The Texans have had about a week of training camp, but coach Bill O’Brien has made one thing especially clear.
Special teams will define who makes the 53-man roster.
“We have a lot of wide open spots on the roster,” O’Brien said following the fourth day of camp on July 28. “Special teams is a big factor in it. Is the guy willing to cover kicks, like Taiwan Jones, Buddy Howell. That’s a big deal. When you look at a 53-man roster, you have certain guys at certain positions that will be your starters, and with the exception of offensive line, defensive line and quarterback probably, the rest of it … special teams is a major factor.”
That’s great, though not surprising, news to the ears of rookie fullback Cullen Gillaspia, the Katy product and former Taylor High standout who was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by the Texans in late April. Gillaspia was given the Special Teams Most Impactful Award as a senior last year at Texas A&M and is renowned for his aggressiveness and intensity.
Early in camp, Gillaspia has impressed with his one-on-one blocking and pass-catching in tight coverage.
“One of the main reasons why he’s here is because of special teams and what he did at Texas A&M,” O’Brien said. “As we go through the preseason, relative to his ability to make the team, we’ll look at fullback—he’ll do some things at fullback—but in the end, it’s all about how he does those things (in kick coverage and blocking).”
Gillaspia will have a good shot at solidifying his spot in the preseason. Special teams is an area of the game where coaches can significantly evaluate, tinker and play with personnel and schemes, as the games don’t mean anything.
“The guys that I talked about, on the 53-man roster to be your core special teams guys, those guys can definitely make a name for themselves in the preseason,” O’Brien said. “In the preseason, you can set it up the way you want. You can run a certain scheme in the punt game or punt return or in kickoff coverage. It’s not like the regular season, when maybe you don’t want to kick to a certain returner. In the preseason, you can, so you get more tape at some of these guys to see how you cover kicks.”
O’Brien is pleased with having a lot of guys who will cover kicks, specifically naming A.J. Moore, Dylan Cole and Brennan Scarlett. Even the young guys, he said, are starting to understand the importance of special teams.
In Gillaspia, there is no doubt the Texans have someone who knows that. His job depends on it.
“He’s a great kid, he works really hard,” O’Brien said. “You can see why he was the 12th man. You can see why they think so highly of him at A&M, and let’s see how he can do as he progresses.”