5 Campers to Watch: Texans on defense
July 20, 2017 08:21 PM | Drew Dougherty

Yesterday we covered the five offensive players to watch for the Texans, so today it's time to focus on the defense.

As we discussed with the offense, this is a challenging piece to write. In picking just five players, you're leaving out numerous names. You can always go with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Those two are healthy, strike fear in opposing offenses, and are primed to play together and wreak havoc.

Instead, we're focusing on a quintet of defenders that don't have the notoriety of Watt and Clowney.

1. CB Kevin Johnson - Johnson started three games last year, and 10 games as a rookie in 2015. The team's first-round selection that season, he rang up 52 tackles in Year 1 as a professional. Along with Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, he's a key at corner. But a leg injury sidelined him for the final 10 contests of 2016.

Watt's return has received the lion's share of attention, understandably. But Johnson comes back to a pass defense that was stingy in 2016. With the departure of A.J. Bouye in free agency, Johnson's impact and importance to the Texans will be magnifed.

Defensive backs coach John Butler said the third-year corner "has all the skills" physically. But Butler added that his mental approach to football has been impressive as well.

"He's accepted the coaching, but he's also one of those guys who is constantly in J-Joe's pocket and so hopefully some of that wisdom has been transferred to Kevin," Butler said. "Then it's just a matter, like anything else, putting it on the field and staying healthy and being productive and making the plays that are there."

In between Watt and Clowney on the defensive line is...

2. D.J. Reader - As a rookie last year, Reader came on strong, starting seven of the final nine regular season games, and both playoff contests. The Clemson Tiger soaked up knowledge from veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who is likely headed into retirement, and the Texans are confident Reader can contribute up front. So much so, that Clowney said the proverbial arrow is pointing "up" for Reader.

"I think he's going to be one of the best interior run-stopper guys in this league," Clowney said. "If he keeps playing the way he's playing, eventually it's going to show and he's going to be there."

Reader's not shied away from what he's called a "bigger" and "more important" role this year as opposed to last.

"I'm excited about the whole defense," Reader said. "I'm excited about our team. I know the defense a little bit more, studying a little bit more."

3. Andre Hal, 4. Corey Moore and 5. Kurtis Drummond - Veteran Quintin Demps is now a Chicago Bear, so there's a combined 20 years of experience between the seven safeties currently on the Texans roster. Hal's one of the elder statesmen in the group, as he enters his fourth year in the NFL. Only Eddie Pleasant, in Year 5, has more experience.

Hal started 11 games last year, after starting 11 times in 2015. Moore and Drummond were both undrafted rookies in 2015. The former started eight games in 2016, while the latter was out for all of last year with injury. But Drummond played in nine contests as a rookie and looked good this spring in OTAs and minicamp.

With the promise of the front seven this season, those three could reap the benefits in 2017.

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