Mountains in the distance.
Radio starting at 9 am local time.
Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas (or Houston) anymore.
This is unlike any first day of training camp that I've ever experienced. Seeing that I've only gone to training camp, on the first day that is, in Houston, The Greenbrier experience is certainly new. But, wow, what a change! I can't remember the last time I went to a Texans practice and was dry by the end of it. I mean, you've been the Houston Methodist Training Center in Houston. You have left drenched before numerous times. Today? Nothing, and it was glorious.
We've talked all about why the change for training camp, but once we arrived, the Texans decision made perfect sense. Watching practice from our radio tent or my perch at the top of the stands near Interstate Hwy 64, it was evident how much could get done with players outside of the intense heat and humidity. That all said, it's still going to be a grueling camp, no matter what. It's just a little more pleasant for all involved. Here are my observations from Day 1.
- The fans on hand were all thrilled to see J.J. Watt, as nearly every single Texans fan in the vicinity sported a 99 jersey. And, by "nearly every single Texans fan" I mean 90 percent or so. As such, I'll get to Watt in a minute, but the return of Kevin Johnson stood out to me on the first day.
- Johnson was matched up on Will Fuller a couple of times during 1-on-1s and ran right with the former Notre Dame speedster. He knocked away one pass down the field and might, MIGHT, have gotten a little pass interference on the second one he knocked away as well. As a former defensive back, I'll always have the defenders back so no, it was not PI. Anyhow, after he knocked that pass away, Johnson got up and proclaimed, loud enough for me to hear all the way on the other side of the field, "JUST GETTING WARMED UP!"
- Later in the practice, running back Alfred Blue bounced a run to the outside and then took a shoulder blow from Johnson to end the play. Johnson may have been skinny and lithe when he arrived in Houston, but he's packed on some weight and, still, appears to be as fast as ever. His progress at cornerback will be a major factor for this Texans defense in 2017, but if today was any indication, he'll be a welcome addition back to the lineup.
- Watt? He looked the same as ever, so the next step is when the guys put on pads on Friday. Then, he can unleash and show that he's ready for that next step. It's been a while. September 22, 2016 - the last time he put pads on, so Friday will be an important day for him, amongst others.
- Blue took a couple of shots from the defenders today. The first one I mentioned above and the second one came a little while later from his Hard Knocks nemesis Brian Cushing. The nine-year vet from USC popped Blue a few plays after Johnson did and Cushing reminded him that it was the second time that it had happened to Blue. And, it was quite friendly with no sarcastic undertones at all.
- Prior to the workout, the defensive linemen engaged in a game of four square, yes, the game the kids play at recess in elementary school. As Forrest Gump once said, that's all I have to say about that.
- It was clear that there were some players that realized that they better show up in shape after the six-week break. A few guys that needed to trim and firm up did so to get ready for camp and it was evident.
- I mentioned on All-Access on Tuesday night that I'm a huge fan of Eddie Pleasant, a guy that most people wouldn't even realize has been in Houston since 2012. During 1-on-1s, he did something that I don't know if anyone on this or any roster could do: match Akeem Hunt on a flat route step for step. With inside leverage, it's nearly impossible to cover and, admittedly, you have to guess a little bit. Eddie P played it about as perfect as you can play it and knocked away a throw to Hunt in the flat.
- Don't fret, though, offense lovers, Hunt caught PLENTY of passes in 1-on-1s, without question. Later in the drill, rookie Dylan Cole didn't have near as much luck tracking Hunt. Let's just say, Hunt left Cole a few steps (yards) behind him on the same route.
- Running back D'Onta Foreman is going to be a big story in training camp for a number of different reasons, but one thing that stood out to me that had nothing to do with those reasons was his route running and hands. During 1-on-1s, he ran a similar flat route perfectly. Unfortunately, the throw from the quarterback was behind him a bit. He reached back and made a seamless catch and turned up-field as if he'd done that a million times in college. He didn't, though, and it was something critics didn't think he could do. If he can do THAT, look out.
- Oh, by the way, the feet? Fancy.
- Wide receiver Braxton Miller looked really good, in my opinion. I saw a couple of his reps in 1-on-1s and he burned a defensive back on a deep ball that was underthrown, but later, he ran an inside route and left the cover guy yards behind him. If he can get separation and the ball finds his hands, whooo, that's going to be fun to watch. The deep route is the one that stood out because we've all assumed that he's going to be the slot receiving option on this team. However, if he can get down the field like that, it's going to be a major plus.
- The one thing all three quarterbacks must improve on is deep ball understanding with this crew of receivers. There's more speed here at that position so they have to realize they won't overthrow these guys. Let that sucker fly and let them go eat. They all underthrew the deep ball throughout the day.
- All in all, the quarterbacks did throw it consistently well, really outside of the deep ball. Probably the best deep throw that I can remember was one that Deshaun Watson threw during 7-on-7s to fellow rookie Chris Thompson. He nearly hit on a big play as Thompson had a half step on the defensive back but it was just too far. But, I'd rather see the quarterbacks miss deep than underthrow this group.
- DeAndre Hopkins noted after practice that he and Tom Savage hooked up throughout the day and that connection is certainly there. In the last team drill of the day, Savage found Hopkins on the patented back-shoulder ball as Hop made the adjustment to the ball for the long completion down the left sideline.
- There were no pads on, of course, but that doesn't mean there wasn't at least a little contact. I tried to watch as many of the candidates for the offensive tackle position. Kendall Lamm will face J.J. Watt every day and there'll be no sterner test than that for the third-year player. Today, though, Lamm held his own and, no, not by holding his own teammate. Julien Davenport did not look like a rookie that last played games against VMI, Georgetown and Fordham. He moved, slid and punched as if he was a veteran just doing his daily work. When the pads go on, he'll get tested by guys with more technique, power and finishing moves than he's ever experienced, but he does not look like he'll shy from the competition.
