Familiarity abounds heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET kickoff at NRG Stadium.
A rolodex of connections will be revisited Sunday at NRG Stadium. Off the field, they range from Nick Caserio and Jack Easterby to James Liipfert and Ben McDaniels.
Here’s a look through those familiar names heading into the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.
Rex Burkhead, running back — The Plano Senior High School alum signed with the Texans in June after undergoing knee surgery with the Patriots in December. Burkhead had spent the past four campaigns with New England after beginning his NFL run out of Nebraska with the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. The 31-year-old’s Patriots career spanned 1,026 rushing yards, 856 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns over 349 offensive touches. Burkhead would also handle 523 snaps on special teams, where the do-it-all recorded 11 tackles and one blocked punt.
Paul Quessenberry, fullback — On the Texans’ practice squad stands Quessenberry, who signed his first NFL contract with the Patriots during 2020 training camp after serving five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Quessenberry had multiple stints on the practice squad in Foxborough from there. The 29-year-old fullback and tight end played defensive end at the Naval Academy, where he logged 38 appearances, 80 tackles and 3.5 sacks to go with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. His older brother, offensive lineman David Quessenberry, was a sixth-round pick by Houston in 2013.
Brandin Cooks, wide receiver — Traded three times, Cooks is now on his way to eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards for his fourth different NFL team. The Patriots were among his previous. New England had acquired Cooks and No. 118 overall in the 2017 draft from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for No. 32 overall and No. 103 overall. And during the former Oregon State wideout’s lone year with New England, he caught 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. Cooks then went to the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and made it to Super Bowl LIII before going to Houston in 2019. He turned 28 in September.
Danny Amendola, wide receiver — The 35-year-old Amendola agreed to terms with the Texans four days prior to the season opener and caught a touchdown in his debut. Houston marks his seventh NFL stop for the 2008 undrafted arrival from Texas Tech. Amendola signed a five-year contract with the Patriots in 2013. A total of 57 career playoff receptions for 709 yards and six touchdowns followed during his stay. As would 106 yards on punt returns and 213 yards on kick returns. Amendola accrued the past two seasons with the Detroit Lions. He’s missed recent weeks due to a hamstring injury.
Marcus Cannon, offensive tackle — The Texans acquired the 33-year-old Odessa native and TCU Horned Frog in March. And as part of the pick swap, the organization that selected Cannon in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft acquired No. 122 overall and No. 188 overall. Between his regular seasons and postseasons with the Patriots, the longtime right tackle appeared in 134 games and started 80. Second-team All-Pro recognition and three Super Bowl rings had been gathered by the time Cannon, a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, opted out of 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns.
Jordan Steckler, offensive tackle — The Texans signed Steckler to the practice squad on Tuesday. The 25-year-old out of Northern Illinois entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints in 2020, and later signed to the New England practice squad midway through his rookie season. Steckler’s practice squad contract with the Patriots expired as the calendar turned. He would be waived by Houston at the 53-man cutdown in August and now reconvenes after a stint on the Cleveland Browns’ scout team.
Jake Eldrenkamp, guard — Eldrenkamp landed in Houston as part of the practice squad to begin Week 5. Prior to then, the 27-year-old out of Washington made two stops with the Patriots after going undrafted in 2017. Eldrenkamp reached a futures contract with New England after the 2019 season and was waived during organized team activities three months later. He returned to Foxborough this September as part of the practice squad yet was released after four days. Eldrenkamp appeared in two games last campaign with the Indianapolis Colts.
Derek Rivers, defensive end — Rivers signed to the Texans’ scout team at its formation in September after finishing 2020 with the Rams. The Youngstown State record-setter originally broke into the NFL in the third round of the 2017 draft at No. 83 overall. The top pick in that year’s class for the Patriots, Rivers appeared in 15 games during his tenure with the club, including postseason, notching six tackles and 2.5 sacks. The defensive end saw two of his first three NFL years cut short in August with knee injuries.
Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker — The hybrid safety out of Eastern Illinois had been drafted in the sixth round by New England in 2016. Grugier-Hill would be waived after his rookie preseason and claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom he played in a combined 59 games and won Super Bowl LII. The 27-year-old spent last season with the Miami Dolphins under former Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores. Grugier-Hill then agreed to a one-year contract with the Texans in March.
Cre’von LeBlanc, cornerback — Now on Houston’s practice squad, LeBlanc entered the league with New England as a rookie free agent in 2016. The cornerback from Florida Atlantic corralled a one-handed interception during his preseason audition, and was claimed by the Chicago Bears at the NFL roster deadline that September. LeBlanc has tallied 118 tackles to go with two sacks, two picks, two forced fumbles and one touchdown over the years since then. The 27-year-old had been released by the Dolphins in August.
Terrence Brooks, safety — Brooks reached a one-year, $2 million deal with the Texans in March after appearing in 29 games over the previous two years with the Patriots. Those games included 47 tackles and one interception for veteran from Florida State. Brooks eclipsed 500 snaps on defense and 300 snaps on special teams over that stretch while starting a pair of games in the New England defensive backfield. The 29-year-old Brooks entered the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens in the third round of the 2014 draft.
A.J. Moore Jr., safety — Back from injured reserve is Moore, a member of New England’s 2018 undrafted class. The defensive back by way of Ole Miss had been claimed off waivers by the Texans as rosters reduced from 90 during his rookie summer. He saw 51 snaps on defense and 61 snaps on special teams over the course of New England’s preseason sample size. And with Houston, he’s appeared in 44 career games as a core special-teamer. The 25-year-old Moore was a Texans team captain last campaign and started five contests in the secondary.
Brian Hoyer, quarterback — The 2015 Texans regular season included nine starts under center for Hoyer. The well-traveled quarterback would go 224-of-369 passing over that span for 2,606 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He would also get the nod for the AFC wild card that January before being released halfway through a two-year, $10.5 million contract. Now turning 36 this October, Hoyer finds himself in his third tour with the organization he landed with as an undrafted rookie in 2009. The Michigan State product has spent time with seven NFL teams.
James Ferentz, center — Ferentz, who agreed to remain on New England’s practice squad in September, entered the league with Houston as an undrafted free agent in 2014. The son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and brother of past Patriots assistant Brian Ferentz spent his rookie season on the Texans’ practice squad. He would then claimed off waivers by the Denver Broncos, with whom the interior lineman secured the first of his two Super Bowl rings. He’s logged parts of five seasons with the with the Patriots since then. The 32-year-old has played in 24 games with New England, starting the initial four of his career.
Drake Jackson, center — Joining the Patriots’ practice squad in September, Jackson first entered the league with the Detroit Lions as a rookie free agent in May. The 23-year-old would be claimed by Houston in August and waived as NFL rosters reduced from 85 to 80. Jackson started 44 consecutive games at center during his tenure at Kentucky. As a Wildcats captain in 2020, he earned second-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and first-team All-SEC honors from Pro Football Focus on the way to a Reese’s Senior Bowl invitation.