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25 observations: Texans-Patriots joint practice


Joint practices have become all the rage in the NFL, or so it seems, and your Texans are far from immune. They've practiced against the Falcons, Broncos, Saints, Redskins and 49ers the past three seasons and Tuesday marked the first of two practices against the defending World Champion New England Patriots. Although Mother Nature decided to rain on the parade, literally, it was a productive day for the Texans. I will readily admit that there was about a 20-25 minute portion of practice that I didn't see as I was on air with Tune-In, but I saw plenty throughout the day.

Here are my observations from Day 1.

  1. The Texans have opened up their home in Houston to the Falcons and the Saints in prior seasons, but I've got to admit it was a little strange to see a different team in our adopted training camp home at the Greenbrier. The Patriots certainly took care of the place and didn't run amok as some other teams might have, but it was a tad bit odd, nonetheless.
  1. I'll give credit where it's due, though, Patriots nation showed up in droves. The place was a zoo, packed with No. 12 jerseys and No. 87 jerseys. It was standing room only all around the field. Furthermore, Tune-In radio did a joint radio show with us and Patriots Radio - Paul Perillo and Andy Hart. It was more of an event than it was just a practice. Well after most of the crowd left the premises, Tom Brady came back out and signed autographs for the fans as did Rob Gronkowski. Much of the crowd had dispersed to that point, yet the diehards waited patiently. That patience was rewarded when each Patriot star came out to pay their respects and put their John Hancock on some memorabilia.
  1. On the field, the overall thought among those in attendance was that the Texans defense was the true winner on the day. At one point, Brady was completely frustrated on the sideline, addressing his offensive mates in an aggressive counseling sort of way, if you will.
  1. To that end, the Patriots edge protectors struggled with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for much of the day. I have "would've been a sack 59" written about four or five times in my book. It was much of the same for Watt as well. He had to avoid hitting Brady three or four times as he got free and clear.
  1. Now, keep in mind starting tackle Nate Solder was not present and he's a huge piece of that line's success at left tackle. That said, the Texans defensive front still shined.
  1. The Patriots did not have much success trying to move the Texans defensive front in the run game. The Texans outside linebackers set the edge consistently and turned runs back inside back into their help.
  1. Outside linebacker Eric Lee got a ton of reps with Jadeveon Clowney out of practice and he did a great job a couple of times getting into the tackle, setting the edge with some "ooomph" and eliminating outside running lanes.
  1. Wide receiver Wendall Williams had another strong day and it just feels like he knows he has a shot to not only make the roster, but make an impact for this offense. He had a one handed catch that was featured on our Twitter account, I believe, during 1-on-1s. He also had another sliding catch in 1-on-1s down the field. You can see the one-handed catch below.
  1. After a group of Texans couldn't quite get lined up and ready properly in 7-on-7, Coach O'Brien replaced them with Tom Savage and the first group. Who did Savage immediately look for? Wendall Williams. Savage lofted one down the field and Williams made another circus catch near the back of the end zone for a touchdown in 7-on-7.
  1. Another key figure today was offensive weapon Tyler Ervin. Every time I looked at the Texans offense, it seemed Ervin was catching the football in some way, shape or form. He was difficult for the Patriots linebackers to cover and I saw a Patriots linebacker get frustrated after thinking he had Ervin covered, only to lose him at the last second and yield a completion to the second year player.
  1. Marc Vandermeer and I walked past Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski before practice began as we were walking back to our viewing perch. DAYUM, that's a big dude. He's even lost a bit of weight and he's still intimidating. He made a one hand catch early in practice that looked as easy as any catch he made all day. But, later in practice, Texans safety Andre Hal did a decent job in covering him, forcing at least two or three incompletions or pass breakups. Gronk isn't a good matchup for anyone in the NFL, but Hal had a solid day against him.
  1. I watched center Nick Martin in pass rush 1-on-1s and I'm not sure he moved side-to-side or backwards on any of his reps. The Patriots have had success with guys like Vince Wilfork (prior to his stint with the Texans), Alan Branch and others in past years against the Texans interior. But, Martin more than held his own on Tuesday.
  1. Rookie tackle Julien Davenport must have had a thousand reps at tackle in pass rush 1-on-1s. Every time I looked over there, he was in on the action. Left side or right, he'd get one rep on one side and then one on the other. He won his fair share of reps, even though defensive end Geneo Grissom won one against him early in the day.
  1. I haven't mentioned veteran Breno Giacomini much at all, but it's not because he hasn't played well in camp. He did pick up a couple of penalties on Wednesday night, but in camp, he's seemingly been solid. It's clear that he's a veteran and understands being patient in pass protection. He just doesn't seem to get flustered and gets his guy blocked regularly.
  1. Early on in practice, the Patriots tempo and execution did fluster the Texans defense. There were a couple of reps in team where Tom Brady had receivers running wide open and he's not ever going to let that go unpunished. The defense adjusted, settled in and stopped giving up the cheap ones as practice continued.
  1. Brady threw a majestic deep ball during a two minute drill, end of game situation. He launched one deep to receiver Chris Hogan who made the catch in field goal range. Then, Brady managed the clock to get kicker Stephen Gostkowski a relatively easy attempt.
  1. After Jimmy Garoppolo moved the Patriots into field goal range in a similar situation, Gostkowski hit a 55-yard field goal with 15 yards or so to spare. It was a bomb.
  1. When the Patriots offense worked on the goal line, the Texans gave up an early touchdown, but after that, the defense kept Brady and company out of the end zone as it did in last year's playoff game right before halftime.
  1. What's great about these two teams is that they did almost everything together for the last 90 minutes of practice. They even did special teams together. They did a punt cover drill where one team would mimic a punt protection and then sprint down the field to cover the punt. The other, obviously, would hold up, or try to hold up the protector, and keep him from covering the punt. Avery Williams got the Texans sideline jacked up not once, not twice but three times. When the Texans signed him as an undrafted rookie, I went back to my film library to study him. I was smitten as he hit anything that moved and it felt like that's what he did today. He was outstanding in those special teams drills, to say the least.
  1. Defensive back Kareem Jackson had a pair of pass breakups down the seam and one of them could've been an interception. Corey Moore would've had a sure interception as he read an out route perfectly, but he couldn't corral the slippery pigskin.
  1. Receiver Jaelen Strong had a wonderful toe drag sideline catch on a bullet pass from Tom Savage.
  1. Deshaun Watson had a couple of tremendous throws that his receivers couldn't hang onto during team drills. He also had a throw on the run, back across his body, to Wendall Williams for a first down. Rolling left, he saw Williams work into a wide open area. Watson flipped his shoulders and threw back to the middle for the big gain.
  1. On a two minute drive, Watson hit Ryan Griffin for a sliding catch to set up a field goal attempt that Nick Novak knocked home.
  1. On the first play of the two minute situation for the Pats with Garoppolo under center, Brennan Scarlett came up with a sack. However, a few plays later, Garoppolo dropped a dime to Rex Burkhead, which allowed him to get out of bounds to stop the clock too. Gostkowski then nailed the field goal from 750 yards away...or so it seemed.
  1. The Patriots went to James White up the near sideline on a route similar to the one that he scored on in the playoff game. Eddie Pleasant, aka Eddie P, was step for step with him and forced the incompletion late in the drive.

That's about all for today, folks. It might have been wet and a wee bit chilly, but it was productive, to say the least. We'll see you tomorrow for more action from these two frenemies. See ya then.

Check out the best shots from Day 14 of training camp practice at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.

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