If I don't start this article with a bang, I'm going to be forced to do ten minutes of live goal line drills. Oh wait, that was the Texans on Tuesday. As such, the practice started with some oomph and finished with a cheer, which I'll get to in a few. Here are my 24 observations from practice on Day number TEN of Texans training camp.
1. First of all, on Texans Radio this morning, DE Ricardo Mathews dropped perhaps the best saying I've ever heard: "Butter from a duck".
It was the first time I'd ever heard that particular saying, but it sounds like something your 85-year old southern grandfather said sitting on his porch as he whittled and drank his sweet tea. Just brilliant.
2. The wide receivers and quarterbacks worked down on the goal line with coaches George Godsey and Stan Hixon running interference, adding just a small wrinkle to make the drill tougher for both the QB and WR vs. no DB.
3. CB Brandon Harris has been up and down throughout camp but I saw perhaps his best rep when he shadowed WR Mike Thomas, playing a trail man technique, during 1-on-1s. Thomas gets open against everyone but Harris was on him like white on rice. I like that saying too...it's not butter from a duck but it's still good.
4. QB Case Keenum could give a clinic on the backshoulder throw. He hit WR Joe Adams during one-on-ones with the defensive backs. It wasn't a tremendous day for Keenum but he has Saturday night to show what he can truly do with the lights on.
5. Speaking of Adams, once he's free from the clutches of the defensive back (i.e. off the jam), he's slippery. CB Andre Hal stuffed him at the line of scrimmage but downfield Adams gave the former Vanderbilt star the slip to get open for a catch.
6. It was about that same time that, while on the air, Mr. Soon-to-be Hall of Famer Shane Lechler hit our Texans Radio tent with a punt. It may have been Chris Boswell but I know Lechler had us in his sights. It's a Fort Bend county thing. You just wouldn't understand.
7. I haven't mentioned veteran OLB Laurence Sidbury much in my observations but he's been consistent during the first two weeks. He whipped a right tackle today on pass rush one-on-ones with a good arm under move to get free. Extremely interested to see Sidbury and Groves, two vets signed at the start of training camp, against the Cardinals.
8. When Mathews did his interview with Marc Vandermeer, the Voice of the Texans, Mathews noted that learning to play over the nose has been tough. Even though I've thought he's had an excellent camp, I saw exactly what he was talking about today. It's evident when he gets reps at the four technique (DE spot) that he's much more comfortable. That said, he's a tremendous asset for that defensive front at any position.
9. Rookie T Matt Feiler has suffered the ups and downs all rookies experience but during a 2-on-2 pass rush drill, I saw him make a quality transition on a stunt. To be able to do that at this point is a big feather in Feiler's cap but there's plenty of mountain to climb as a young tackle.
10. Mike Farrell was brought to Houston early in camp and played for Bill O'Brien in 2012 at Penn State. I didn't expect a ton but he's been a pleasant surprise. With the number of injuries in the OL currently, he could actually surprise if he stays healthy. He's not the best pass protector in the world but he's definitely improved on that skill since he's been here.
11. During the team periods, I couldn't see a ton but one thing I could see was the tight ends. I remarked to Vandermeer on Texans Training Camp Live this morning that the difference on the edge is evident. CJ Fiedorowicz is the one guy that has the technique, power and ability to turn the edge in the run game. Ryan Griffin is still a work in progress, as is Zach Potter. Those three must be able to control DE or OLB such that there's an opportunity for running backs to get to the perimeter running downhill. I love Arian Foster's cut back abilities, but that ability is muted if that's all he's allowed to do. These running backs need to get to the edge now and Fiedorowicz, during a team run drill, in particular, controlled that OLB and gave room to RB Alfred Blue.
12. S Jawanza Starling made another play by breaking up a pass intended for Potter during a team period. Given new life with a new coaching staff, Starling caught my attention last weekend and continued that through today.
13. RB Jonathan Grimes looks as good as he's looked since being signed as an undrafted rookie by the Texans in 2012. He caught a pass out of the backfield from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick today during a two minute situation. I could see Grimes getting a ton of work on Saturday night in Arizona.
14. This one from my running mate and guest observer Drew Dougherty:
Travis Labhart LAID OUT for a 40-yard gain over the middle. Labhart got deep and came down with an amazing grab. Can't remember who threw it though. (**Doesn't matter who threw it, Drew - it's the catch that matters. Thanks, DD!)
15. The focus for the defense since Bill O'Brien signed on the dotted line is turning teams over. That unit has done a great job during camp producing big plays on turnovers. Safety Chris Clemons scooped and scored a fumble during a team drill.
16. Hal's best play of the day, and just another one on the pile in this training camp, was a break up on a ball that he exploded through to knock away from a receiver. I honestly believe that Hal broke the ice, truly, when he intercepted a pass intended for Andre Johnson last week in practice. From that point forward, Hal has made at least one stellar play a day.
17. For a guy that hasn't been here long, G Bronson Irwin has competed hard, I'll give him that. Today, though, he pulled across the formation on a power run play and had a little trouble keeping his feet. ILB Chris Young gave him the ole and slid back into the hole and made the tackle. I'm not sure that O'Brien saw Irwin fall but the Texans coach did remind the team to "stay on your feet". Yeah, I don't think poor Irwin had plans to eat grass, Coach. Hey, it happens, right?
18. O'Brien was full of one liners, but you knew that already.
19. During a two minute situation, Tom Savage threw a TD pass to Labhart who just happened to be WIDE open. That's happened a couple of times in camp as it was a blown coverage, obviously. I say obviously because the first voice I heard after the play was linebackers' coach Mike Vrabel questioning his young OLB as to what he'd been doing during that play. Suffice it to say, it didn't quite come out of Vrabel's mouth as cordial as that, but you get the point.
20. There's a comfort level I feel with Kendrick Lewis back on the field at safety. During a two minute drill situation, he covered a receiver like a blanket in a man-to-man situation.
21. As a coach, it's hard to ever tell if your methods are getting through to your players. But one play during that two minute situation told me everything. OLB Whitney Mercilus jumped off-side and before the whistle stopped, he was off on his lap around the field. What made it even more memorable was that Groves sprinted on the field to replace Mercilus before the whistle stopped too. That's pretty impressive - talk about being held responsible for your actions. Not one coach had to say anything to either one - it was just done. That's a good sign. Not the off-sides, of course, but the accountability of these players that many questioned last year. That won't be an issue again.
22. OLB Brooks Reed won't be the highlight show that the guy on the other side may be, but he's quietly (not shocking if you know him) had a strong camp. He blazed the edge during a two minute drill for what would've been a sack. He's been ultra-difficult for T/TE to block in the run game and his pass rush acumen has improved. Now, it's time to put it all together on the field in the regular season.
23. I love the situations O'Brien's thrown at this team, more so the ones when the team has no time outs remaining. That stress and panic can engulf teams late in a half and I like Fitzpatrick's demeanor look in those situations.
24. Practice ended today with a Ricardo Mathews punt catch. It's not even a return, just a catch. But, the 300 pounder snatched Lechler's punt like it was an unbuttered duck and set off a big time celebration.
Oh, the reward? No evening practice walkthrough before an off-day. Sure, it was punter/defensive lineman collusion but whatever it takes to get out of practice for a day, so be it. There wasn't one player that had any problem with that collusion.