Months of speculation and educated guesses ended on Friday, in a sense, as the 2015 rookie class reported for its first action as Houston Texans.
The Wake Forest helmet, the Rice jersey and the Norfolk State green and gold were all set on the shelf at home and the battle red, deep steel blue and liberty white were donned. Some questions still persist, but the weekend goes a long way toward answering most of those questions.
"How will these players actually look in person?"
"Did we miss on anyone?"
"Boy, we were lucky to find that guy, huh?"
If there's one consistent in this player selection process, it's that nothing is unexpected.
As Texans head coach Bill O'Brien noted early in his press conference on Friday, this is a great weekend to evaluate where these rookies are, what they have to do to be ready by OTAs, how much work has to be done before training camp and, in some cases, whether there are any players here on a tryout that deserve an extended look and a contract.
Having been to the Senior Bowl the past two years, that's sort of what this feel like. Young players doing their best to get the coaches' attention. In a good way, of course. And, most importantly, without pads or contact. Sometimes the exuberance gets away from players but in the end, this is first impression and that can go a long way for these rookies.
Seven draftees. Eight former practice squad players. 16 undrafted free agent signees. 16 players here for a weekend on a tryout, hoping to extend their football career for as long as possible.
-- Of the seven draft picks, first round selection Kevin Johnson, the cornerback from Wake Forest, has most everyone's attention. His ability to break on the ball in off coverage is just outstanding. He's a tough, competitive corner that has the perfect attitude to succeed in this league. If he gets beat, he's disappointed but it doesn't bleed over to the next play. But, man, he's eager and soaks up coaching, which is fun to watch as a former coach. He had more juice on Saturday and it showed as he covered receivers all over the field.
-- Former Texas A&M WR Travis Labhart is a former practice squad player who has starred. He got open against everyone and caught everything. It's easy to overlook a former practice squad player, but many in the area are well aware of Labhart's exploits at A&M. Just the difference of one year in the system, with this staff's coaching behind him, it was clear he and EZ Nwachkwu were far ahead of the 47 players on the field this weekend.
-- Lynden Trail sounds like the road that takes you up the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the 6'7", 269 lb. OLB cuts an impressive figure. However, he got some kudos from O'Brien for his work on special teams early in practice on Friday. He also was able to knock down a pass as he leapt in the air and swatted a pass away as he dropped into coverage. The former Norfolk State star did what he needed to do as he made a quality first impression.
-- RB Zach Zwinak is here on a tryout but he's the one player this staff probably knows more than any other. Zwinak was O'Brien's power back at Penn State and had he not gotten injured during 2014, he would've been drafted or signed a contract at this point. He doesn't look hampered by the injury, has caught it well out of the backfield and runs downhill. The backfield is crowded here in Houston, but if he proves he's healthy, he's got some football left in his career.
-- Another Penn State product is here, but he wasn't coached by O'Brien. Former basketball player Ross Travis is a 6'6" and 235 lb. Wearing No. 83, from a distance, he looks like Vincent Jackson. He's athletic and got open in 1-on-1 and caught the ball well throughout the first two days of camp. I can't even begin to think how long it takes for a player to learn all he needs to learn about this offense, not to mention learning football for the first time. But, Travis looks good on the hoof and is worth watching.
-- Former Ole Miss OLB Carlos Thompson is one guy that caught my eye, physically, and I remembered watching him at Ole Miss. But, he stands out more in person.
-- Before the first practice on Friday, I asked Benardrick McKinney if he had butterflies or any nerves. Nope. I was sort of stunned so I asked again. Nervous at all? Same answer. Nope. I appreciated the honesty and the confidence. Then, when we went out to the field, I could see why. He barked out the calls on every defense. He got guys lined up. He was in charge from the first snap to the last. We only fear what it is we don't know and McKinney was clearly prepared. And, to think, none of us will see his best asset until the squad puts the pads on in late July/early August.
-- Quarterback Kevin Rodgers is only here on a tryout but he had some moments, throwing the ball fairly well. It's never going to be perfect, but he made a couple of strong back shoulder throws, hit receivers in stride and when he missed, he did so such that no one was catching it. The folks at Henderson State should be proud of him, no matter what happens this weekend. He threw it well in most every drill but struggled a bit at the beginning of team drills. Regardless, he had two solid days throwing the ball.
-- Former Troy WR/Ret. Chandler Worthy looks up at all of us media members, literally, but this guy can scoot. I can't wait to see him make a few catches in space and run. Run real fast.
-- Le'Vander Liggins got the first "Who's 27?" query on Friday from O'Brien after he ran down on special teams and was in perfect position. Another player here on a tryout, Liggins is a 5'11", 190 lb. cornerback from Louisiana Tech. Obviously, there can be nothing more important than to have the team's head coach single you out and that happened early in Friday's practice for Liggins. By Saturday, O'Brien had learned Liggins name as he made another couple of quality plays.
Take a look at the best photos from day 1 of rookie minicamp.