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Opponent focus: John McClain, Houston Chronicle


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on the Houston Texans' matchup with the Jaguars at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Question: The Texans have undergone major turnover in recent offseasons. You cover the team more closely than anyone. Talk me through their approach.

Answer: General Manager Nick Caserio has a six-year contract and he brought in 53 new players, with all but seven being veterans. Thirty of those 53 have at least five years' experience. They want to lay a foundation and build the kind of culture they think is necessary – and they wanted to do it with players they believe are selfless, team-oriented and high character. The feeling was to let those veterans establish the culture they're looking for, then next year – when they have all their draft choices and perhaps two or three early selections for quarterback Deshaun Watson – that's when the rebuild can begin in earnest. They took a chance on a lot of players who have been good but who also have been injured and didn't work out. Most are on one-year contracts. They didn't care who you were or how much money you made; you either did what they wanted or you were gone.

Q: You can't discuss the Texans without discussing the quarterback situation and Deshaun Watson. Where does that stand?

A: Watson will never play another down here, demanding to be traded. They want to trade him and no one's coming close to what Caserio wants. They're carrying him on the roster and he'll be inactive on game days. Tyrod Taylor is the starter. Davis Mills is the backup. Deshaun Watson … they're waiting until a team makes a legitimate offer before they trade him. So far, no one has done it in eight months.

Q: What will the Texans be offensively?

A: The big emphasis is on the run. They ran the fewest times in team history last season and finished 31st in the NFL in rushing. [Head coach David] Culley came from [the] Baltimore [Ravens] and Caserio came from [the] New England [Patriots]. They want to build a strong running game. They kept five running backs, and they think running is imperative. They were fourth in the NFL in rushing in the preseason, so they felt good about it. They think they'll be better up front because the line will get to run block a lot. Brandin Cooks is their best receiver, and the Jaguars will see a lot of [former Jaguars wide receiver] Chris Conley, who they know well of course.

Q: Talk to me about their defense…

A: [New defensive coordinator] Lovie Smith came in and his whole emphasis is on forcing turnovers. The Texans last season forced nine, which was the worst in the NFL – and that was the second-fewest in the NFL since 1980. They had 11 sacks – all by linemen – and 10 turnovers [forced] in the preseason. They were tied for second in sacks and first in takeaways. Now, they didn't play [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers [in the preseason]. They didn't play [Dallas Cowboys quarterback] Dak Prescott. They played three series against [Tom] Brady [of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers]. And last season they were last in the NFL against the run; in preseason, they were fourth against the run. The things they emphasized they did well in preseason. They didn't play against first-team players most of the time, but anything positive is big.

Q: Personnel-wise, can they play what Smith wants to play?

A: They did in preseason, but who knows? They have so many new players. They switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Bradley Roby, their best corner, won't play against Jacksonville because he's serving the last game of a six-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing-drug policy, so Vernon Hargreaves –the only defensive back to start 16 games [for Houston] last year – will start in his place. Their special teams are really good. They were already good, and they got a better punter (Cameron Johnston). They have a really good return game.

Q:Keys to the season?

A: They do have some talent. The key is, "Can Taylor stay healthy?" They have to look at Davis Mills at some point and find out if he can replace Watson – or do they need to do everything they can to get a quarterback with the first pick in the [2022 NFL] Draft? I have him (Mills) coming in for the last eight and them (the Texans) winning two [of the final eight game].

Q:It sounds as if you think the Texans will be slightly better than some observers believe.

A: I picked them to win five games. They only play four quarterbacks who made the playoffs last season – two after the fourth game. They played eight last season and started off with [Patrick] Mahomes [of the Kansas City Chiefs], [Lamar] Jackson [of the Baltimore Ravens] and [Ben] Roethlisberger [of the Pittsburgh Steelers]. They also will play five games against rookie quarterbacks, including two against [Trevor] Lawrence [of the Jaguars]; last year they played one: [Jake] Luton [of the Jaguars]. They play a third-place schedule, which is so much easier than last year. I picked them to split with the Jaguars. I picked them to beat Zach Wilson and the New York Jets. I picked them to beat the Carolina Panthers and Sam Darnold and I picked them to beat the New England Patriots and Mac Jones. I also picked them to beat the Tennessee Titans in the last game with [Head Coach Mike] Vrabel resting his starters … so I picked them 5-12.

Q: If there is a winning formula for the Texans, what is it?

A: They have to run the ball, they have to take the pressure off the quarterback and they have to stop the run – things they couldn't do last year. If they can do those things, that will help them more than anything. That would keep the defense fresh and take pressure off Taylor.

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