The consensus amongst most people was that day one of training camp was uncharacteristically bearable. Sure, it was in the 90s but it felt like a cold front in comparison to first days of camp in the past. Honestly, it just wasn't as humid as it turned out to be later in the day. Well, day two brought the funk and the humidity and it was seemingly back to normal. The players, unfortunately, paid for it too. A night practice might be the perfect tonic, so to speak, for these players to unleash on the first day of pads.
So, what happened in day two, other than the heat winning the day? Here are my observations.
- Following a similar script to minicamp/OTAs, Ryan Mallett spent the day with the presumed first unit and Brian Hoyer spent the day with the second unit. Bill O'Brien mentioned in his post practice presser on Saturday that he wasn't any closer to a decision on the starter and that was evident when Mallett took the first team reps.
- Mallett responded on Sunday with a solid day, a better day than day one. He threw it well at nearly every level on the field, with touch when needed, completing a number of different throws in various drills throughout the day. More than once, he connected with DeAndre Hopkins (more on him in a bit) and got the Texans two wide receiver free agents Cecil Shorts III and Nate Washington consistently throughout the day.
- I've mentioned, more often than not, that the only sure thing at the receiver position is that Hopkins is a lock. Other than than, it's a wide open competition for every spot and every rep. Shorts, Washington and company have engaged in a full-on, no holds barred battle and no one is backing off.
- Alan Bonner is one of those guys that has injected himself into the receiver competition and he's had two solid days getting open, catching the rock and running after the catch.
- The best catch of the day took place all the way down the field away from where I was standing. Mallett eyed Hopkins down the field on a deep route and launched one that looked like it had no chance. Hopkins threw out a paw and held on in front of a throng of fans standing ten deep in the far end zone. The reaction of the offense was telling as they all ran down to congratulate Hopkins after making the catch. I hate to take something like that for granted but it's become commonplace for him to catch the uncatchable. This summer, he even told Marc Vandermeer and I that he thought one hand catches are overrated but I beg to differ. He just makes it look easy and routine and it's definitely not.
- Later in a team period, Shorts made a tremendous catch, about two inches off the ground. Running downfield matched up with a defensive back in man coverage, Shorts adjusted to Mallett's backshoulder throw, low and outside. He got turned around, ripped back through the DB and literally picked the ball off the turf before it hit the ground.
- Last year, I made a habit out of going down and watching the inside/outside linebackers under the leadership of linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. Day in and day out, Vrabel aggressively counseled Whitney Mercilus on being violent with his hands, hand placement and execution. This year is a completely different story. Mercilus has learned under Vrabel's guidance and Whitney's hard work has paid off handsomely. I saw him face the tight ends in a leverage run blocking drill and it was the type of drill that Whitney would've struggled with early last year. But, that's not the case at all any more and Mercilus is a different player, in a good, very good way.
- Speaking of Vrabel...the inside linebackers and outside linebackers split up during individual period and Vrabel took the inside linebackers over to the middle of the field. At the same time, the OLBs worked on a drill near the sideline. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, OLB Jason Ankrah had just finished a rep during the OLB drills and from the middle of the field, the voice of Vrabel could be heard. Not for the inside linebackers but for Ankrah as he finished the drill. All knowing is one thing, seeing it all is quite another but Vrabel found a way.
- Tight end Garrett Graham had a strong period in 1-on-1s v. the defense's safeties and linebackers. He had four straight catches and I don't recall seeing him have an incompletion on any of his reps.
- Watching Arian Foster work his routes in the passing game, he's got to be one of the toughest players to cover on this team. He made an outstanding catch on a short route over the middle and broke free after the catch. He's looked strong in the run game. Standing behind one of the run plays during team, I saw him make a cut that I still can figure out how he saw the hole open up. Then, he has the ability to make his cuts without slowing or even stopping to make the cut as most running backs have to do. Not to mention, the practice hoodie is a nice touch too.
- Brian Cushing started off the 1-on-1 period with a pass break-up on a flat route thrown to Alfred Blue. Then, during one of the team's 11-on-11 periods, Cushing forced another PBU on a pass to Foster. JJ Watt got pressure up the field and forced Mallett to check down to Arian, but Cushing made the hit (well, without pads obviously) and broke up the pass. It's been refreshing to watch 56 run, move and strike with the alacrity that he has. He's been much more sudden than I can remember and I can't wait to see him when the pads go on.
- Cushing's running mate at inside linebacker with the first group has been Mike Mohamed and I wrote "54 PBU" (pass break up) three times in my notes. I just don't know how Romeo Crennel can take Mohamed off the field with all that he does in this defense.
- Max Bullough had some struggles in 1-on-1s in coverage but the first play he was on the field during 2-spot 7-on-7 drills, he made a diving pass break up of a ball thrown by Mallett.
