28 observations from day three of #TexansCamp

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Monday Night Lights! Yes!! The first day in pads turned into the first night in pads in sweltering 90 degree heat and humidity. But, when the sun went down and the dark took over, it was a truly cool environment. As such, it appeared most in the crowd, the players, coaches, staff and media honestly reveled in the atmosphere.

Okay, so let's get on to it, my observations from the first day, errr, night in pads.

  1. I walked down to the North part of the practice field, down where the offensive line and defensive line do their individual work. As I looked over at the offensive linemen, I noticed Derek Newton and the guys had something that looked like a rope around their hands. Then, I saw him pull it off and it was a pair of elastic handcuffs, if you will. The reason? Well, with these handcuffs on, so to speak, it forces each O lineman to keep their hands inside the body and keep from bad habits forming. Cool device that I'd never seen before.
  1. The night practice brought some bubbling emotions to the surface, especially from the receivers and defensive backs. Charles James and Jaelen Strong got into a little fracas as they were doing some 1-on-1s midway through practice. They weren't alone as late in practice down on the goal line, DL Jasper Coleman and OT Joseph Treadwell had a little tete-a-tete when emotions boiled over.
  1. Speaking of the receivers and defensive backs, these two groups have been up in each others' grill from the minute they set foot on the practice field this past Saturday. Those groups are extremely chatty, for lack of a stronger word, with one another and it's really added an edge to the workout that I like. It can go overboard and be distracting, but right now, it's a catalyst to a competitive workout between those two position groups.
  1. If you were at practice and you recognized the guy that posed as an offensive lineman for the linebackers during a walkthrough blitz drill, you have a good eye. It was Rick Smith, the Texans executive VP and general manager, who stepped in to help give the linebackers a look, alongside linebackers coach Mike Vrabel and assistant coach Doug Colman. The more you can do applies to everyone, it appears.
  1. Arian Foster got the night off as Bill O'Brien noted in his post practice press conference but before he rested the rest of the evening, he made a catch across the middle that only, maybe, one or two other RBs in the league would've made.
  1. Texans secondary coach John Butler is one of my favorites to watch in practice. Intense. Emotional. When his guys make a play, he explodes in excitement. When they miss an opportunity, he reacts every single time. Case in point, during a 2-on-2 passing drill v. the WR, CB A.J. Bouye read the post route of EZ Nwachukwu perfectly and broke in front of the pass for the easy interception. But, he couldn't hang onto the pass. As the ball was in the air, Butler saw Bouye in position to intercept the ball and started to react accordingly. Then, when he couldn't hang on, he reacted accordingly. His teaching and enthusiasm are evident on every pass that's thrown in practice.
  1. During early run periods, the offensive line had some success and really got the defensive line back on its heels early. That flipped later in practice.
  1. One thing that consistently makes me laugh is the reaction of the fans to the offensive/defensive push ups at the end of a drive. Every single time players/coaches drop for ten push ups, the fans cheer. I'm not sure for what but for the past three days, they've cheered every single time. And, there are some that need some push up technique work, but I'll refrain from outing the culprits.
  1. I walked down to watch the tight ends and the outside linebackers working on some run game blocking. One player that consistently garnered praise from his TE position coach John Perry was Ryan Griffin. After Griffin's last three reps, Perry exclaimed to rookie tight end Khari Lee "ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION, 86! THAT'S THE WAY YOU DO IT!" Griffin has been impressive in all facets since spring and hopefully Lee was paying attention.
  1. When C.J. Fiedorowicz and Whitney Mercilus went up against each other, it was a stalemate as both guys competed against one another the way you'd want from your players.
  1. One guy, though, that the tight ends couldn't block was outside linebacker John Simon. Rookie Mike McFarland was the unfortunate one to tangle with the former Buckeye and Simon taught him a lesson. It was like a Ronda Rousey fight - over in seconds. McFarland has had some solid moments and he'll learn from facing guys like Simon and Mercilus. But, Simon clearly dominated that and other reps.
  1. I had someone on Twitter ask me about Christian Covington and what he's done in training camp thus far. Without pads, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about, but when the pads went on, I knew I wanted to check him out. On one of his first reps in 7-on-7 inside run drill, he did a solid job as he held his ground against a center and guard double team, but later in the drill, Brian Ferentz got up under his pads and moved him off the ball.
  1. I wrote about the impact of Vince Wilfork in the middle of the defense after he signed as a free agent back in March. Seeing him work his craft up close, though, was a totally different deal. The one thing that I noted was that there wasn't an offensive lineman that could work his outside hip well enough to get him hooked and turn him inside. Most lineman try to drive that outside number and hope they have enough pop and momentum to get a defender turned. That just won't happen against Wilfork. He holds that spot, as he did a number of times tonight, and won't give it up.
