Week 1 Preview: Bears at Texans
Brock Osweiler cannot predict exactly how his first game with the Houston Texans will transpire.
But Osweiler knows one thing. After spending the past four seasons in the same quarterback room as future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, he will be 100 percent prepared.
"I can promise you, from Monday to Sunday, every single hour is accounted for," said Osweiler, who left the Denver Broncos as a free agent in March to sign a four-year, $72 million deal with the Texans. "I know you can say that about a lot of guys in that locker room and definitely this coaching staff as well. So I'm not the only one doing that, but that was one thing I was able to see and learn from Peyton from my time with him. There was never a stone that was left unturned."
Houston hopes its new faces on offense and familiar faces on a dominant defense can lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance. The Texans will open the season as a home favorite against the Chicago Bears, who are looking to improve in their second season under coach John Fox.
If any opposing coach knows what to expect from Osweiler, it is Fox. He coached the 6-foot-8, 235-pound quarterback for two seasons with the Broncos before joining the Bears before the 2015 season.
"Brock is highly intelligent," Fox said. "He spent a couple good years under a pretty good guy in Peyton Manning. He's wired right from a mental standpoint. He's big, he's tall. He is athletic for a tall man. A lot was made of his height, and he hangs in the pocket pretty well."
The Bears went 6-10 in their first season with Fox, who led two-year turnarounds during his previous coaching stints in Carolina and Denver each ending in Super Bowl experiences in Fox's second season. Quarterback Jay Cutler returns for his ninth season in Chicago, where wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White offer his top targets downfield.
White will make his NFL debut on Sunday after missing all of his rookie season because of a stress fracture in his lower left shin. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound receiver was the Bears' first-round selection (No. 7 overall) out of West Virginia in the 2015 draft.
Bears running back Jeremy Langford also expects to take on a more prominent role in the offense. Langford is first in line to replace two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, who signed with the New York Jets during the offseason after the Bears elected not to bring him back.
Houston's hard-nosed defense presents a tough test for Langford, White and the rest of the Bears. The Texans set a franchise record in 2015 with 45 sacks, including a 17 1/2 sacks from J.J. Watt and 12 sacks from Whitney Mercilus. A relentless pass rush was part of the reason Houston finished 9-7 and won the AFC South division title despite a revolving door of quarterbacks led by Brian Hoyer.
The Bears are expecting Watt to play but their best offensive lineman, Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long, is questionable with a shoulder injury.
Watt returned to practice this week after missing the preseason as he recovered from back surgery to repair a herniated disc. Texans coach Bill O'Brien did not comment on what kind of workload the four-time Pro Bowl defender would be given against the Bears.
"I would say that he will play," O'Brien said. "Beyond that, I'm not going to answer too much more about that. But I'll say that he'll play in the game."
A revitalized Houston offense could help to Watt and his defensive teammates stay off the field.
In addition to adding Osweiler, the Texans bolstered their backfield during the offseason by signing free agent running back Lamar Miller from the Miami Dolphins. Miller ranks fifth in the NFL over the past two seasons with 2,643 yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile, a dynamic receiving corps featuring DeAndre Hopkins and a pair of rookies, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, will test Chicago's secondary.
The Bears' defense is strong up front with Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and rookie Jonathan Bullard helping to anchor a 3-4 scheme. Lamarr Houston and Willie Young will try to pressure Osweiler from their spots at outside linebacker. However, the back end of Chicago's defense is fraught with inexperience and inconsistency.
Rookie pass rusher Leonard Floyd also will make his NFL debut for the Bears. Shoulder and hamstring injuries during the preseason limited Floyd, who was Chicago's top pick (No. 9 overall) in this year's draft.
"Overall, his camp was kind of choppy," Bears defensive coordinator Vig Fangio said. "... He's up against men now. And he's found that out quickly. Some ways, it's not a bad way to break in."
Updated September 9, 2016