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Houston Sports and Stuff is beginning its coverage of the Houston Texans’ 2017 season by breaking down all the position groups in an 8-part series leading up to the start of training camp.
Next up, we preview the Specialists.
We have arrived at the end folks. This is the last position group to talk about. The specialists are not the sexiest of topics, but they are still some of the most important on the team. Kickers and punters have a lot to do with determining who wins the field position battle. A good punt can pin the opponent deep in their own territory. A made field goal can add points when a drive stalls. The same goes for the return specialists as well. Being able to take advantage of a returnable punt or kickoff can put the offense in good field position to start their drive.
Nick Novak is set to play his third year with the Texans after going 35 of 41 on field goals and 22 of 25 on extra points in 2016. He’s not alone though. Ka’Imi Fairbairn will be competing for his chance to kick for the team this year. He spent last year on injured reserve and will be ready to come out and show them what he’s got. Novak has nine years of experience in the NFL so it should be fun to watch them try to outkick each other.
Shane Lechler is coming off another good year of punting for the Texans but after 18 years, he’s getting old. There’s really no telling when he will start to fade so Corey Carter will be in camp to see if the Texans will go in a different direction. There’s not really too much to this as it’s common for teams to bring in extra kickers and punters to camp. It will be on the veterans to continue doing what got them roster spots in prior years.
When it comes to the returners; there are two types: the straight-line runners and the open field play makers. Running backs are a good fit to return kickoffs because they know how to run up the middle and have the vision to see the running lanes through a pile. Wide receivers and defensive backs make good punt returners as they are used to having the ball in their hands in open field with only one or two tackles to miss before they see daylight. These aren’t always how it plays out though. The best player should always be the one who gets the job.
The Texans employed a number of different players to return kicks last year. Akeem Hunt, Alfred Blue, and Tyler Ervin are all ready to attempt to make the spot their own. Ervin is also ready to return punts again. Rookie wide receiver Chris Thompson will probably be thrown into the mix for the returner on both kickoffs and punts. He did so in college and has the requisite speed to make good run at it. Whoever steps into the role, the Texans could definitely use some improvement.
Also, the long snapper is Jon Weeks who has been holding that position since 2010.
Read the prior installments of Texans roster preview