- Jeff Tarpinian doesn't get the acclaim that the others do at the inside linebacker position but his coverage of one of the running backs out of the backfield got the attention, this time in a positive manner, of Vrabel.
- I, obviously, don't get to see everything that happens at practice but I have "eyes" everywhere. Eric San Inocencio, our Digital Media Director, noted that one of the best moments in practice involved first round rookie CB Kevin Johnson and Hopkins. The two groups, WR and DB, were chatty, for lack of a better word, and it culminated with this battle during 1-on-1s. It went the defense's way as Johnson knocked away the pass in a physical confrontation. Some rookies or young players would shy away or defer to veterans when a player of Hopkins rolls to the front of the line, but Johnson not only didn't back down, he relished the challenge.
- OLB Lynden Trail didn't bite on a play action fake to harass Brian Hoyer which drew praise from the defensive coaches. Trail will be in the spotlight as the pads go on and he's got to make a physical statement over the next few days. If he can do that, he'll definitely get more meaningful reps in the near future.
Take a look at photos of player-fan interactions during autograph session after the first practice of #TexansCamp.
- I mentioned earlier that it wasn't quite as hot during the day and that led to some jumbling up of the offensive line throughout the day. At one point, undrafted rookie tackle Kendall Lamb from Appalachian State looked across the line of scrimmage and found the best player in the world across from him. The first rep he was a bit shellshocked and with good reason, but the second rep, he hung in there before Watt got a rest. I liked that Watt didn't turn the volume down against the rookie who was blocking guys from Georgia State and ULM last year. I saw Lamm walking off the field and I wanted to say to him "hey, you just stood in there against the best you'll ever face. It's all downhill from here, right?" Then, I figured I'd mention that a different day.
- There was an odd moment in practice where Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett were executing 7-on-7 in a two spot situation. They threw the ball so perfectly timed, about three seconds apart, that I saw both. Each throw was nearly a dirt diver but for the same reason - it was the only spot where their receivers could make the catch. Nearly the same throw within seconds of one another.
- Then, later in the same drill, Hoyer hit Jace Davis deep for a touchdown while Mallett, a few seconds later completed a pass to wide open Keith Mumphery for a TD. Literally seconds apart on opposite ends of the field.
- During the team's kickoff return period, I was writing some notes when I looked up just as Troy University rookie Chandler Worthy sped up the sideline closest to me. Whoa, he was FLYING; that dude can run. He made a couple of catches during the day, including a low catch that he had to go down and scoop up off the turf. It's proven to be a crowded receiver logjam but if there's something that separates him from the others, it's his jets.
- A guy that gets overshadowed a bunch is RB Jonathan Grimes. The team's third RB last year didn't get a ton of opportunities in 2014 to tote the rock. But, he's been impressive over the first two days of work. He used a double move to get wide open veruss a linebacker for a TD in 1-on-1s and later in practice, he had a run back across the middle and burst into the end zone on a goal line drill. I've been a fan from the first time I saw him as an undrafted player out of William & Mary. Grimes isn't about to give up that No. 3 spot without a fight and that's what it's going to take to make this roster at that spot behind Foster and Blue.
- I haven't watched the linemen much without pads but I did head down to watch some pass rush 1-on-1. One guy who stood out, just based on how quick he appeared to throw hands and work his moves, was Jared Crick. Mercilus looked much more adept and quicker off the edge, while John Simon is a pass rushing tasmanian devil. I wouldn't want to step in front of that joker when he has a QB in his sights.
Take a look at photos of the fans during the first day of #TexansCamp.
- Yesterday, I mentioned the Texans signing last week of Aaron Adams but I erroneously failed to mention the signing of Chris Neild, a NT from the Redskins who injured his knee in 2014 training camp. He's a human brick. I don't see anyone moving him off the ball at all. He flashed during a team red zone drill when he burst past the center and beat the RB to the line of scrimmage. Making an impression is key when you're obtained at this late date, but sometimes it takes one play to get some attention. Neild got mine, that's for sure.
- The final team drill ended with a Ryan Mallett scramble for a TD and a Brian Hoyer to Garrett Graham TD completion. It also has become a fan favorite because the loser is forced to do push ups out on the field. On Saturday, Kareem Jackson got down on the field as the offense was forced to push ups, right in the face of a few offensive players. Today, when Mallett scampered for the TD as the defense completely voided the left side of the field, the tables turned. This time, DeAndre Hopkins took a knee next to Jackson as he did his push ups. I'm sure it was just to discuss what time ice cream snack was tonight, that's all. Right?
Going to have to wait until Monday night for my next observations piece. The first practice in pads the next practice on the docket and is scheduled for 6 PM under the lights! Be sure to listen to our Texans training camp radio shows all week 8-10 am, practice or not, on our flagship Sports Radio 610 and read/listen to all of our Texans Camp articles, interviews and videos at www.houstontexans.com/TexansCamp.