Why the Texans needed to sign O.J. Howard

It was obvious the Texans needed reinforcements at tight end.

That's why they signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round draft pick O.J. Howard to a one-year contract with a maximum value in the $4 million range, according to a league source.

Howard visited the Texans on Thursday, took a physical and quickly agreed to terms after previously visiting the Cincinnati Bengals after being cut by the Buffalo Bills.

The Texans placed rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano on injured reserve with a knee injury with a league source saying he's expected to return within the first half of the season.

The Texans have only starter Pharaoh Brown, second-year player Brevin Jordan and Howard as their tight ends on the 53-man roster with tight ends Jordan Akins, a former Texans starter, and Mason Schreck on the practice squad along with fullback-tight end Paul Quessenberry. The Texans tried to trade for Miami Dolphins tight end Adam Shaheen, but the trade was nullified when he failed a physical due to a knee injury and he was placed on the Miami's injured reserve list after reverting to their roster. Tight end Antony Auclair missed the entire preseason with a knee injury and was released. 

Brown is recovering well from a hamstring injury and is expected to be ready for the first game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts, according to a league source.

“As a general rule, we never stop looking to upgrade our roster, tight end position, all positions," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "I can understand we’ve had a few injuries. That’s the one position that injuries have taken a toll a little bit. We still like the people that we have right now and we’re going to dress at least three guys on game day. We’ll feel good about the three that we dress.”

Howard lost ground behind Quintin Morris and Tommy Sweeney in Buffalo. He did score a touchdown in a win over the Denver Broncos, but it wasn’t enough to secure a roster spot on a squad headlined by Dawson Knox, their veteran starter. Howard caught 14 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown last season for the Buccaneers. He has 119 career receptions for 1,737 yards and 15 touchdowns. 

A former third-round draft pick, Akins was cut by the New York Giants after joining them during the offseason as a free agent.

Akins had 24 receptions for 214 yards on 33 targets in 13 games and three starts last season for the Texans.

Akins has 114 career receptions for 1,260 yards and three touchdowns.

Two seasons ago, Akins caught 37 passes for 403 yards and one touchdown.

Akins is already impressing in his first practice back with the Texans, making several outstanding catches.

“Sometimes you go your separate ways and if we get a chance to work together again, we’d like that," Smith said. "That’s the case with Jordan. We talked about the tight end position and where we are with it. He was available and it made sense to us. It made sense to him too. Again, we’re always try to improve, and we thought he’d been a good fit for us. We’re excited about him being back.”

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Texans notebook: Rookie Kenyon Green slated for major role, perhaps even as a starter

By Aaron Wilson 

Texans rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green hasn't been officially named a starter yet, but he's closing in on a major role for the AFC South franchise.

The Texans cut former starting left guard Max Scharping, and Green could be the first-team left guard against the Indianapolis Colts during a Sept. 11 season-opener at NRG Stadium.

Texans coach Lovie Smith declined to name the first-round draft pick from Texas A&M and former All-Southeastern Conference and All-American selection as the starter. The Texans' other top option at left guard is versatile blocker Justin McCray.

“I can say this easy: Kenyon Green will play for us quickly this year,” Smith said of Green, a former blue-chip recruit from Atascosita High School. “How about that?”

Drafted 15th overall, Green had an impressive debut against the San Francisco 49ers after missing most of the preseason with a concussion. He knocked down linebackers at the second level. He opened a big hole on Marlon Mack's 24-yard run. The running game was cranked up once Green was in the game. He displayed power and agility.

Green crushed 49ers linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles on a run by Rex Burkhead for five yards. And on Mack's longest run of the preseason, Green got a ton of push up the middle, shoving back 49ers linebacker Segun Olobi at the second level to set up a touchdown.

"It felt good, getting out there with my teammates," Green said. "There's still things I can do better, stuff I need to work on, my technique and everything, getting more comfortable out there. Overall, I think I did pretty good. Physical, taking people off the ball, making sure I'm driving them off the ball. I feel like we played good as a unit.

"I feel like we did real good. It's a blessing being out there, being with the hometown team. I'm happy to be out there and happy I can contribute to my team. I need to keep building. I can get better at the little things in my game. That's all I'm worried about is getting better. After the first hit, I calmed down and the jitters went away. I'm just focused on getting better whether it's second-string or starter."

From his teammates' standpoint, Green is on the right track. They enjoyed watching him manhandle defenders.

"It was awesome, excited for him to get in there and get some more live action," quarterback Davis Mills said. "He's been banged up a little bit throughout camp and out of school so it's exciting to get him finally in there. I think he had a pancake on one of his first plays, so that's exciting finally getting his feet wet."

Figuring out the running back position

One of the biggest decisions the Texans faced during the preseason was determining who's their primary running back.

They accomplished that goal by going with fourth-round running back Dameon Pierce, a hard-nosed, explosive runner who rushed for 86 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries in two preseason games. They cut veteran Marlon Mack, once atop the depth chart, and re-signed him to the practice squad. Mack is expected to eventually be back on the 53-man roster.

“First, as we came in was our one running back, that’s what we wanted to sort out," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "Who’s going to be our lead? From there, if the lead goes down, guy with a similar skill set. You need a third-down guy that’s maybe a little bit better with protection. 

"Most third running backs, you like them to play a little bit of special teams too. All these things we felt like going in, we had a group where a lot of guys had highlights to their game that we thought would fit eventually. That’s how we went with that group.”

Mack has excelled at every stage since the Texans drafted him out of Florida.

He's earned his status with his work ethic and skills.

"He comes into the room, you start talking to him, he’s got a little confidence," Smith said. "Then, he went to the field, special teams, what do I need to do coach, everyday. He loves football. I did know a little bit about some of his highlights before, run the football. 

"Thought he would meet our personality that we’d like to be and that’s what we’ve seen. Then, he starts playing in games and we’ve seen every step along the way. We’ve seen the same thing from him. We’re excited about him being on the team and that running back room is a lot stronger with him in it.”

New WR not a special-teams stalwart

One of the reasons new Texans wide receiver Tyler Johnson didn't make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster was his lack of skills on special teams.

Johnson is a pure wide receiver who was claimed off waivers by the Texans, who rank third on the waiver wire priority order.

“Waiver wire, when it comes out, we look at all of our players and as you go through the process, through the draft, you see a lot of guys," Lovie Smith said. "You can’t get them all. Tyler is a player that we like for a period of time and he was available. We continue to look to upgrade the roster, it made sense. Excited about him coming here”

What about special teams?

"In an ideal world, we’d like for at least one of our positions, as you look at our receivers now, if we dress four, at least one needs to play special teams," Smith said. "We can find a spot for a guy that’s an excellent receiver.”

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v Los Angeles Rams

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