Thursday was the last true practice before the team heads to Arizona for preseason game number one. But that doesn't mean it was any less competitive or laid back.
Ha. Laid back. That's not happening.
There are very few sure things as it pertains to this season but preparation and adaptation will never be questioned. Everything else? Well, we're that much closer to getting a few answers. All of them? Nah, but the first look on Saturday will be an intriguing one. Let's hammer through 17 observations from today's shorts and jersey practice.
1. It took a little while for it to register but I noticed that there were some TORO heads on helmets today for the first time. I never put a ton of stock in them not being there initially, but to me, seeing the logos meant that game time is near.
2. Say the words "rub" route to a defensive back and it'll burn his backside. Say the words "pick" route to a receiver and they'll strongly correct you. No matter what side of the ball you favor, the receivers worked on goal line routes on air to get the timing down on those "rub/pick" routes. I'm a former defensive back so you know which way I lean. Cheatin', dadgum wide...okay, I won't go any further with that line of thought.
3. CB Brandon Harris has had some rough moments, but his good moments have been great. Today in 1-on-1s against DeAndre Hopkins, he had one of his best ones, matching Hopkins step for step in man coverage well down the field and knocking away the ball at the last moment. Textbook, pure textbook.
4. This was, in my estimation, CB Elbert Mack's best day. Blanketed on EZ Nwachukwu during 1-on-1 period, Mack shadowed the former Aggie receiver as well as anyone has in this training camp.
5. WR Alec Lemon doesn't blaze but he can get open, sometimes wide open. It's all about route running, selling the top of the route and being disciplined in his break. He put on a clinic mode during 1-on-1 getting free by yards.
6. WR Keshawn Martin's interior route running ability has improved immensely since this staff took over. That's surpremely evident in 1-on-1s in particular.
7. Rookie defensive backs Andre Hal and Marcus Williams got a little bit of an education today in 1-on-1s. Later in practice I heard defensive backs coach John Butler..."rookie defensive backs in!". Don't be misled, though, those rookies have made a ton of progress throughout their first training camp.
8. While I was on the air, my man on the scene Drew Dougherty provided some good nuggets:
a. In 7-on-7's, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit both DeVier Posey and Hopkins before D.J. Swearinger stripped Mike Thomas after a reception, creating another turnover. That turnover is one of many for Swagg during training camp.
b. Hal, the aforementioned rookie, picked off QB Case Keenum.
9. Regardless, Keenum threw his best pass of the day to TE Ryan Griffin for a touchdown during goal line 7-on-7. On the next play, Griffin made a diving catch for another touchdown.
10. ILB Chris Young has flown under the radar, but I've noticed him much more the past week or so. He made back-to-back plays on goal line 7-on-7, breaking up a pass and jumping a receiver in coverage on the other.
11. QB Tom Savage made a couple of strong throws, including one to WR Lacoltan Bester for a touchdown. There's little doubt that all eyes will be on Savage on Saturday night, but I'm curious as to how Bester looks in his first NFL game as well. It's an uphill climb at the receiver position but with a solid performance to add to his strong training camp who knows.
12. During goal line 7-on-7, like Young, ILB Max Bullough read and diagnosed routes crossing his face. He must have picked the right one to cover because linebacker coach Mike Vrabel praised him (which for a rookie is impressive).
13. I haven't gone out of my way to not mention DE J.J. Watt during my training camp observations, but he's so good at making the extraordinary ordinary that I erroneously take it for granted. But, he racked up two Swatts today in practice, both in two minute drill situations.
14. The team, again, faced a late game, one time out situation near the end of practice. The 3rd down play during the first drive truly caught my attention. It was not the most well executed play on the offense's side, but the positive result told me a bit about a number of key figures. On third down and long, Fitzpatrick dropped to throw with about 18 seconds left in the game/situation. He immediately got flushed from the pocket. Watt, Reed and Jadeveon Clowney were all chasing Fitz for his lunch money.
During the game that's probably a throwaway situation, more than likely, punt and play defense. But not in this situation. Fitzpatrick knew that a throwaway would've left nearly 60 yards on the field goal attempt, which wasn't optimal in the slightest. If he held on to the ball to find a route further downfield, he would've gotten sacked. So his only move was to run from those three, get what he could on a scramble and get out of bounds. Luckily, he chose option C and it was right. He was short of the first down marker, but he stopped the clock with ten seconds and chopped off a few yards for K Chris Boswell. But did he get enough for a Boswell attempt? O'Brien wasn't sure, so he took his last time out to thoroughly consider the situation, saw that it was within Boswell's range, called for the kick and Boswell booted it through the uprights. It was perfect end of game execution all the way around and great to see.
15. During the second offense's two minute, end of game situation, it was the exact opposite. OLB Jason Ankrah strip sacked Keenum on first down, safety Eddie Pleasant punched the ball out of Griffin's hands on second down and the defense forced Keenum to throw incomplete on third down. That trio of plays was the catalyst for a donkey barbeque for the offense before fourth down. It didn't help because DE Jared Crick destroyed the tackle and the running back and nearly beheaded Keenum to end the drill.
16. The last situation of the day was :30 left with no timeouts down by five, which Fitz handled well, for the most part, the lone exception being second down when Watt was in his lap. Either way, Fitz regrouped on the last play of the drill, a touchdown he threw to a player I couldn't see. But was it really a touchdown? Controversy raged. The offense celebrated but GM Rick Smith was in the end zone signaling no catch. I'll put it this way, in street football, that would've been a do-over, no question about it, especially if household chores were on the line. What...you never had anything at stake in your street football games? That's your loss.
17. There was no controversy about what happened next, though, when the second units came on the field. Forced out of the pocket, Keenum ran to his right and intended one for his receiver in the flat for a touchdown. Well, it was a touchdown alright, unfortunately, it was one going the other way. CB Josh Victorian jumped the route from behind, snatched the throw and took it the entirety of the field for six.