What to watch for: Texans-Vikings

HOUSTON -- The preseason opens for the Texans in Minnesota at 7 p.m. Friday. The teams met in last year’s preseason, and the Texans won 28-24. They also met in the regular season, and the Vikings won 23-6.

Here are three things to pay attention to Friday night:

1. He won’t say it, but this is a big year for Ben Tate. The Texans’ backup running back’s contract expires at the end of last season. Tate is capable; Arian Foster even said he has no doubt Tate is an NFL starter. But last season he missed five games due to nagging injuries (first a toe and then a hamstring). Tate went from 175 attempts and 942 yards in 2011 to 65 attempts and 279 yards in 2012. With Foster still on the physically unable to perform list, Tate will be the Texans’ starter against the Vikings and will play with the first team for their prescribed 10 to 15 plays. The Texans like Tate and want to re-sign him, but as they haven’t been able to start that process yet. Proving Foster correct could mean big things for Tate.

2. The backup quarterback competition is always interesting when the third-stringer is a hometown favorite. Case Keenum had a record-setting career at the University of Houston and is the subject of a lot of wishful thinking in this city. To be clear, Keenum is improving, and that’s a big part of why Texans coach Gary Kubiak raves about his progress. But another part could be the chance to push backup T.J. Yates a little bit more. Yates is still ahead of him. That was especially clear on Wednesday when Yates was more crisp and accurate than Keenum. Kubiak said this week that both players will get reps with the second-team offense, which will play for most of the second and third quarters.

3. Injuries at linebacker hurt the defense and special teams last season, and that plague already has started for the Texans in training camp. At one point, the Texans had fewer than half of the linebackers on the roster able to practice. They’ll be without several of them against Minnesota, too, but one who will play is veteran free agent pickup Joe Mays, who was released by the Broncos two weeks ago. For Mays, both special teams and defense will matter. He chose Houston over other options because he saw the chance to compete with Darryl Sharpton for a starting job here.