- During pass rush 1-on-1s, Davenport finished a rep on the left side against Whitney Mercilus and then popped over to the right side to tangle with Eric Lee. Not many players can do it seamlessly, but Davenport did not look overwhelmed from either side.
- Speaking of Lee, he's going to find a way to battle for some time out on the edge. He absolutely destroyed one of the Texans tackles during pass rush 1-on-1s.
- Last year's lone Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney has come so far with his technique, hands and rush abilities. I watched him just messing around on the dummies right before practice started and he was using his hands in different ways to get loose. Then, in 1-on-1s, WHOOP, he just threw an arm over and he was free to the quarterback.
- What I love about Clowney, though, is his understanding of when a play needs to be made. The famous story about The Hit back at South Carolina was that a former Gamecock defender was losing his mind in the huddle about getting jobbed on the previous 4th-and-one spot. Clowney turned to him and said, "Hey, I got this." Next play? The Hit. Well, early in practice, the offense made a couple of plays and it felt like the 'O' was having some success. Then, Alfred Blue bounced a run to Clowney's side and 90 knocked him back on his wallet. It got the entire defense charged up as Clowney tapped Blue down right in front of it. This unit feeds off of his energy and his big plays and that was evident again today.
- The defense is now wearing blue and the defense is wearing wh... Marc, get out of here, I've got this. Marc Vandermeer trying to hijack observations talking about the color of practice jerseys. Okay, Marc, I've got it. The defense is now in blue and the offense is now in white. Alright, no more on practice jerseys.
- Standing up on my perch where I LOVE to be, it's fun to see plays develop and see the options that the quarterbacks have open to them. Early in practice, Watson rolled to one side and scanning the field I could see tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz crossing from the other side. I wondered whether... yep, he saw him. Watson eyed the former Iowa tight end for a simple pitch and catch for a first down (just kidding, Marc, you're welcome any day. My boss, ya know - I'm not stupid).
- Linebacker Zach Cunningham can fly, there's no question about that. However, he's got to learn HOW to fly as he matches tight ends and backs on routes. He had a great pass breakup on a flat route in 1-on-1s, but Coach Mike Vrabel "instructed" him that he couldn't grab jersey or hold as he did. A little later, matched up with Stephen Anderson, Cunningham was in great position but Anderson was able to get a step once he went to the corner and make the touchdown catch. Cunningham's going to be a much needed asset on this team but the transition will take a little while.
- Rookie safety Malik Smith had a pass breakup as he covered tight end Rashaun Allen down the field during 1-on-1s. I said before camp that Smith was one of my intriguing rookies to watch. He's not flashy. He's not a 4.3 burner. Yet, he's a consistent, always-in-the-right-position player at a key position.
- Speaking of safeties, Corey Moore had two or three breakups during the practice. To think he was a tryout player just two years ago is unreal. He's made a ton of progress. I heard the coaches get on him a little bit about getting the checks and calls to his fellow defensive backs a bit faster, but he's really become a valuable asset in this secondary.
- Rookie Shaq Hill and Riley McCarron are true slot receivers that are worth watching this camp. Hill absolutely torched one of the Texans defensive backs trying to stay with him in the slot during 1-on-1s. I don't know if there's a spot for a rookie receiver on this squad, but these two are quick as lightning and tough to cover in the short to intermediate areas on the field.
- I mentioned earlier that Savage and Hopkins hooked up a number of times today and one of those completions occurred earlier in a team drill. Hopkins rarely gets an opportunity to get solo man-to-man coverage and when he did against rookie Treston Decoud, he taught the rookie a valuable lesson. Now, I say that but that's what training camp and practice are all about. Decoud should get as much of Hopkins as he can to get adjusted as quick as possible. There are going to be some of those moments where one of the best in the game dominates a rookie, but there are also others when Decoud will make a play and gather a ton of confidence.
- What I love about Decoud is that he came back for more and made a couple of nice plays over the rest of practice. He had a breakup late in team that could've been an interception had the ball been thrown more than three inches off the ground. We didn't get to see him during OTAs as I've noted a number of times, but this dude is going to compete his tail off, whether he's behind or not.
- Nellie Prime, aka Robert Nelson, nearly had a pick during team drills. He also was a little dinged up after making the pass breakup. He closed on an intermediate throw in front of him and looked like he knocked knees with the receiver and couldn't hang on. Luckily, he got right back up and didn't miss a play.
- Wendall Williams can fly. I mean, that's not news, but to see him just go by professionals like their standing still.
- We had the opportunity to watch a portion of practice and talk some ball with West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Thoughts on Tom Savage: "That's a BIG dude, wow, his size is impressive."
Thoughts on K.J Dillon, his former player: "He's a clown (he said jokingly) and he'll hit you now. You better strap up when he's around (not joking)."
Thoughts on Braxton Miller: "Man, he's REALLY impressive. I like him a lot."
Thoughts on DeAndre Hopkins: "The real deal."
Thoughts on the Texans: "You guys can be really good this year."
I'm a huge fan of Dana and have known him for a long time and that guy knows his football.
Got to meet Mike D'Antoni and Marshall Faulk. Watched practice with Dana Holgorsen. Didn't sweat one ounce at practice. Did two hours of radio from the perfect ringside seat. Interviewed Rick Smith. Wrote observations. As Ice Cube said, "today was a good day." And, if I've quoted Cube before, so what? I'll have more for you tomorrow, folks. See ya from The Greenbrier on Thursday.
Check out some of the best shots from the first day of #TexansCamp at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.