There's always something special about the first day of training camp. It doesn't matter what day it is, time stops (well, for me anyway) for football. It felt like we'd been talking about this day for a while. Fortunately for all of us, there are plenty more on the schedule in the coming weeks. If you didn't get a chance to see practice, I hope you can use my training camp observations to impress your buddies at the water cooler early on Monday morning. Then, you can sneak a peek at Monday's observations and really shock 'em at work. Either way, let's get it going.
- The real winner today was Mother Nature. I'm just going to get this out of the way. It was hot and unrelenting, yet not unlike any other first day, I suppose. This was my tenth first day of training camp and Mother Nature has won every day with her 92 degrees and 1000000% humidity.
- Okay, now that the proverbial mention of heat is out of the way...one guy that continues to impress since the day I got in the building (spring of 2014) is Whitney Mercilus. During an early team session, I was trying to watch the routes develop in front of me and saw this blur to the quarterback. Whit had taken an inside move and was at the quarterbacks' feet so quickly.
- More on Mercilus. I'm not sure any of the tackles had a ton of success against him during pass rush one-on-ones later in practice. What's really impressed me is that Whitney can win in so many different ways now than he could a couple of years ago. He's worked so hard to get more violent hands, but even more so, he's now understanding where to place them, how to use them and how to get free with them. He's gotten bigger and seemingly quicker and more explosive all at once. I can't wait to see him put the pads on and do even more damage.
4. Mercilus was a clear winner on the defensive side of the ball on day one. Another guy who I thought had a good day was safety Andre Hal. That dude is a ball magnet. When he moved to safety last year, I thought it was a great move and just a matter of time before the light would really go on for him. He has full control in the secondary too, even with all the veterans back there. The first play of team, he read a short route breaking in front of him and flew out of nowhere to make a diving pick.
- Later in practice, the offense tried to hit a deep crossing route and he read the QB's eyes the entire way for another pick. His corner skills show how much range he has in the middle of the field and make one play after another. I talked to him after practice and it's highly evident that he's dialed in.
- Speaking of dialed in, this defense is. This is a talented group to begin with, even without the full complement of players on the field. But, there's been so much talk about the offense in the off-season, I get the feeling that Romeo Crennel's entire unit is trying to prove itself day after day after day. The secondary against this passing game was just locked in.
- Today was the first that I can remember seeing kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn since rookie minicamp and he certainly didn't disappoint. Kicking into the north end zone from about 55 yards, he crushed one between the sticks that might have been good from 65. He has an effortless motion and delivery and BOOM, the ball rockets off his foot. I don't know squat about kickers, but I know when a guy nails 55 yarders easy like a Sunday morning, that's a good thing.
- How have I gotten this far without a Charles James sock update? Texas Flag socks. Beautiful. Just beautiful, made me want to start singing the Eyes of Texas right there on the spot.
- Many of us have talked about the speed on this offense and one guy that gets mentioned, yet is still a sort of a mystery, is rookie wideout Wendall Williams. You've probably heard at some point that he ran a 4.2 or 4.3 at his Pro Day, depending on what you want to believe. Playing at the University of the Cumberlands, even I didn't know much about him. But, this man has a different gear. He doesn't need much runway to get from 0 to 60 and that's what scary (if you're a defender) about him. He can get up on a defensive back so fast. He has natural hands and catching ability, as well, and he can snatch the ball low to the ground or high point in the air. He was back running back punts and a low screamer bounced in front of him and it's one that a punt returner should stay away from. That said, Williams scooped it up like he was Carlos Correa and took off down the sideline, flying away from the defense. He's an interesting guy to watch in this camp for certain.
- Another rookie saw a ton of targets, similar to what happened in OTAs and minicamps. Former Memphis WR and League City, TX product Tevin Jones made a ton of catches throughout the day. He's not as electric as some of the higher profile receivers on this team, but he catches, and caught, everything that I saw thrown his way.
- Drew Dougherty and I talked about Brock Osweiler last Thursday night on Texans All-Access and one of the things that I mentioned that I saw in minicamp and OTAs and saw it again today is his intermediate touch. He threw a couple of gems on deep crossing routes to rookie tight end Stephen Anderson. He knew the right amount of air to put on each throw and dropped it right in the bucket.
- It wasn't Brock's best day and it wasn't the offense's best day, but again with no pads, there's not much threat of the run and the linebackers and secondary are honed in on the passing game. But, one of the things that stood out about Brock was how much he improved day after day in minicamp and OTAs and that'll happen for sure during training camp.
