The Texans beat the rain by starting practice a half an hour earlier at the Greenbrier and, in so doing, got some solid work in throughout the day. Here are my observations from the team's second workout in West Virginia.
- Marc Vandermeer and I have talked about Andre Johnson many times in our four years together and one of the things Marc mentioned today that there was always that one practice when Andre would completely take over. It was as if he was showing everyone, without having to tell them, that he was The Man. He'd dominate practice and Marc then put him in bubble wrap for the rest of the time...or wanted to. Fast forward to today in West Virginia and DeAndre Hopkins did that very thing. He reminded everyone that he's The Man.
- During 1-on-1s, he made a diving catch for a touchdown near the facility on a beautiful deep throw from Tom Savage. The great part about it, though, was that Hop put a double move on the corner and lost him. After throwing the deep ball short a few times on Wednesday, Savage threw it as far as he could to the back end of the field. Hopkins caught it. Later in team drills, Savage threw backshoulder into a crowded space to Hopkins. 10 caught it. He threw a backshoulder in the end zone. Hopkins caught it. Deshaun Watson threw a fade into the far corner of the end zone. Hopkins caught it...then toe tapped for the score. It was reminiscent of what Hopkins did in 2015 when he caught everything in sight and showed that he was the no doubt, best player on the field.
- During team drills, Hopkins came up with a catch where the defense questioned the legality of Hopkins maneuvering to make the catch. There may have been some offensive pass interference on the play and the defense took offense, if you will. Hopkins then pleaded his case to Jadeveon Clowney and a few others. So, what was the defense's response? On the very next play, Clowney and Whitney Mercilus blew past their blockers and met at Tom Savage before he could even think about making a throw. The competition level has risen every single day with this crew and that has to please Bill O'Brien and this coaching staff to no end.
- A defensive back that many people don't know much about had some really strong moments on Thursday: cornerback Marcus Roberson. The former Florida Gator was claimed on waivers during the offseason and has come to the Greenbrier ready to compete. During 1-on-1s, he was in man coverage on Jaelen Strong on a deep route down the far sideline. It appeared that Strong was about to pull in a long throw with his right hand for the catch of camp, but right at the last moment, Roberson raked over his arms and knocked it away. Later in the day in team drills, Roberson also knocked away a pass intended for Wendall Williams.
- Roberson also had another break up on a fellow former Gator rookie Chris Thompson later in practice. That said, Thompson has made a few catches that caught my eye. He was a whale of a special teams player and was key on those units at Florida last year. But, as a receiver, he's gotten deep a few times and caught the ball well when thrown his way.
- I was right down near the goal line for the team's red zone period and I'm telling you, this group of receivers, defensive backs and linebackers run better than I can ever remember a Texans team. Guys were FLYING around.
- One guy that made his presence known, not only in those drills, but in 1-on-1s as well was Braxton Miller. I mentioned it yesterday and it bears repeating: Miller's trajectory is swinging way up. His route running and ability to get separation are without peer in this camp. He will completely lose guys trying to cover him and get yards of separation. He's not thinking about it and it's not slower than it needs to be. The timing is nearly perfect and will only get better.
- During that red zone period, the offense got the ball into the end zone a couple of times and Braxton had one those. Miller shook free into space on a short route, made the catch (as Lonnie Ballentine nearly knocked it away) and burst into the end zone without being touched. The more Miller progresses, the more advanced this offense can get. That's really exciting.
- Later during team drills, speaking of getting open, he spun around a rookie defensive back on a fade route to the sideline in the end zone for the touchdown catch.
- On Miller's touchdown play in the red zone, Ballentine made a perfect read and an explosive break, but DeAndre Hopkins snuck one into Miller before Ballentine could knock it away or pick it off. What I loved was the defense's reaction - "hey, close doesn't count, got to make that play." Lonnie knew it too.
- On the final rep of that drill, Deshaun Watson spied Wendall Williams in position for a back shoulder throw. He lasered one right on the money to the speedy wideout. Williams seemed to have control and was aiming to get both feet down, but Denzel Rice not only kept him from getting that second foot in, he knocked the ball away at the same time. Incomplete. Rice and the defense got charged up after that one, for good reason.
- Rice also had a breakup on a throw to Shaq Hill during 1-on-1s.
- I have written down "3 to 10, back shoulder, so pretty." Feels like I wrote that all day long.
- During our visit with Executive Vice President and General Manager Rick Smith, we asked him about Jadeveon Clowney's progress and versatility. He responded with a story that just seemed to add to the Paul Bunyun-esque nature of Clowney. He said that during the conditioning test to kick off training camp, Clowney ran with the "tanks". The defensive linemen fall into the tanks category, of which Clowney is. Bombers (running backs, linebackers and quarterbacks) and jets (receivers and defensive backs) are the two other categories. Each group has a time for which each player must complete the test. So, Clowney ran in his group - the tanks - but he took a little bit of grief for it so once here in West Virginia, he decided to make up for it...by running stride for stride with the jets - the receivers and defensive backs. That dude is unreal and he's having a blast on the field, that's for sure.
- Safety Andre Hal spoke in the offseason that he felt like he left some plays out on the field in 2016 and that he needed to play much better in 2017. He's doing just that in the first two days of practice. During 1-on-1s, he was matched with speedy rookie receiver Deante Gray and read his route perfectly to create a pass breakup. Hal knows he has to be the voice in the back and he's taking more control of the secondary from his safety position.
