Oh, man, how good was it to see football again at the Houston Methodist Practice facility? Uh, very. As such, here are my observations from Tuesday's OTA, the first true viewing of the 2017 team this offseason.
- There must be something about the number 21 because last year A.J. Bouye put it on during OTAs and he had a banner 2016 campaign. Hopefully, the same can happen with Robert Nelson. Known as Nelly Prime, Nelson changed to 21 this offsesason and made plays all day long. There's little question that he's key to the secondary's continued development. We all know about Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph and the return of Kevin Johnson. This group needs an additional guy to step up and on Tuesday that was Nelson. His speed was evident and like Bouye last year, he was tested consistently. Yet, Nelson stood up to those tests - short, medium and deep.
- I've told you the story of Shakeel Rashad, a second year player out of North Carolina. He was a graduate of Episcopal School Jacksonville where I coached (I even coached his older brother many years ago) So, yes, I'm truly biased, but if Shak has days like the one on Tuesday, I won't have to be any more. Rashad got a ton of time with both the first and second groups throughout the day. He made a tremendous read on a screen early in practice then broke up a pass later in the workout. But, his best play was an interception on a pass down the seam. I don't remember who threw the pass but he attempted to drop to the tight end down the middle of the field and Rashad went up and snatched it out of the year for the pick.
- Last week, John McClain said he was anxious to see which relative unknown undrafted player would step up like Bouye and Greg Mancz did in 2016 and Rashad definitely threw his hat in the ring after a solid workout.
- As always, this was a competitive workout with players going all out to make plays. Johnathan Joseph, a 12-year veteran, dove to knock down a pass that got his defensive mates completely fired up.
- The safety position is certainly one to watch and a player that I've been a fan of for years is Kurtis Drummond. At Michigan State, he was one of my favorite players to watch as he had a knack for finding the football and making plays in a talented secondary. He made the 53-man roster as a rookie in 2015, but an injury last year shelved him. However, if he makes plays like he did on Tuesday, it'll be difficult to keep him off the field again. He had an outstanding pick on a deep ball, a play that he may not have made earlier in his career. He could be a definite player to watch throughout the rest of this offseason.
- The quarterbacks had moments throughout the day, both good and bad. What I liked about all of the quarterbacks, though, was the fact that they didn't just sit and take checkdowns all day long. There were some; don't get me wrong, but all three quarterbacks threw the ball downfield, repeatedly.
- It's clear that Tom Savage is the most comfortable of the three quarterbacks, having spent the most time in this system. The ball comes out of his hand hot as can be and it is a stern test facing this defense day in and day out. He made a few outstanding throws, especially one on a deep over route to Stephen Anderson, and he made a few throws that he'd like to have back. He'll make adjustments consistently throughout the next few weeks and as the "game" slows down, he'll be that much more comfortable.
- Brandon Weeden has been the guy lost in the shuffle with all of the talk about Savage and Deshaun Watson but he can sling the rock. He threw some "LASERS" on Tuesday, including a sideline throw to Jaelen Strong that had everyone in the media around me and the defensive players in front of us buzzing. He went to him as a third or fourth read and then smoked one to him as Strong hit the two foot drag for the completion.
- Later in the practice, Weeden appeared to get his feet mixed up on the push away from center, opening the wrong way as he dropped. He never lost his eyes, though, on Ryan Griffin down the field. He got turned around, set his feet and then fired a strike for a big gain down the seam.
- Watson, as expected, was up and down throughout the day. It's clear he's still trying to think his way through the play call, the responsibilities and the execution. But, when it slows down for him, he's going to be fun to watch. His best throw all day was on a deep crossing route to fellow rookie Zach Conque, the converted quarterback from Stephen F. Austin. I was standing right in line with that throw and Watson had an open window and threw through it to where Conque was headed. He hit Conque in stride and the completion elicited applause from the offensive crew.
- One thing I did like with Watson was that he had a decent idea of what he likes or didn't with his pre-snap reads. There was one play where he was in shotgun and the defensive coverage was man. He liked his receiver in the slot and it was clearly the best matchup of the bunch. He didn't complete the throw, but it was exactly where he needed to go with that football.
