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Houston Texans training camp preview: Can coach Lovie Smith, QB Davis Mills turn things around?

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HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans open their 2022 NFL training camp Friday at Houston Methodist Training Center. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:

What will make training camp a success? While Deshaun Watson didn't play during 2021 season, rookie Davis Mills emerged. Watson didn’t log a single snap after he requested a trade before sexual misconduct allegations against the star QB came to light. Tyrod Taylor started the season before a hamstring injury propelled Mills into the starting lineup in Week 3. Amid the turmoil, Mills still produced a respectable season of 16 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions with a passer rating of 88 in 13 games. As Mills’ comfortability grew, his performance ballooned down the stretch. In his last nine starts, he threw 14 touchdown passes, completed 68% of his passes and had a passer rating of 96. His eye-popping games were against the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans -- throwing for 867 yards and eight touchdown passes combined. If Mills looks like he’s primed for a sizable jump, then the Texans will have a franchise QB.

Most impactful offseason addition. Coach Lovie Smith made a thunderous exclamation during the offseason regarding the Texans defense. Smith claimed the Texans’ unit can’t thrive “until we get better at the cornerback position.” That resulted in selecting Derek Stingley Jr. with the No. 3 overall pick in April. Stingley's freshman year at LSU left scouts and coaches drooling over his potential, as he secured All-American honors by snagging six interceptions. A coach told me Stingley’s freshman year was “some of the best he’s ever seen.” Stingley can drastically change the Texans defense. But that initial excitement toward Stingley turned into concern after his sophomore and junior seasons were marred with injuries and inconsistency. Stingley only played 10 of the following 23 games and didn’t secure a single interception. So which Stingley will the Texans receive?

Camp prediction: Jalen Pitre will be a dynamic force during training camp. The Texans’ second round pick out of Baylor showcased premier playmaking skills during his college career. In Pitre’s last season, he finished with 18.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles. A scout told me that Pitre compares to Tyrann Mathieu, Quandre Diggs and Budda Baker. Making plays on the football is Pitre’s forte and fits seemingly into coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Pitre’s versatility should give him the ability to roam in the box and play deep middle safety. Expect to see constant reports of the No. 37 overall pick being a disruptor heading into the season.