So the Texans are in the middle of their OTAs, where new coach Bill O'Brien is instituting his system, philosophies and general approach to practice. By all accounts, his staff is more hands on, more flexible and spending more time teaching and focusing on football. How that translates to the field remains to be seen, but so far, so good.
It's also been a much more locked down group of Texans in terms of media access, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of course, the result is you get overblown stories like no more segways.
The Texans do have a lot of questions moving forward, but they also addressed a lot in the draft, and if they hit on their top picks -- and that is a Milky Way Galaxy-sized if -- they should be much improved in many areas.
Sure, there are a ton of questions. Will the offensive line improve over last year's pathetic effort? Will Arian Foster stay healthy? Can Brooks Reed be effective as an inside linebacker? Who plays nickel corner? Were the free agent safety additions an upgrade? Can Brian Cushing stay healthy?
All good questions for another day. As for today, there are really two big ones:
1) Andre Johnson's continued absence.
2) Who emerges from the four-man quarterback chase?
Johnson has been silent since going to the media with his unhappiness. It's unclear what he wants. If it's more money, he's probably barking up the wrong tree. He's already more than fairly compensated. If he isn't happy with the quarterback situation...well there's not much they can do. The Packers aren't trading Aaron Rodgers anytime soon and they deemed the early draft options unworthy.
In truth, there isn't much that can happen here. Trading him isn't much of an option -- not many teams could absorb his $10 million cap hit, and the Texans would have nominal cap savings while eating almost $12 million in dead money on the heels of swallowing a lot of Matt Schaub dead money.
So Johnson is most likely to sit out until closer to the start of the season. To his credit, O'Brien has handled the situation as well as possible. They will get it worked out at some point.
As to that second question, O'Brien says all four quarterbacks -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum all have equal shots at the job.
Keenum's popularity remains high. The Chronicle recently polled readers, and an overwhelming majority predicted he would be the starter in 2014. It's amazing considering his 0-8 record as a starter and multiple second-half failures. The hope appears to be with better offensive line play and better coaching, Keenum could succeed. Keenum could still improve, and might someday be a solid backup and spot starter.
In truth, his upside is probably the man the Texans brought in this offseason, Fitzpatrick, who is a solid backup and spot starter.
He had some decent years with the Buffalo Bills, with solid yardage and TD totals, but far too many interceptions. Even last year in Tennessee he managed 14 TDs in almost 2500 yards in nine games as a starter, but he also threw 12 picks. His career record as a starter is only 27-49-1, so his teams rarely win. You could also argue he had little around him, and could be capable of better. O'Brien's coaching should help, but it would take a career best year for him to lead the Texans to the playoffs.
Savage is the unknown, a player with the right physical tools but little success on the college level. If he starts week 1, it's probably a good sign the Texans caught lightning in a bottle. More likely it's a year or two down the road -- if ever -- that he becomes the Texans starter.
Which brings us to the forgotten man, Yates. He won a playoff game as a starter and keep the ship reasonably afloat as a third round backup in 2011. Still, the team averaged 10 fewer points per game than when Matt Schaub was at the helm.
He went back to the bench in 2012 and made one forgettable appearance last season before falling victim to Keenum mania and disappearing.
With three years in the league, he could easily improve. O'Brien likes big QBs with strong arms. Yates is 6-4 with a nice arm and decent mobility. He had a tendency to force balls into coverage and lock in on his primary receiver in his rookie year (and one appearance last year), but those things can be developed. If he can pick up the system, it's possible he could be the man O'Brien is looking for. Yates gets a clean slate with O'Brien, and that often does wonders for young quarterbacks.
In reality, all O'Brien needs is one of his quarterbacks to be the Matt Cassel who filled in for Tom Brady in 2008. If any of these players can throw for 3,693 yards, complete 63.4 percent of his passes and have 21 TDs to 11 picks, the Texans would take that in a heartbeat.
Smart money says Fitzpatrick is the starter week 1. But if he can adapt to O'Brien's system, it's possible Yates -- the forgotten man -- might actually be the answer.
Of course, there are a lot of questions with the Texans. But who plays quarterback will be the biggest one until it's answered.
Whoever it is will have a lot better chance of succeeding if and when Johnson returns.