- Another name to watch in the secondary is cornerback Dee Virgin. I wrote his name in my notes a few times as he had a couple of pass breakups and one interception on a tipped pass during a team session for a pick six. He's an intriguing player that took a little different path to get to the Texans than most guys take.
- Watching running back D'Onta Foreman, I can't wait to see what he does tomorrow when the pads go on. He's going to be an excellent inside runner. He has tremendous feet for a big guy, patience and burst to and through the hole. But, at Texas, he didn't run much outside or outside zone. When he did, he just outran any, and all, of the college defenders down the field. THAT won't happen in this league; there have been at least three or four runs where it appeared that he could get the edge and then BOOM the calvary arrived to tag off on him before he got two yards. That'll change with more experience and reps in this offense, especially when the pads go on.
- Tight end Stephen Anderson catches anything in his zip code. He was open on a crossing route as Brandon Weeden threw the ball a bit behind him. In fact, safety Eddie Pleasant tipped the ball as he made a quick, explosive break on the throw. Anderson coolly got his head around, found the tipped ball in the air and snatched it down for the first down catch.
- Cornerback Kevin Johnson continued his climb as he made a number of key plays throughout practice. One of those was on a throw to DeAndre Hopkins. He read the route perfectly and when Hopkins broke to the inside, well, let's put it this way, Johnson read it so well that he broke to the inside before Hopkins did. Johnson, then, knocked it away on the first play of a team session later in practice.
- The quarterbacks continue to throw the ball well. Marc and I had a ringside seat during our radio show, watching Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson throw, on air of course, to receivers during a drill. Marc has seen every single training camp practice and then some and he was still blown away by the accuracy, ball placement, etc...Before you say, yeah, John but it was against air, just know that it didn't look quite like that last year. These quarterbacks throw the ball so effortlessly and with such good ball placement; it's truly fun to watch.
- I'm ashamed to admit that out of sheer forgetfulness amongst my 31 observations yesterday I forgot to mention David Quessenberry (DQ). It's really hard to put into words what this man has been through and now is that time to find out whether he's still got it. If what he did against rookie defensive lineman Carlos Watkins is any indication, DQ definitely still has it. Watkins tried to work the right side of DQ on a pass rush and David used his hands to get under Watkins' arm pit and ride him out of the way. He's strong as an ox and doesn't get knocked back often. When the pads go on tomorrow, we'll see whether DQ can take that next step in his return back to this offense. I wouldn't bet against him, that's for sure.
- After injuring his back last year, tackle Breno Giacomini seemed to be moving well in his first two practices. There were times watching Giacomini in 2016 that he seemed stiff and not 100%. He looked much more fluid on Thursday and he's going to be a player that I watch and study on Friday in pads.
- Deshaun Watson got a ton of reps against all three defensive units late in practice. He didn't shy from the moment at all, making a few completions and moving the offense against the first unit for a bit.
- Earlier in the practice, though, Watson got into trouble holding the ball a little too long and eyeing his receiver. When he did, speedy rookie linebacker Dylan Cole leapt up to snare the ball out of the air for an interception. I've talked about Cole for a while and those are the plays that are going to get the coaches attention.
- After watching him at Baylor for a few years, I thought center/guard rookie Kyle Fuller might struggle a bit in pass protection, but he had a couple of strong reps when I was watching him at both center and guard. I've been impressed with Fuller at either position this offseason, but the real test is tomorrow with the pads on.
- I once told safety Eddie Pleasant that he'll be Eddie P. as long as he makes plays. Consquently, he'll remain Eddie P. after today's practice after a couple of outstanding plays that he made. He had a pass breakup right at the goal line while covering tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. Later in a drill to emphasize positioning for tackles, the "tag off" drill, Pleasant and linebacker Brian Peters stripped the ball from a ball carrier and Eddie P. ran for six.
- During pass rush 1-on-1s, Ufomba Kamalu? Wow, he just blew past one of the Texans tackles on his way to the quarterback. That elicited some "ohhhhs" and "ahhhhs" from the fans watching and Kamalu's fellow Texans defensive linemen.
- Rookie tackle Julien Davenport got his first glimpse, really, of one of the Texans star pass rushers and received a valuable lesson. Whitney Mercilus threw a spin move on him to get scott free to the quarterback. Sure, Davenport was upset, but it's the best thing for him because eventually he's going to learn how to stop those moves and when he does, he'll be ready to be a player in this league.
- Outside linebacker Eric Lee. I wrote about him yesterday and will again today. Trust me, his long limbs and levers are difficult for offensive linemen to defeat on the pass rush and he won a couple of times rushing during 1-on-1 drills.
- Guard Chad Slade looked as good in his pass rush reps as I've seen him since he arrived in 2015. Now, he has to continue that progress when the pads go on, but he looks like a different player than he was at Auburn or in his first two years here.
- Oh, how could I forget my last observation? At the end of practice, the entire team ran some sprints, gassers, down and backs, whatever you want to call them. They ran in their three groups as always but had a special guest join them - Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Cal McNair. Guard Jeff Allen was a little surprised when he was charging down the field and turned and saw...Cal running right alongside.
The Texans had a few special West Virginia homeboys stop by to see the practice - the Logo, the great Jerry West who watched the workout with Houston Rockets head coach Mike Dantoni. Their presence certainly made the day complete. Tomorrow thought, the pads go on and real football will begin.
As such, no one will sleep tonight in anticipation. I know I'm ready. See ya then, everyone.
Check out photos from the second day of #TexansCamp practice at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.