Day four was a short practice so the team can get out to the airport to catch a flight to Richmond but it wasn't without excitement, for lack of a better word.
What happened? Well, glad you asked.
- The absence of Arian Foster was noted and acknowledged and it was the thought on most everyone's mind throughout the workout. But, Bill O'Brien addressed it after practice, said that he injured his groin and that he'd miss some time. It's a tough gut punch to take but the team on the field seemingly went about its business as it always does. Teams/staffs can't dwell and there's plenty of work to get done. O'Brien knows this better than anyone. His first year as a full-time assistant with the New England Patriots in the very first game of the 2008 season, they lost Tom Brady for the season. That team won 11 games. I'd trust no one else to handle a curve ball like this more than Bill O'Brien.
- Ryan Mallett took snaps with the ones today and had some tremendous moments. He started the day hot completing all but one throw in a 1-on-1/group drill. He dropped a beautiful corner route on Anthony Denham for a TD. He then lasered one across the middle for a big gain. Then, he completed the drill with a dime to Jace Davis who had a miniscule step on the defensive back for another touchdown.
- Mallett had a couple of rough spots, including a few down on the goal line, but there weren't many. After missing a wide open Jay Prosch during that goal line drill, the very next play Mallett threaded the needle on a frozen rope to EZ Nwachukwu for a touchdown. EZ's No. 17 was the only blue jersey in the area with about four white ones present and Mallett stuck right in his gut.
- One of the things I heard and/or read this off-season was that Pro Football Focus rated Kareem Jackson as a below average inside/slot corner. First off, I can't even begin to get into that whole thing about PFF so I won't (just know, I truly appreciate what they do, but it's off and misguided on certain situations). As such, please know that it's not gospel, for many reasons. Either way, I was impressed with his interior coverage today, including two or three pass break ups when he was matched up with WR Alan Bonner.
- When we all talked about how the tight ends have to produce much more in this offense, Garrett Graham must have heard every word. He has been incredibly difficult to cover throughout training camp and I can't remember a 1-on-1 situation where he hasn't gotten open and made the catch. Steady, solid and a reliable passing game tool for these quarterbacks to utilize.
- Brian Hoyer made some much better throws the second half of practice. I wrote in my notes early in practice "7's out of synch with these receivers." But, during team, in particular, a move the chains team drill, he ran the offense like it's supposed to be run. He had it flying up the field, even to a point where he was back up at the line of scrimmage ready to run a play after a catch took a guy out of bounds. It was a bit chaotic until Coach O'Brien stepped in with some words of, uh, encouragement? Aggressive counseling? to get the defense back in line, so to speak.
Take a look at photos from the third practice of #TexansCamp.
- One of Hoyer's best throws was a complete look off throw on a shallow cross to Kenny Hilliard. The rookie from LSU has displayed reliable hands throughout the start of training camp but Hoyer's ability to go through his progressions quickly and find a wide open Hilliard was impressive.
- Along those lines, both quarterbacks have really impressed me with the way they get through their progressions quickly. Quickly being the key word, of course.
- I'll say one other thing about this offense. I watched every single practice and every single play in training camp last year. I can't remember one time, not one singular time when I'd say the 2014 version of this offense was ahead in any way, shape or form of this 2015 unit. It's night and day different and I'm not the only one that's noticed how stark the difference is between the two units, only one year apart.
- I only got to see two reps of pass rush one-on-ones. As I walked down to the North end of the field, Kourtnei Brown completely bull rushed an offensive tackle, which elicited some hoots and hollers from the defensive guys. Brown, later, in a team drill got loose on a pass rush as well to force an incompletion. Marc Vandermeer would call him a "subterranean under the radar" guy.
11. Linebacker Justin Tuggle was injured throughout minicamp and OTAs and that put him behind the other inside linebackers to start training camp. But, during a run drill today, he completely blew up an OL wrapping around to make a block. Tuggle was shot out of a cannon and knocked the OL backwards, right into the running back. He needs more of that over the next few weeks as he's in a staunch competition at that inside linebacker spot.
- During that 'Move the Chains' drill, rookie Kevin Johnson showed why he was a first round selection. He read a slant perfectly, broke on the throw and nearly came up with the interception. He'll get those picks eventually, but his transition ability to get to receivers, breaking on the ball, is outstanding. Improvement day after day is what you want to see and he's doing that for sure.
- Oh man, there was one collision today that I can still see in my mind. Wow. Brandon Brooks and Brian Cushing took each other on and WHOHOOO, that was a collision. Brooks wrapped from one side to the other as Cushing saw the open hole in front of him. Cushing sprinted forward into the void at the same time Brooks arrived and...POW! I'm sure Mike Vrabel and Mike Devlin will show that play to their rookies and tell them "that's what an NFL collision looks like."
14. Cornerback Charles James had another pass break up today. He seems to have one per day and, I'll be honest, I wasn't even watching him much today and he still came up with one.
- I'm convinced Nate Washington could get open against his shadow. When Bill O'Brien said he'd be the No. 2 WR if the season started today, many raised an eyebrow, shocked a bit at the declaration. But, if you took the numbers off the receivers, didn't know one from the other and watched every single play, you'd also come away thinking he should be the No. 2 receiver.
- Now, most people will wonder aloud what about Cecil Shorts III? Wasn't he brought here to be the number two wide out? Don't worry, he's had a strong camp and today was his best day, in my opinion. He was Mallett's go-to guy on shallow to intermediate routes, especially early in practice, and he can make something after the catch as well.
- One guy that most people don't even know is on this roster is defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick. The former Alabama star has been around the block in the NFL and I'm not sure that there's been a second or third level offensive lineman that has blocked him effectively. He's strong as an ox and I'd imagine that if he can have a good week in Richmond and a solid outing against San Francisco, it might be time to see more meaningful reps as training camp continues.
Got to get on the plane for Richmond, so tomorrow's observations will be from the state for lovers. Trust me, I was shocked too when I lived there for a couple of summers eons ago and that was the motto - Virginia is for Lovers. Either way, looking forward to some good work versus the Redskins. See ya' tomorrow, everyone.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.