stay healthy the Texans can’t reserve a spot for him even though they love his potential (there’s that word again).

Allen has had a reasonably good camp as he adjusts to the defensive scheme. Drummond is a hard worker that has flashed at times in camp. Dillon is a rookie who is still adapting to the defensive scheme and the NFL in general. The Texans like his upside as their version of a strong safety.

Prediction – Allen and Dillon make the roster. There’s a lot of football to be played before the final decisions are made and this is a very close competition.

Next: Roster Wars - Offense

Not a single preseason game has been played, and the roster wars are very close. These predictions only indicate who is ahead today. Every player mentioned, and probably a few others, still have a shot.

Why make predictions now? It’s like a horse race.  If you could wait until the horses came out of the final turn to place a bet, your odds of picking the winner would be greatly improved. These predictions represent the players’ placement in the final turn. That provides insight into what each player must do in the home stretch, the preseason games, to win the race.