- Speaking of Conque, what he is doing, transitioning from a career as a college quarterback to an NFL tight end, is daunting to say the least. However, he has the athleticism to get open and did throughout the day. He has glue sticks for hands and caught nearly everything thrown his way. When the pads go on, he's going to have to prove he can get separation as he gets jostled and strewn about by linebackers and safeties. But, if he catches the rock as he did, the experiment could be a major success in due time.
- Speaking of tight ends, they continue to get plenty of work. Ryan Griffin caught a number of passes from all three quarterbacks and Stephen Anderson has a complete understanding of coverages, which is rare for a young player.
- Case and point, the defense showed a disguise to Tom Savage and dropped off and played man post snap. The defense did a pretty good job of showing and then backing out. Anderson, though, spied it and recognized zone right away. He circled up and caught a short option route for five or six yards. If he can do that repeatedly, it will be ultra-valuable for this offense.
- One player I studied for a while after I became aware of his signing this offseason was San Diego State rookie safety Malik Smith. He was the leader of a deep and talented San Diego State secondary, starting for three years. But, starting his career in Houston, how can he make a name for himself? What is the best way to get noticed as an undrafted player? Make plays. He may have made one of the best on a crossing route the offense completed when Smith was on the field. Tight end Evan Baylis made a catch on a throw from Watson down the seam but as he was trying to avoid traffic, Smith came over and stripped the ball from him, just picked his pocket clean. The defensive backs went crazy as the defense recovered on the spot. Make plays. Get noticed. Smith certainly did that on that play.
- After rookie minicamp, the Texans signed free agent cornerback Bryce Jones from Akron. It's clear why. He's so quick out of his breaks to the football, breaking on throws in front of him in a blink. He's definitely got some moxie and transitional quickness.
- He also has a lot to learn. He was matched up in press coverage on DeAndre Hopkins 1-on-1 on the outside late in practice. I happened to look up and see him over there and couldn't wait to see how he handled it. Let's just say Jones can learn from more matchups with a receiver that's faced the best in the league. Hop gave Jones a little stutter step move and lost him at the line of scrimmage. That, though, is exactly what the rookie needs every single day to get better.
- Oh man, the Brandon Weeden deep ball to Will Fuller was as pretty as anything we saw all day. Weeden hit Fuller who threw a double move on his defensive back and was free down the field. Fuller never broke stride and took it to the house.
- If Riley McCarron, slot receiver type from Iowa, isn't Wes Welker's doppelganger on the field, there just isn't one. Now, I'm not saying he's going to be Welker, but he wears 83 and has nearly the same height, build and quickness that the former Patriots/Broncos star and now Texans coach possessed.
- I've mentioned a number of second year players that appeared much more comfortable - Rashad, Fuller, Anderson, in particular. But, the one that probably stood out more than any other was offensive weapon Tyler Ervin. I don't want to call him a running back, nor do I want to call him a receiver either. He's the proverbial offensive weapon - the one chess piece that can be used in a much different way than any other in this offensive weaponry. He catches the ball so cleanly when he's out in routes in the passing game and showed that often on Tuesday. He caught a pass up the left sideline late in practice then hit the gas pedal and was gone. He clearly has a different gear. I talked to him after practice and I kept thinking of the word "comfortable." Look, it's one OTA, but that's how it starts - get comfortable with what the team wants and needs, what you're supposed to do and quit thinking so much. He looked confident and can be a factor on this team in a number of different ways when healthy.
- I saved the best for last - David Quessenberry was back on the practice field for the first time since June 2014. Three full years of treatment, setbacks, victories, grind and the sort weren't likely on his mind on Tuesday as DQ just wants to give everything he's got to making this team. But, it certainly didn't go unnoticed by the media and the people around me. The best thing about it was that he didn't look out of place in the slightest. He competed in an arena that most of us want no part of and now he gets his shot to make this team. That's all he's ever wanted and what a story it is.
I'll have more for you next week, boys and girls. See ya then!
The Houston Texans roster in photos.