Firsts are always memorable for football players, in particular.
The first day of summer practice.
The first game.
But, one first that no football player ever forgets is the first day in pads in fall practice. Of course, it's always been fall practice, but at this rate (it was 95 during practice today), we're going to skip right over summer to hotter summer to cooler summer to winter. Back to my point...the first day in pads is a special one and a vital one. It sets the tone for the day, the week and in some sense the camp that'll unfold.
So, what happened on day three? Here are my observations from day three on the field, and day one in pads.
- The day started, for the most part, with some serious pad popping down on the goal line. 1s versus 1s, ball inside the five. No passes, nothing but runs all day long.
- Defensive backs love this drill because no offense in its right mind is going to throw the ball in this drill, so they're always lurking, unblocked. Trust me, I've been that defensive back. Either way, on play number one, Johnathan Joseph made a picture perfect form tackle to hold the offense to no gain. Talking textbook...strike, wrap and finish.
- Before the next play, I was standing next to Texans Senior Director of Social Media Eric San Inocencio and I told him "watch Clowney, he's going to make a play." Right on cue, Clowney knifed past the tight end and tackle on the right side and was in the backfield in a snap. If you blinked you missed it. He combined with another defender to swallow the running back whole for a significant tackle for a loss, a TFL, if you will. Note from Eric: He is totally telling the truth. It was borderline ESP.4.Later in the drill, the offense ran to the opposite side, its right side, and it looked like Alfred Blue had just enough of a lane to get into the end zone until...WHAM, he got stoned on the spot by linebacker Benardrick McKinney. I mean, it was the hit of the day. McKinney probably made contact with Blue at the one and that was as far as it got. The entire defense went bezerk after the hit and with good reason. Brian Cushing then offered some advice to the offensive side of the ball, in only the way that Cushing could. It was a tremendous stop by the first group and truly set the tone for the day.
- When the second and third units came onto the field, young defensive linemen made their presence known. Former Clemson product D.J. Reader made a tackle for loss during that drill and recently added rookie Ra'Zahn Howard burst past the offensive line to make a play to help halt the offense. I'll have more on both later.
- The offense put fullback Jay Prosch in the backfield and he put one, decisively, in the end zone. He put his head down and the offensive line parted the white defensive shirts, giving Prosch an open lane to the back of the end zone. With the entire defense standing in front of him, Prosch threw down his best Tom Rathman spike (think Gronk spike) to announce his presence. Given the fact that Prosch doesn't say much, the defense let that one go, if you catch my drift.
- When it went back to 1s on 1s for one play at the one yard line, Lamar Miller seemed to come up short but kept driving his legs to get into the end zone. Of course, it helped to have hulking guard Xavier Su'a-Filo helping pull him into the end zone as well. Hey, whatever works.
- Even though, I've seen every single catch, every single rep of DeAndre Hopkins the past two years, he still leaves me shaking my head watching him catch the ball. There are times where he sticks his right hand out and the ball sticks. There's no other way to really describe it; it's so good to have him back.
- During WR/DB 1-on-1s, Will Fuller got matched up on Kevin Johnson and went to his speciality - the deep ball. Brock Osweiler floated one near the back of the end zone and let Fuller go get it. He did and that got the crowd in that south end zone corner really excited.
- Johnson, though, was magnificent in each rep I saw the rest of the drill. He shadowed Wendall Williams on a route and read it the entire way. He ran the route, basically, and nearly came away with the INT.
- I mentioned J Jo earlier, he had a pick on a short route early in 1-on-1s. He saw the route, read the eyes and broke in front.
- Throughout the first few days, I haven't mentioned linebacker Max Bullough but he had a solid day on Tuesday. He first had a pass breakup in pass coverage 1-on-1s against Kenny Hilliard. But, with pads on, he was quick to find the ball, strike and make consistent contact against the running backs. One of his hits/strikes caused a fumble today as well. I remember his rookie year, back when his head was swimming and he was trying to remember everything he had to do. This year? He's on top of it and knows where everyone is supposed to be aligned. I love his football IQ and his commitment to this defense and special teams.
