Wednesday's workout, at least to start, seemed to have a Hard Knocks: The Day After sort of feel, but MAN, Wednesday's real winner was the humidity.
Nearly unbearable at times near the end of practice, Mother Nature dominated the day. Most importantly, though, what about mere mortal, human types on Wednesday?
Here are some observations from the morning workout.
- As mentioned earlier, it was the day after the premiere of Hard Knocks and it was an action packed first episode. I was down near field three doing a radio hit in Alabama when I heard the fans cheer loudly around 25 minutes before practice. As I talked, I surmised that JJ Watt had just run on the field. Nope. Head coach Bill O'Brien. If there's one thing that he hates more than anything else, it's the spotlight being on him and not the team. But, the fans love his fire and appreciate a quality leader when they see one. Hard Knocks gave them the opportunity to see it front and center on Tuesday night. They're all just finding out what I've known for nearly 25 years (he's going to kill me for mentioning this at all, so I'm moving on in the name of self-preservation).
- Of course, Watt ran on the field to a raucous ovation as well (to be expected) and left the field well after everyone had left. On the way out, he photobombed Deepi Sidhu and myself recording for Texans 360. This was after spending nearly 30 minutes with two different families on the field, talking with two young kids and playing football with one little boy. Yeah, but he's just worried about his image (that's a tongue in cheek blast at those that questioned his sincerity after the first episode - you know who you are).
- Practice eventually got going and it was Brian Hoyer's day with the ones. They started the day with an 11-on-11 "coming out" drill. The ball was placed inside the ten yard line and the offense was forced to "come out" from deep in their own territory. I missed the first reps in that bunch but I saw one of the best throws of the day. QB Ryan Mallett threw a laser backshoulder ball to the near sideline to get the drive going. There was some smoke on that ball and it was thrown in the only spot where his receiver could make the catch.
- On the next play, Mallett looked up Jaelen Strong on the far sideline. I lost the ball in the mesh, but the next thing I saw was cornerback Darryl Morris...and the rest of the defense heading the other way for a touchdown. I believe Morris jarred the ball loose after the catch and scooped and scored to end that drill.
- I've made this comment a number of times, but I'm still waiting for someone to adequately cover tight end Garrett Graham. He completely dominates LB and/or safeties when he's running routes. The 1-on-1s are just ridiculous. It's as if he's playing pitch and catch with the quarterbacks with how open he gets himself downfield.
- The one thing that stands out watching Graham is that he understands that the route is the starting point to getting open. He understands how to make subtle adjustments in his patterns to remain open and run away from defenders. The young tight ends will learn that in due time but they're not there yet. A couple of times I saw the younger TEs beat the defender off the line of scrimmage but they then ran themselves right back into the coverage. They started open and then covered themselves. You don't see that from Graham, in particular. When he knows a guy is beat, he never puts himself back into harm's way. It's just the way it is for veterans; they get it, the rookies will.
- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the guy that's really shone during training camp. Although TE C.J. Fiedorowicz missed some time up in Richmond versus the Redskins, he's been outstanding in the passing game. Drew Dougherty, host of Texans TV, spied a one-handed grab and I saw a pair of catches later in practices in different spots. He also beat a linebacker to the back of the end zone for a touchdown during goal line 11-on-11.
- He was drafted for his blocking, in some sense, and that part of his game has improved as well. He's the one tight end that I see regularly knocking DE/OLB off the line of scrimmage in run blocking 1-on-1s. One of the best battles of the day was Fiedorowicz against John Simon. The way both fought for hand placement and position, while exerting incredible strength and push, was fascinating to watch up close.
- Talking with a radio station in Alabama this morning, they asked about LB Benardrick McKinney. I didn't get to see too many LB/RB reps in 1-on-1 passing game, but one I did see was the MSU rookie locking on to a running back out in the flat and forcing an incompletion. As a side note, perhaps, it was just editing but one of my favorite moments in Hard Knocks that no one will remember involved McKinney. After Washington wideout Pierre Garcon stoked the fires with some trash talk directed at the Texans defenders, in particular J.J. Watt, the very next scene showed McKinney locked up with Garcon during one of the various skirmishes that took place last Saturday. I got the impression that McKinney wasn't too happy with Garcon's act in front of his defense and imposed his will.
