<
>

Texans' depleted receiving corps faces test from Jags' tough CB duo

HOUSTON -- Due to injuries and a suspension, the Houston Texans will not have depth at wide receiver in Week 1.

And in the season opener, the group has to go against the Jacksonville Jaguars' talented pair of cornerbacks: second-year player Jalen Ramsey and former Texans corner A.J. Bouye.

“They’re both really talented guys,” Texans quarterback Tom Savage said. “I know we got our work cut out and we’re going to do what we need to do to find a way to get these guys the ball in space.”

On Sunday, the Texans will be without wide Jaelen Strong, who was suspended for one game for his February 2016 arrest for possession of marijuana, and wide receiver Will Fuller, who will miss four to six weeks with a broken collarbone. With those two out, the Texans’ wideouts will Hopkins, Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller. Running back Tyler Ervin could see time in the slot as well.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien praised Ellington, saying he likes “what he brings to the table,” particularly since he has only been with Houston since mid-August.

“He’s an instinctive player,” O’Brien said. “He’s come in here and learned pretty quickly. He’s been able to make some plays for us. He’s got good hands, he’s a strong player, and so yes, I have been impressed with his ability to come in here and pick up what we do, and I think it’s just ... he has to continue to progress.

“Now it’s a game-plan week, it’s a little bit different. In some ways it’s easier because his role might be a little bit more defined for him than it was in the preseason, but I do like what he brings to the table.”

Hopkins usually draws the opposing team’s best cornerback, which could be either Ramsey or Bouye. Last season, Ramsey primarily shadowed the Pro Bowl receiver in the two Texans’ victories. In the first matchup of the season, Ramsey held Hopkins to five catches for 48 yards on 13 targets, but Hopkins caught the biggest pass of the game against Ramsey: a 10-yard pass on third-and-5 just after the two-minute warning, which allowed the Texans to run out the clock.

In the teams' second meeting, Hopkins caught eight passes for 87 yards, but Ramsey broke up a pair intended for Hopkins in the end zone, including one on fourth down, plus an attempt on third down that forced the Texans to kick a field goal.

Bouye signed with the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and was the team’s top corner by the end of last season. While Bouye was in Houston, he talked about how facing Hopkins during practice helped him improve as much as he did. O’Brien said going against Hopkins on the scout team “was a very important part of [Bouye’s] development" and that “they made each other better.”

“It helped out a lot, definitely, going against one of the best receivers in the league,” Bouye said. “He had plays on me, I made plays on him, and one thing I tried to do was see what I could do better.”

But while Sunday will be a big test for Houston's receivers against Bouye and Ramsey, O’Brien said the Texans know they can’t use the missing players as an excuse.

“You always want your best players available [but] you can’t do anything about injuries," O’Brien said. “You just have to keep plugging away, and we’ve got a lot of players on offense that can play different roles for us. That’s what they’ll have to do.”