KAZ’S KORNER

FOOTBALL SEASON NOT THAT FAR AWAY

Although major league baseball claims that last night’s annual All-Star game was at the halfway point in the season, both NFL and college football players are getting their bodies prepared for the upcoming training camps, which begin in only a couple of weeks.

The NFL camps begin in two weeks, while the collegians start sweating through drills the first part of August. In both cases, there are more players trying to make their respective teams than the limited number of roster spots will allow.

So the players are going to have to grind their way through the tedious drills and skull sessions that are so prevalent when the training camps actually begin.

There are plenty of eyes focused on the Houston Texans, who will officially start their two-a-day sessions on July 26 at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. W. Va.

Houston opens the exhibition season on Aug. 9 at Carolina and then returns home to meet the New England Patriots Aug. 19. The New Orleans Saints used The Greenbrier for the last three seasons.

The other two pre-season games are at New Orleans on Aug. 26 and then wind up with the high-rising Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 31 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

One of the biggest question marks facing the Texans this season in the status of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J Watt, who missed most of last season with a back injury.

Texan coaches are anxious to see Watt rejoin the league’s top defense opposite Jadeveon Clowney at end when they participate in full-contact drills at The Greenbrier.

Clowney should be completely healed from the sore ankle he got during the OTAs in May. Last season he had 52 tackles and six sacks and is confident another dominant year lies ahead, according to an article appearing in the Houston Chronicle last week.

Another position that should get plenty of attention is at quarterback where Head Coach Bill O’Brien already has named Tom Savage as his No. 1 quarterback. This will be the first time Savage has been in the starting role as the fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft hopes to bolster an offense that averaged a mere 17.4 points per game last season.

Waiting in the wings will be the 2017 first-round pick Deshaun Watson, who led the Clemson Tigers to a national championship earlier this year and is carefully watching and listening to both Savage and back-up Brandon Weeden.

O’Brien told the Chronicle last week that Watson is not nearly where he needs to be if he expects to be a full-time starter in the NFL, but that he notices a lot of qualities a head coach likes. “We put a lot on his plate during the spring and he handled it very well,” O’Brien said.

The Rice Owls will kick off the 2017 College Football Season when they meet Stanford at Sydney, Australia. The game begins at noon August 27 in Australia, but can be seen in Houston at 9 p.m. on Aug. 26.

According to an article in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, college football is bigger and brighter every year on opening weekend.

“What are the chances that two blue bloods meet in the season opener and again in the national title game in the same stadium?” the article asks.

“That could happen with Alabama and Florida State, tipping off at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” the article adds.

“It is not the only blockbuster match-up scheduled Sept. 2. At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Florida faces off against Michigan and LSU takes on BYU at NRG Stadium. On Sept. 3, Texas A&M opens against UCLA in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.” the article adds.

There are some college head coaches who face the “win or be fired” syndrome. At the top of the list is Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, followed closely by Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.

These coaches are far from being classified as losers, but they haven’t satisfied their demanding fan bases, especially their generous donating alumni.

KWICKIES…Houston Rockets’ owner Les Alexander seems to be taking a page out of the Houston Astros formula for success this year. The Rockets last weekend signed their top star James Harden to a six-year $228 million contract after going out and getting free agent Chris Paul. The Rockets’ front office believes they will win the NBA championship title in the very near future by opening up the purse-strings.

The three Houston Astros top minor leaguers shined in Sunday’s Future’s Game at Marlins Park in Miami. Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker helped the United States defeat the World Team 7-6. Both youngsters slapped doubles and drove in runs. First baseman Yordan Alverez got a hit in his only at-bat for the World Team.

Xander Schauffele sunk a three-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole Sunday to win the Greenbrier Classic at White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. with a 14-under par 266 to beat Robert Streb by a stroke. Sabastian Munoz of Columbia, led for the first three rounds but had to settle tied for third. It was the first Pro Tour victory for the 23-year-old Schauffele, who pocketed a check for $1,278,000.

JUST BETWEEN US…If the Houston Astros wanted to make a statement before this week’s All-Star break, they certainly made it loud and clear when they annihilated the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday afternoon to the tune of 19-1, which was a season-high in runs reached for the fourth time in franchise history. The win put the Astros 16½ games ahead of both the LA Angels and the Texas Rangers. Houston goes into the All-Star break with a 60-29 record, which is second only to the LA Dodgers (61-29) and a major league best 33-11 road record. Houston is batting .298 away from home and just a few percentage points lower for overall average. The look to be a shoo-in to win the AL West and should top the franchise record of 102 wins.