With temperatures due to be in the 100s on Monday, the Texans got a bit of a respite from Mother Nature, going inside for practice.
It started as a relatively normal Monday morning practice, but the competition ratcheted up a notch or four throughout the day. Here are my observations from practice this morning.
- Okay, so my stretching/music playlist theory went up in smoke today when running back Akeem Hunt started getting his groove going to some country music. Not a country music fan myself, I can't tell you who was singing what, but it didn't matter to Hunt, who let loose as the team broke to individual periods.
- Inside linebacker Akeem Dent delivered a few messages during blitz pickup period to some young fullbacks and running backs. He won his fair share, as the veteran should.
- The only back to stunt Dent's progress to the quarterback (and by quarterback I mean a big, tall red dummy) was Alfred Blue.
- Speaking of Blue, we talked with general manager Rick Smith today (which we do daily on Texans Training Camp Live at 8:45 am on SportsRadio 610) and he mentioned the work that Blue did to get himself ready for the 2016 season. The end to the 2015 season showed that Blue had the potential to be a fit for this team for a while. He can do the dirty work things that most running backs won't do or can't do...for example, blitz pickup. I think he's going to surprise fans when they get to see him this preseason.
- I can only imagine what it's like to run smack dab into fullback Jay Prosch, but most defenders that do don't have much success. In blitz pickup drill, Prosch hammered one of the rookie linebackers and completely stoned him in his tracks. The dummy quarterback had all day to throw at that point thanks to Prosch.
- DeAndre Hopkins makes one-handed catches look routine, and when he does it in practice, most have started to take it for granted. In the first one-on-one route vs. Johnathan Joseph, he had no business catching the throw from Brock Osweiler, but did. Joseph was in perfect position and somehow as the ball seemed to whizz past both of them Hop reached out and snared it with his left paw.
- First rep of one-on-ones, another win for receiver Cecil Shorts. I don't care what drill, individual or team, Shorts is having as strong a camp as ever. Furthermore, it's not just one day here and another there. It's every single day and every single rep.
- One of the highlights of our discussion with Rick Smith this morning was our discussion of running back Kenny Hilliard. The Texans executive VP and GM noted that Hilliard changed his body composition and really developed as a runner and pass receiver. I mentioned that in observations over the weekend that his quickness, shiftiness and change of direction were diametrically different than as a rookie in 2015. That can really be seen in the passing game where he's been a challenge to cover lately. He's in and out of his breaks much quicker and getting separation more so than I can remember. Whether that's out in the flat or middle breaking routes, he's much more effective than last year in the passing game. Overall, though, he's just a different looking threat at the position.
- Running back Jonathan Grimes made a couple of outstanding catches in one-on-ones, including a one-hander down the sideline that got the attention of some media members standing around me.
- The best rep of the period though was quarterback DeAndre Hopkins's completion to tight end Anthony Denham. As Denham ran down the seam, rookie safety K.J. Dillon was in lock step. But, Weeden threw a pellet just above Dillon's head and into Denham's bread basket for the difficult completion. Dillon couldn't have been in better position or competed harder for the ball. Denham couldn't have made a better catch. Weeden couldn't have thrown a better ball. That rep was really a win for everyone, to be honest.
- Wide receiver Braxton Miller made a juggling catch, one of those that you sort of hold your breath while the ball is bouncing around in the air. He ultimately snagged it and secured it for a circus catch.
- Later in the period, Miller was working against one of the defensive backs in one-on-ones. In all the years I've covered the Texans, I've never seen a receiver lose defensive backs the way that Braxton does. He had the defensive back trailing him down the field, but right on his heels. Miller broke down to prepare for his cut and then darted to his right. The defensive back went...left. I saw that throughout his career at Ohio State. I saw that at the Senior Bowl. I'm seeing it again here. He could get open in a phone booth.
- Safety Quintin Demps had himself a day. The Texans starting safety was one of the few, if not the only, defenders to stay with Braxton Miller all over the field. He matched the rookie from Ohio State step for step and broke up a pass in one-on-ones. His best play though was on a deep route to receiver Jaelen Strong. Cornerback Kareem Jackson was in position on the outside, while Demps was coming from the middle of the field. Right as the ball landed, Demps timed his leap perfectly and knocked the ball out Strong's hands for the pass breakup...and a quality one at that.
- One of the reasons why tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is having more success in the passing game this training camp is his route running. He seems to understand leverage and positioning much more, but he looks like he's running well, too. So, improvement in his understanding of coverages, better route running and confidence in his hands are paramount to his growth as a pass catcher thus far.
- During team drills, cornerback Charles James had a pick on his first play on the field. He read the quarterback's eyes perfectly, broke on a short route in front of him, dove for the interception and then sprinted to the house. Of course, he wasn't alone, as his defensive mates followed him all the way down the sideline.
- Quarterback Brock Osweiler's best throw of the day was his last during one of the team periods. He threw an absolute dart to DeAndre Hopkins on a deep in cut and by dart, I mean, DART, caps lock on.
- A few reps later, Brandon Weeden ripped one to receiver Quenton Bundrage, who continues to make an impression. Standing where I was on the sideline, I could see exactly where Weeden wanted to throw the ball and led Bundrage right into that open spot.
- I don't have any problem with a quarterback throwing checkdowns in seven-on-seven, if it's evident that the first option or even second option are not open. Osweiler did that like clockwork in seven-on-seven. He looked at two options to his right, then when it wasn't there, he immediately swung his head around and looked to his left where he hit Jay Prosch out in the flat for a solid catch-and-run gain.
- Quarterback Tom Savage made a throw, I'm 1,000 percent convinced that he wouldn't have thrown, much less seen, during seven-on-seven. Bundrage was crossing the field on a deep in route, say 15 to 17 yards from the LOS. He was surrounded by four defenders, two safeties over the top and a couple of linebackers in the middle. In that tight, small space, Savage fired one that Bundrage was forced to catch, either that or it would've pierced his body and cut him in two. Bundrage had no choice but to hang on for the first down reception. Wow, what a throw that was.
- During goal line seven-on-seven, cornerback Kevin Johnson came up with a pass breakup to start the drill and then had another one on a throw to the back of the end zone. I don't know if he'd get credit for the second one, though, as receiver Jaelen Strong made the catch but had one foot out of bounds. Either way, it was a solid overall period for Johnson.
- The development as a pass rusher continues for outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. What I love about his prowess as an edge threat is the way that Whitney can now put moves together. Or, put a better way, if his initial move doesn't produce a clear path, he can string together another move to continue to work himself free. It's not herky-jerky or slow either. He throws a move and if it doesn't completely work, he throws another one. He did that in pass rush one-on-ones to get free on one of his reps.
- Defensive end Devon Still put an offensive lineman right on his wallet with one of his rushes in team drills near the end of the workout. That is one strong dude, now, and hopefully that strength will flash consistently throughout the rest of training camp.
- Coach O'Brien noted after practice that it was a highly competitive day of work and that was mostly evident on the last play of team drills. It was on the far end zone so it was difficult to see the particulars. Regardless, a receiver made a catch that appeared to be for a touchdown, which elicited a cheer from the offense. But, right as the offense began to cheer, the defense let loose an even louder celebration. At that point, no one knew who won the rep but it was certainly clear that play was the culmination of a solid day of work.
Tomorrow, the team moves back outside for the last day of practice before a day off on Wednesday and a trip to San Francisco/Santa Clara on Thursday. It's almost here, everyone!
Check out the best pictures from #TexansCamp practice no. 8.