- His former Michigan State teammate Kurtis Drummond got in a tremendous all-around rep against runner Akeem Hunt. First, he shocked Hunt at the beginning of his route, which slowed him a bit. But, Hunt still got a little space to catch the ball, which he did. Drummond then punched the ball from behind, recovered the fumble and took off the other way with it. He's always been a playmaker, dating back to his days at MSU and that play was symbolic of that.
- Hunt came back against a linebacker later in the drill and ran an out and up wheel route and caught the deep ball for the touchdown from QB Brandon Weeden. Between Hunt and Tyler Ervin, man, those two are fun to watch.
- Speaking of Ervin...I could watch him run pass routes all day long. He can get separation from defenders so quickly and create that space a quarterback wants from his pass catchers. I don't remember the linebacker that I saw facing him in the rep, but Ervin was so efficient with his moves and before you knew it, SWOOSH, he was gone and open.
- I didn't and haven't gotten a chance to watch all of Charles James' reps, but it felt like every time I turned to see him competing, he either came away with a pass break up or a pick.
- Socks update...oh these were good today. It was a color menagerie of puzzle pieces all different colors of the rainbow. Outstanding.
- I've mentioned the running backs a bunch, but the one that probably ran the ball the best today was Jonathan Grimes. I've been a huge fan of his for a long time. He's never been handed anything in this game and he continues to find ways to make one impressive play after another. He had what I thought was the best inside run of the day. Why? He's decisive, quick and has the burst to get to and through the holes. Over the first three days, he caught a ton of passes, but seeing him run the rock today reminded me why he's been a valuable piece in this offense for the past three seasons.
- How many times have you heard the name Stephen Anderson since he signed as an undrafted free agent? Hundreds, right? But, it's all been about his pass catching skills. Today, I saw, or better put, heard him today. Now, he's not going to say much at all, so this...it was with his pads. Of all the things that happened today, that was one of my positives because no one expects him to be the next inline blocking tight end star. But, he showed he was completely unafraid of contact and relished it on that inside run.
- Nothing like the good ol' bootleg to keep the defense honest during a team drill. Gotta stay on your toes, defense.
- I mentioned D.J. Reader earlier in observations and this is the second time I've seen him in pads in 2016. I've told the story of seeing him at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile and how he stonewalled everyone in their tracks. That got everyone's attention. I'd been waiting to see whether that would translate at this level and guessed that it would when the pads went on. It certainly did. He moves like an edge rusher and can get his hips turned when necessary. He's strong as an ox. More good things are needed from him and they're coming. Same for Ra'Zahn Howard. He flashed some good things in today's workout and his quickness came to the forefront too.
Check out all the fun our fans had at Day 3 of #TexansCamp.
- Defensive end Brandon Dunn continues to impress both against run blocks and rushing the passer. I really like what he's been able to do. One thing he did today was throw a spin move that I can't remember seeing him bring to the table.
- Linebacker Eric Lee finds a way to win at least one completely clean rep in pass rush 1-on-1s every day. Today, he threw an arm under rip to get what would've been a clean sack.
- Corner A.J Bouye's work this offseason was stellar and he's earned his time on the field to start training camp. Plays like the one he made knocking away a pass on the sideline to start team drills are why. He knows it should've been a pick six, but it was great anticipation and understanding, combined with his feet and transitional quickness to get to the ball.
- Hop against Joseph in a jump ball down on the goal line competition?? Please, I'll take that all day every day. Clemson versus South Carolina. Offense versus Defense. Fun battle during team that J-Jo won by knocking it away before it got near Hop's hands.
- The offense scored two straight rushing touchdowns to close down team drills inside the red zone. Alfred Blue cut back into open space for a five or six yard TD and then his former LSU teammate Kenny Hilliard sped in from the five for a TD as well to close the drill.
First day in pads. 95 degrees. 100% humidity. No shade in sight. One team competing its tail off. Days like this break guys and force them to quit and this team went hard and got a ton of work done to set the tone for training camp and the season.
See ya again tomorrow, everyone!
Take a look at the best photos from #TexansCamp Day 3.