Entering Texans' camp, all eyes on protecting Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson and the Texans must make it a priority that he will absorb fewer hits in 2019. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans open training camp on July 25 at the Houston Methodist Training Center. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:

Is there any pressure for the Texans to breakthrough in the AFC?

After firing general manager Brian Gaine in June, Texans CEO Cal McNair gave head coach Bill O’Brien several areas in which he could improve. O’Brien wouldn’t divulge what those areas are, but McNair showed he’s clearly not scared to make big -- and costly -- changes if he doesn’t think the team is headed in the right direction. The Texans have never been to the AFC Championship Game, and while Houston has won the AFC South in three of the past four seasons, they only have one playoff victory to show for it. The Texans don’t need to win the Super Bowl this season for the team's leadership to remain in place, but there’s certainly some pressure to improve in 2019.

What does Deshaun Watson need to do to take the next step forward to being an elite quarterback?

While Watson cannot control his protection, there are times when he could get rid of the ball faster to avoid taking a hit. Watson was sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season, and he also ranked third-slowest among qualified passers in the time it took him to get rid of the ball. Watson needs to find the balance between using his mobility to extend plays -- part of what makes him a special talent -- and holding on to the ball too long. O’Brien said he believes Watson’s grasp of the offense is “light years” of where it was even a year ago. That, coupled with his improved knowledge of defensive schemes, should help Watson improve in 2019.

What would the Texans' front seven look like if Jadeveon Clowney's holdout extends into the regular season?

Even without Clowney, the Texans still have one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL in J.J. Watt. And while Watt has certainly proven himself without Clowney -- he had 36.5 sacks in his first three seasons before Houston drafted Clowney -- there is no doubt that having Clowney around helps takes the offense's focus off Watt. If Clowney continues his holdout, the Texans could get more pass-rushing help from outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who dropped back more last season than he had done previously in his career. Outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett would likely take over most of Clowney’s snaps, but Clowney's presence would be greatly missed.

Why do the Texans need D'Onta Foreman to unseat Lamar Miller as the lead back in the offense?

Miller is entering the last year of the four-year contract he signed in 2016 and is unlikely to be back in Houston next year unless he takes an incredibly team-friendly deal. While the Texans currently have more than $40 million in cap space, they do need to earmark some of it to pay Clowney -- whether that’s with the franchise tag or a new deal -- and eventually, Watson. Foreman showed in his rookie season that he has the talent to be a difference-maker in the backfield for the Texans, and Houston needs him to have a good year so they can feel comfortable going into the 2020 season with him as their starting running back, or at least as a key contributor.

Which rookie is the most intriguing entering camp?

It was somewhat of a surprise that the Texans took a tight end in the third round, given the already full group the Texans had going into the draft, but Gaine believed Kahale Warring was the best player available with the 86th pick. Warring, who played at San Diego State, still has a lot to learn about football because he didn’t start playing tight end until college, but at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, he brings a big, athletic option to the Texans’ passing game. Watson was impressed by Warring's route running, saying,"When the ball is in his area, he’s going to go up and get it."