- I've mentioned Jason Ankrah only in passing during my observations and that's unfortunate because he's definitely more comfortable in his skin as a second year player in this defense. I don't see many tight ends that can block him in the run game - I don't know that I remember him losing a rep to a tight end on Wednesday. His ability to rush the passer has improved as well and he'll be a guy I'll watch closely on Saturday night, especially with Jadeveon Clowney due to return (hopefully) soon.
Take a look at the best fan photos from the eighth practice of #TexansCamp.
- One of the talking points of Hard Knocks was the inability to hold the edge in the run game, especially on Friday's workout in Richmond against the Redskins. The player in Coach Mike Vrabel's laser crosshairs was Carlos Thompson, the undrafted OLB out of Ole Miss. Would it surprise you to know that Thompson completely destroyed a tight end on his first rep of the run blocking 1-on-1s? Yeah, I wasn't surprised either. He's a big, long former defensive end making the transition to OLB and I liked the fact that he responded the way he did on Wednesday.
- Today's workout featured a new wrinkle for the offensive line/tight ends and the defensive front seven. The line was split into three groups - the C-RG-R-TE was one group, the G-C-G trio was the second group and the C-LG-LT was the third. The defense aligned accordingly with a pair of linemen and a linebacker or a pair of linebackers and a lineman, depending on the group. We used to call that drill "halfline" - half of the line would run a play, then the other half. Bill O'Brien and company just split into thirds instead of a half. Interesting way to do it, but it was a ton of reps for all involved.
- One guy who consistently gets guys blocked is "Brick" aka James Ferentz. He did a solid job moving up to occupy linebackers and held his ground against some push from nose tackle Louis Nix. Greg Mancz, fully recovered from an upper body injury suffered during East-West Shrine Week, also had some solid reps at center.
- Xavier Su'a-Filo had a rough rep to start but then had much better reps to finish the drill. That first rep was tough because DE Jared Crick remains a house of fire in training camp. As soon as the ball was snapped, Crick shot off the line and his quickness and power flashed immediately. Crick's effort was immediately noticed by the coaching staff that screamed out "GREAT job, Crick".
15. Corner A.J. Bouye is one of a number of guys in the mix for the third CB job; that was his job in 2014. For some reason, I just haven't gotten to see a ton of his work in camp, but today I got to see a few different reps. On one of those reps he threw a blanket over rookie Jaelen Strong in 1-on-1s. Bouye ran the route for Strong, limiting any space where the QB could throw the ball. Bouye finished the play with a PBU. Bouye later forced a bad throw down on the goal line versus Cecil Shorts to get the defense a win in a 4th down drill. I'm telling you this third CB competition is legit.
- It's rare for the defense to come up with a coverage sack in any area on the field, honestly, but on Hoyer's first rep, the defense forced a coverage throwaway during goal line 7-on-7.
- When the twos came on the field, S Corey Moore jumped a route in the flat and came up with another pass breakup against Ryan Mallett. But, the very next play, Mallett stuck one in the gut of Damaris Johnson for a touchdown.
- The units flipped ends of the field for a "4th down, gotta have it" play. One play for the ones. One play for the twos. The first team defense forced an incompletion but the second team offense scored a touchdown on a short scramble for a TD by Ryan Mallett. No six shooter this time, but Big Tex flushed one over the goal posts for the first dunk of training camp. Wonder if Mallett could dunk on Vince Wilfork? Wilfork has game, by the way, and if you saw Hard Knocks, you saw the new wave of basketball player "the Nose Forward". Think on it.
- This was a day filled with situations, specific situations and I have to admit I love to see a coaching staff take the time to force players "think" the game - to make sure they're all on the same football IQ page. At one point, I heard Coach O'Brien say "Listen to what to just happened, let's think about this." All two minute situations aren't the exact same, just as goal line situations aren't all the same. Coach O'Brien and his staff work them all to prepare for that one time it happens during the season.
- During a two minute situation, J.J. Watt turned the edge in a hiccup and when I tell you he was there in a snap, I mean Brian Hoyer couldn't even get the throw off before he was wearing 99 as a vest.
21. Charles James can be heard everywhere and he made another couple of plays on Wednesday. I think I have "31 with PBU" written three times but the standout on Wednesday was his sock game. It looked like he was sporting some sort of Frankenstein socks, then again, I was at distance and it could've been the princess from Frozen too. Not entirely sure, but I do know they were probably not team issued. Just a hunch.
Well, that'll do it. One full, final training camp practice remains before the team takes the field versus San Francisco on Saturday night. I can't wait, I know you can't either.
But, I'll have more observations tomorrow. Until then, see ya!
The Houston Texans roster in photos.