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Which players' health is most critical for the Texans?

There's no doubt that J.J. Watt changes the way offenses attack the Texans. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- As a violent sport, injuries naturally come with the game of football. The trick is a team's ability to weather those injuries. Today we'll examine five players whose health will be important for the Texans this season.

As a note before we start: On many teams, the quarterback would be at the top of this list. For the Texans, I don't think he will be. Whether the starter is Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett, the Texans will have a very capable backup, and that's something not every team has.

Elsewhere on the roster, though, injuries would leave some major holes.

  1. DE J.J. Watt: This is perhaps the most obvious selection. It's not that the Texans don't have other capable defensive linemen, it's just that Watt is Watt. He might be the best player in the NFL and there's no question he's its best defensive player. He changes the way the Texans defense plays and he changes the way the Texans defense is handled by opposing offenses. Watt has played through plenty in his career. He still wears an elbow brace from a nagging elbow injury he suffered in 2012. He had that massive bruise on his thigh last year that kept him on the injury report, but never out of a game. But he hasn't missed a game to injury since entering the NFL in 2011. So there's not a lot to worry about, but his health is critical to the Texans.

  2. LT Duane Brown: In the past four seasons, Brown has only missed four games, and his role is critical on the offensive line. The Texans rely more on versatility than numbers to create depth on their offensive line, which makes all of their health that much more important. Brown is one of the league's best left tackles and provides veteran stability for the whole group.

  3. RB Arian Foster: Unlike Watt and Brown, Foster has an injury history to watch -- he missed eight games in 2013 and three games in 2014. He also missed parts of three other games with various injuries last season. Despite that, Foster ranked sixth in the league in total rushing yards (1,246) and fifth in yards after contact (560). He also played a major role in the Texans' passing game, especially in the red zone, where Foster received the third-most targets of any player. The Texans will be built to withstand some time without Foster, but the less the better.

  4. LB Brian Cushing: This is the healthiest Cushing has been entering a season since the summer of 2012. A healthy Cushing makes a very big difference for the Texans' defense. It's no coincidence the Texans defense surged late in the season as Cushing returned to full strength. He wasn't spared surgeries this offseason, but none as major as the anterior cruciate ligament surgery he recovered from in the offseason before the 2013 season. Even none as major as the surgeries for a torn lateral collateral ligament and broken fibula that he recovered from in the offseason before the 2014 season. He feels good and for the Texans defense to reach its true potential, they'll need that.

  5. RG Brandon Brooks: He'll be entering a contract year if the Texans don't reach a deal with him before the season begins. Brooks is a very important piece of the Texans' offensive line. Consider what happened last season when Brooks was hospitalized with what turned out to be a stomach ulcer. Right tackle Derek Newton moved inside to right guard -- a position in which he had basically no experience -- and Tyson Clabo took over at right tackle. Rookie Xavier Su'a-Filo, who might have been able to sub at right guard, was out with a back injury. It worked out. Both Newton and Clabo did an admirable job against one of the most challenging pass rushes in the NFL. But that wouldn't have been sustainable long term.