  1. When Keith Mumphery was drafted, the first thing I said was "definite special teams star". During a punt cover drill, Mumphery, the gunner, was covered inside and outside by two defenders. As the ball was snapped, Mumphery worked himself free from both and beat them down the field to the punt returner. That's not an easy thing to do and Mumphery mastered it on his first rep. Oh, and he's been excellent at receiver since he got here in May.
  1. One of the most improved players over the second half of last year was Jared Crick. As he was given more opportunities to rush the passer, he improved his pass rush acumen. When I was watching him down during pass rush drills, it was evident how far he's come in a year. His hand placement was perfect. He threw hands quickly. He got himself free so much quicker than he had at this point last year.
  1. Mercilus has seemingly continued to add pass rush maneuvers to his pass rush toolkit. For each rush, he seemed to try a different pass rush move each time.
  1. Middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney is playing on instinct right now and sometimes it hits and sometimes it can create a void. He loves to see a gap and shoot it right now. On occasion, he gets to the running back before the ball carrier can get to the line of scrimmage. But, there are other times when he takes that risk, if you will, and he gets jostled or slowed and leaves a wide open cutback lane in the run defense. When he truly learns the game, his technique and how to put the two together, he's going to be real fun to watch. Right now, though, he's winging it and being aggressive and that's not altogether good or bad.
  1. There was a bunch of running on Monday night. JJ Watt jumped offsides, trying to gain an upper hand, anticipating the snap count. Of course, he knew right away that he had erred and before Bill O'Brien could send him on a lap around the field, No. 99 took off sprinting down the field. That also meant the fans got what they wanted seeing their guy on a solo trip right in front of him.
  1. Later in practice, Ryan Mallett had to run for botching a few snaps. Jared Crick jumped offsides too, which earned a lap around the field. The first day in pads sloppiness will get cleaned up eventually but not before some extra conditioning was needed.
  1. During team session, I focused on No. 56 a few times and the first play was an outside zone run away from him. As soon as Brian Cushing read the play, he took off like a shot, put himself in position and stifled the play as it cutback right into him. There was no lumbering. There was no hitch in the giddy up. As he had been in the spring, he was fluid and explosive to the ball. The more I watch him, the more jacked up I get about what he can do this season.
  1. After he was drafted, I likened Kenny Hilliard to a hammer and that's what he is. There's nothing pretty about Hilliard when he runs the rock. Get out of his way or expect a collision. During the goal line drill at the end of the night, Hilliard was determined to get the rock in the end zone. He took the handoff from Mallett and nearly ran over his own fullback and his offensive line to get the rock across into the end zone.
  1. One of the best throws all night was one that Mallett made to Strong on a deep out. With the pocket collapsing around him, Mallett stood in and delivered a strike on time and in the only spot his guy could catch it.
  1. If that wasn't the best throw of the night, then it was the dime Brian Hoyer dropped on Nate Washington during a team "first down" drill. Moving to his right, Hoyer laid one down the sideline for Washington who had a step on the defensive back. The veteran receiver hauled in the throw for a first down right in front of the fans.
  1. As Foster sat out for the night, Jonathan Grimes took true advantage of the opportunity. I'm still not sure if anyone has covered him in the pass game effectively. But, tonight, it was more about how hard he ran behind both the first and second offensive lines. I'm telling you he won't make that running back competition an easy one on the coaching staff to determine a winner or three.
  1. Alan Bonner had another outstanding workout and as O'Brien mentioned after practice, Bonner just has to stay healthy. He has scoots and when he catches the ball in space, good things are going to happen.
  1. Speaking of catching a ball in space, EZ Nwachukwu caught a crossing route against man coverage and took it to the house. There wasn't a defender in sight as he sped the final 40 or 50 yards for the end zone. He hasn't had the start to camp that he had last year, but he's still able to turn heads with his impressive speed.
  1. The goal line drill was one of the best periods of the first three days of camp. On the first set of plays, Alfred Blue powered in from the two yard line, which elicited a huge uproar from a victorious offensive line. But, on the second set of downs, the QB/RB fumbled the rock right in front of linebackers coach Mike Vrabel and assistant coach Doug Colman. With refs on hand, Vrabel and Colman got right in their faces to let them know that it was the defense's ball. Their outburst was as emotional as it would be in a game against the Colts in September. A few plays later, Tony Washington picked up a fumble and as the rest of the defense told him to "RUN!", he took off like he did in the 2015 Rose Bowl when he ran a Jameis Winston fumble to the house for six points.
  1. It was a productive night of work with a day off for the players on Tuesday. We'll be back on Wednesday with more before we head to Richmond to tangle with the Redskins!

The Houston Texans roster in photos.

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