They might only be rookies and select first-year players, but there was football at the Houston Texans Methodist Training Center. So, practice equals observations, right? Here are just a handful from the first day of rookie minicamp to whet your football appetite.
- The one thing that stood out more than anything else was that this practice was so much cleaner than any rookie practice over the past two seasons. Now, it wasn't perfect, but I can only imagine that Coach O'Brien and his staff walked away feeling positive about the work they got in during the day.
- A guy that I mentioned a bunch in the pre-draft process was Cal tight end Stephen Anderson. Now, there's a tight end in front of his name, but he doesn't look like a tight end, run routes like a tight end or catch like a tight end. He won't be that much bigger than most of the receivers on this roster. But, oh boy, if can line up and make the catches he made consistently during camp, look out. Anderson made the catch of the day during 7-on-7. It was sort of a one-hand snag, behind his back, falling-over catch. It happened right in front of me on the sideline and I still can't truly describe what I saw.
- Anderson ran away from safeties and linebackers in coverage and caught everything thrown his way. That's no joke. The receivers were going through drills earlier in the day when two balls were thrown in his direction. He caught both of them like it was a walk in the park. Easy. When the pads go on, he might not be the next Mark Bavaro as a blocker, but he can be a weapon in the passing game.
See photos from the first day of Texans rookie minicamp on Friday.
- If first rounder Will Fuller has a sliver of space to work, he's going to embarrass a lot of guys deep down the field. During 7-on-7, he got behind not one but two guys, adjusted to the ball in the air, turning all the way around, and made the catch for a touchdown.
- Then, during team drills, he ran a quick hitch in front of a DB, then hit the gas up the field. Defenders coming from the inside that thought they had angles lost those angles in a hurry. As I said earlier this week, speed kills.
- Third rounder Braxton Miller did a lot of what he did at the Senior Bowl. He looked to be more crisp running routes and quicker in and out of his cuts than he was in Mobile, Alabama. He's impressive, size and build-wise, and even though I did an interview with him at the Combine and stood next to him, he seemed bigger today out on the field.
- Former North Carolina linebacker Shakeel Rashad is one to watch on the defensive side of the ball. He's familiar with this defense and felt comfortable with the first day. Of course, full disclosure, he played at Episcopal School of Jacksonville, where yours truly once coached many eons ago. I was the head coach there when Shakeel was playing football behind the back fence as a third grader. But, he looks good on the hoof and didn't fare horribly in 1-on-1s versus whippet quick Tyler Ervin. Speaking of Ervin…
- During team drills, quarterback Chuckie Keeton couldn't find anyone open so he checked it down to No. 34, the fourth rounder from San Jose State. Y'all play Madden, right? Well, when Ervin has the ball it's a lot like holding down the burst/speed button to make your guy run faster. But, in Madden, the button loses effectiveness and you have to mash it again. With Ervin, the button's permanently mashed. Dude has JUICE up the field. I said during draft weekend, he's not scared to make his money running between the numbers and the hashes. So, back to the story...he caught the check down route, turned up and then he was gone. It was impressive, folks.
- A guy on a tryout that really shocked me that he didn't get drafted, much less signed as an undrafted free agent, was San Jose State corner Jimmy Pruitt. During 1-on-1's against Fuller, he stayed right in his hip pocket and knocked the ball away on a deep in route. I wrote a scouting report on Pruitt prior to the 2015 season, anticipating that he would be in the cornerback draft mix:
"Man, he looks the part, that's for sure…smooth and fluid in all aspects…seems to glide when he runs…has some burst though, could especially see that early in Auburn game when he was trailing a run from behind and realized that he was the last guy to make a play, hit the turbo button and caught QB at the goal line and forced a key fumble…played boundary CB early in 2014 then field CB later in season…excellent COD…can flip hips and go, can flip hips and redirect…not going to remind anyone of Earl Thomas in run support but he'll get a guy to the ground…wow, he can close some ground…if he doesn't have a career at cornerback, he could transition to safety at some point in his career…his ability to flip and go or t-step and break forward, wow."
- Just so you know, if you need to know about a new cat on this team, I've got you covered. That said, it's going to be a tough nut to crack to get a contract and an invite to OTAs/mandatory minicamp. He didn't run exceptionally well at the Combine but he has the ability and movement skills to give it a good run this weekend.
- An undrafted player that is one of the smallest guys on the field is FIU's Richard Leonard. He's a competitive guy and he can scoot. He was a CB/returner combination at FIU and during special teams drills, there were some oohhhs and ahhhs when he shook a couple of defenders during a return/cover drill. He's not consummate corner size, but he's going to make the receiver have to work for every catch his way. Here was my 2015 pre-season scouting report on Leonard at FIU:
"Wonderful, yet unknown combination cornerback-return threat…on 13 punt returns in 2014, he averaged nearly 24 yards a return and one touchdown…had a punt return touchdown, two pick sixes and one fumble return for a TD…had a carry as well…accumulated yardage in every single way but receiving…stocky, strong build…looks more like a running back than a corner…ultra-quick feet…fluid hips and change of direction is sublime…just not a big guy…will battle at the apex with an outstanding vertical leap…smart, reads routes well…can play zone or man, not a great press corner given his lack of length…that said, this guy can play…could see him play a slot corner/nickel corner immediately."
- A lot of people have asked if University of the Cumberlands WR Wendell Williams is legitimately 4.19 fast. Probably not, but he's 4.3 fast, that much is clear. This dude can pick 'em up and lay 'em down.
- Keeton is a tryout candidate and it would real tough for him to get a contract given the quarterback situation for the Texans currently. But, he threw the ball relatively well throughout the entire practice. It was a marked improvement over last year and he completed a number of passes at all areas on the field. Had it not been for the injuries, he wouldn't be in Houston. But, he looks smooth. His throwing motion has improved a bit. He's got things under control. It was well worth it to bring him to this minicamp to let him compete. There may not be a more staunch competitor than Keeton, trust me on that.
That's all for now, but I'll be back tomorrow with more from the second day of rookie minicamp.