On a team with 15 returning starters, Houston has plenty of talent on their roster heading into the 2017 season. While there are some holes to fill, the players who will replace those departures have experience. Some players are simply getting more playing time, which could lead to improvement in their games. These five players all will see improvement due to an increased number of snaps, and their success will result in team success as well.
Duke Catalon, Running Back
Houston fans should be excited about Catalon’s potential despite recurring injuries that have shortened his time in the backfield. He’s a big enough body to run in the trenches, but also skilled to catch balls out of the backfield (finished fourth on the team in receptions). Catalon started seven games last season and proved that he can be dynamic out of the backfield when healthy. His best games came against Oklahoma, Louisville, and Memphis last season, and that production will be needed in 2017. If the Cougars get a full season out of him, success should be imminent.
Nick Thurman, Defensive End
Thurman makes the list because he now has a chance to make more of an impact than last year. He saw action in every game last year, but made just six starts with players like Jerard Carter and the departed Cameron Malveaux playing last year. Houston needs Thurman to improve on his 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks to keep teams from focusing on Ed Oliver. If Thurman can become a force on the outside, Oliver can keep tearing up the trenches inside.
Jeremy Winchester, Corner Back
Along with Thurman, Winchester now finds himself as the starter after sharing time last year. With a new face lining up on the opposite side of the field from him, the secondary will need him to lock up one side of the field. With more consistent playing time, Winchester’s mistakes should be reduced as he won’t have to adjust to the flow of the game since he will start. With safeties Khalil Williams and Garrett Davis returning, Winchester’s confidence should be high knowing he has backup behind him.
D’Juan Hines, Inside Linebacker
Hines makes the transition from outside to inside linebacker, and the new position may be the perfect fit for him. Last year, teams ran away from former outside backer Tyus Bowser, and Hines proved he could make plays. He becomes more involved with the move inside, and his pairing with Matthew Adams could give the Cougars one of the best linebacker duos in the conference. With 36 games under his belt, the Cougars expect big things now that he’s one of the leaders of the defense.
Na’Ty Rodgers, Offensive Tackle
Rodgers may not be a starter this year, but that won’t limit his impact with a group that is deep. The Cougars may utilize nine players throughout the line, and Rodgers has the potential to be a weekly starter. Even with the ability to play both right and left tackle, Rodgers will find himself battling sophomores Josh Jones and Braylon Jones for playing time. After grading out at 72 percent last year (the lowest of any of the returners who played at least nine games), Rodgers can improve immensely to help a unit that will be the soul of the offense.