- I can't imagine how nervous or anxious he must have been on day one with his new team, in front of the fans. Speaking of the fans, my man Texans Director of Ticket Services Trey Young told me that 4,660 fans were on hands for today's first practice. On a Sunday. With an 8:55 am start. Bravo, Texans fans, bravo.
- I've watched Texans defensive backs for the past ten years and I'm not sure I've seen anyone with quicker, piston-like feet like Kevin Johnson. Watching him in individual drills, his feet are like rat-a-tat-tat quick.
- Running backs Akeem Hunt and Tyler Ervin present such a different look on the offensive side of the ball than this organization has ever had. They both can make you miss in a phone booth and for guys that aren't that big to begin with, they're both comfortable running the ball inside. Hunt can change direction on a dime and leave change, if needed. As such, we saw that a number of different times today on his inside runs. Ervin has balance where he can get pinballed inside and stay on his feet throughout the run. He had an inside run where a defensive lineman popped him and I was sure he was going to end up on his wallet. He stayed upright and continued on his running path.
- Lamar Miller didn't get a ton of chances to tote the rock today, but even in the number of times he did carry it, he showed how strong he is and his ability to find cutup lanes against over-pursuing defense.
- Watching the OL/DL work on a run block leverage drill, I was struck by how difficult it is for an OL to win a leverage battle against defensive Brandon Dunn. I saw two or three of his reps and no OL had a chance against him.
- In pass rush 1-on-1s, rookie DT D.J. Reader flashed some interior push. He's so strong and can bull rush weaker linemen, but he showed some hand work as well. He'll be a work in progress, for certain, but an interior pass rusher with that strength is such an important asset. I noticed him on a pass rush in a team drill earlier in practice, as well, as he broke free to the QB just before the ball was thrown.
- During WR/DB 1-on-1s in front of the fans, Braxton Miller made an impressive catch as did Cecil Shorts during the period. The aforementioned Wendall Williams made an excellent catch on a long throw from Tom Savage.
- Speaking of Savage, one of my favorite moments of the day occurred in a team drill with Savage at the helm. He walked up under center and started to go through his cadence as he studied the defense. As he was about to have the ball snapped, the defense showed him a different look. He immediately notified the center that he was going back to the gun and then took another look at the defense. Now, down on the sidelines, I've seen this happen a million times so my first instinct is to see how much time is left on the play clock. He had five seconds. He signaled the play to everyone, still fully in control. The ball was snapped at one second and the defense was coming. Savage held on just long enough then launched a deep throw to Josh Lenz for a completion. From beginning to end, THAT was so impressive from Savage. His growth and comfort in this system is so evident.
- Lenz caught a ton of passes during OTAs and minicamps and showed up again today as well. He made the deep catch from Savage noted above, had another one on a deep crossing route and then snagged one in the back of the end zone for a touchdown in 7-on-7.
- Cornerback Robert Nelson isn't a guy many know, but he came here late in the 2015 season. He played his college ball at Arizona State, so that's where I remember him from. He's intriguing from a speed perspective for sure. But, during 7-on-7, he tracked a receiver stride for stride on a crossing route, one of the toughest for an inside corner to stay in the hip pocket. He reached over the receiver when the ball was thrown and got the pass break up.
- Left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo looks like a different dude in pass protection. I watched him tangle with defensive end Christian Covington, who is an excellent interior rusher. That was a fun a rep with both guys really competing against one another. But, X really looked more comfortable in his pass set and in pass protection.
- Another competitive, fun pass rush rep was a battle of rookies - center Nick Martin and the aforementioned Reader.
- Tackle Kendall Lamm has some lethal hands (no, not to catch passes, although he can do that) and a strong punch. He improved as last year wore on, as that 6th OL on the field, and he showed again today that he can be an asset on this offensive line.
- Saved one of my favorite plays of the day for last. When linebacker Benardrick McKinney declared for the draft out of Mississippi State, draft analysts all said, he can't cover anyone in the passing game. Well, that's changed in a short amount of time. McKinney got matched 1-on-1 with Lamar Miller out of the backfield on a route deep down the field. As Miller continued down the sideline, McKinney was step for step and when the ball arrived, McKinney timed it perfectly and knocked the ball away. That was something, I guarantee you, that draft analysts heading into the 2015 draft didn't think he could do. Check that box, if you haven't already.
Alright, that'll do it for today. Good news? There's more tomorrow. See ya then!
The Houston Texans roster in photos.