We finally reached THAT stage in training camp. I call it Groundhog Day: Training Camp style. It feels like we've done this all before. Practice. Sun. Interviews. Observations. Rinse, lather and repeat, right? It also means that the regular season is one day closer and, more importantly in the interim, Saturday night vs. the Broncos is right around the corner. Or, so it seems. The team was in full pads again on Wednesday in front of another loyal and loud crew of fans. So, here are some observations from the day's work.
- The Texans signed two players prior to Wednesday's workout - former Texan Quintin Demps is now a current Texan and former Colt Fili Moala was signed to the defensive line. Rookie TE Mike McFarland was placed on IR.
- Demps made a splash in his first workout as he made an outstanding interception late in practice on a goal-line drill. He shared kickoff return duties during practice. He had four interceptions each of the past two seasons with Kansas City and New York, respectively.
- An intriguing story line on Tuesday night's Hard Knocks episode was Charles James talking with rookie safety Corey Moore. James' passion for playing the game was evident, but his point to Moore was, essentially, that Moore needed to communicate with him consistently. James implored Moore to work better together. It was, to me, one of the most important moments of Hard Knocks. Of course, one of the first things I heard on the practice field today was secondary coach John Butler yelling out "TALK!" to his players. It was a point Bill O'Brien made to me at halftime with mostly young players on defense in the second half; he wanted to hear them communicate and talk to one another.
- Today was Ryan Mallett's day with the first offensive group and he started the day strong. He dropped a beautiful dime in the back of the end zone for a TD early in practice and a few of his other touch throws on the day were on the money.
- When Mallett and the offense were backed up in the "going out" drill, he threw two darts - one to TE C.J. Fiedorowicz and one to Cecil Shorts III. That got the ball out of the shadow of their own goal line and a definitive win for the offense.
- Brian Hoyer's first throw out of the end zone was a check down to J.L. Grimes in the flat and he was met by ILB Akeem Dent, who has been back in practice this week. Dent let up just a bit at the last minute but, in the game, it would've been a highlight hit for sure.
- The NFL is a different beast than any other level of football, but it's amazing, even comforting in some sense, to hear this coaching staff harp on some of the most basic aspects of football. One in particular is the ability to play low. Starting in Pop Warner football as a seven-year-old, players hear all the time "low man wins." That doesn't change at any level, but I heard three different defensive coaches, within minutes of one another, all mention "pad level", "bend your knees", "play lower".
- This isn't a cut and paste from the past few days/weeks, but Garrett Graham is still open. However, I did see someone finally stop Graham - Brian Cushing. The team's ILB locked up Graham as he started across the middle and wouldn't let him go. Graham tried to break free to no avail. That's about the only way anyone's been able to cover Graham.
- Speaking of Cushing, he also had a pass break-up as he covered TE Ryan Griffin out in the flat. Oh, this was after Cushing threw up his breakfast during the team's individual period. I guess he doesn't agree with JJ Watt and Vince Wilfork that breakfast is the best meal of the day. As a side note, there's no debate that breakfast or brunch is the best meal of the day. Anyone that wants to argue with me...well, take it up with my muscle - Watt and Wilfork.
- Speaking of Griffin, later in the same 1-on-1 drill, he ran a go route on a safety up the sideline and made a fingertip catch in the North end zone. I hope we get to see a significant amount of Griffin on Saturday vs. the Broncos.
- Blitz pickup has quietly become one of my favorite drills to watch in camp and not just because there's a chance of a Cushing-Alfred Blue tete-a-tete. But, there's serious competition between the RB and the ILB. The first rep of that drill, rookie LB Benardrick McKinney came screaming through and WHAM...he got met and stoned on the spot by Blue.
- One rookie that has made steady improvement is TE Khari Lee. I've mentioned him the past few days and he continues to impress. It's a difficult position to try to make this roster but the rookie has put some quality tape together lately. He ran a double move as a perimeter receiver today and just roasted one of the defensive backs. His blocking has improved to a point where TE coach John Perry is finding positive things to say about it as opposed to earlier in training camp.
- OLB Whitney Mercilus is one of the hardest working players on this team and it's exciting to see the hard work pay off. One area that's really improved is his hands. He shoots them hard and violently playing the run. He just plays so much stronger on the edge than he did last year and it's not even comparable to 2013.
- As I watched TE vs. OLB in the run game, I heard the crowd cheer a TD catch by J.L. Grimes deep down the field. Hard to not like what No. 41 brings to this team. He had a long run during the two-minute drill that showed a little bit of everything in his toolkit to get clean into the secondary before he was "tackled."
- During pass rush 1-on-1s, the offense got DT Vince Wilfork to jump offsides and without missing a beat, Wilfork just took off on his penalty lap. He jumped off the ball and just kept right on running. I couldn't help but chuckle; he just knew.
- A little confidence can go a long way. OLB Kourtnei Brown, still riding on a high after his performance vs. San Francisco on Saturday night, won a number of different 1-on-1 pass rush battles on the day. He ripped inside with some juice for one sack and then won with an arm under rip on another, whipping a young rookie tackle.
- I love the fact that RT Derek Newton gets to face JJ Watt every day rushing the edge. It's made him better, without question, and the one rep they got against one another was as loud a collision as there was all day. It ended as a stalemate and a quick whistle, with good reason.
- There were a few highlight-reel catches today but Nate Washington's catch over the top of CB A.J. Bouye was right at the top. Bouye was in perfect position but the wily veteran reached up over Bouye and stole one from him on a throw from Ryan Mallett. Bouye got his, though, later in practice with a couple of pass break-ups in team situations.
- WR Jace Davis had two TD catches at the back corner on fade routes throughout the day. He couldn't hang on to what would've been a TD vs. San Francisco, so he's trying to make up for it by making key catches during practice this week. This was a good step in that direction.
- Although he's struggled at times in camp, WR Jaelen Strong winning 50/50 balls against this aggressive group of corners is a great sign. He snatched and held on to one vs. Kevin Johnson in 1-on-1s in which Johnson was draped on him like a blanket.
View all the best photos from the 13th practice of #TexansCamp.
- Once the Texans got into team drills, WR Keith Mumphery delivered a remember-me hit to a Texans DB. And, by hit, I mean, he knocked a DB on his wallet as he ran the ball up the field. I've seen Mumphery do a number of different things since he arrived and knew he was a tough cat. But, running a DB flat over was a new one.
- The DBs didn't take too kindly to Mumphery's hit, so they were flying around looking for a white jersey to hit just after that play. On the very next play, S Rahim Moore threw his body into Alfred Blue with a little more vigor than usual.
- A lot has been made of the competition at left guard, but Jeff Adams has been with the ones from the outset. I saw both he and Duane Brown execute perfectly, trading off responsibilities on a D-line stunt, to protect Ryan Mallett. Those two seem to be working together better than I expected with Adams at guard.
- I mentioned great catches during the day and one of the best was Travis Labhart's snag over the top of Kevin Johnson. QB Tom Savage lofted one down the field for Labhart but Johnson was in perfect position. The former Aggie WR leapt up and stole it out of the air for a long gain during team drills.
- The socks were in full effect for Charles James today, although one got taped over as he may have tweaked his ankle a bit in practice. But, this was an intriguing day for James as he even got some reps on the offensive side of the ball. That's all I can say about that (channeling my inner Forrest Gump).
- There was a Jadeveon Clowney sighting during a team portion of practice, although it wasn't for too long. He lined up offsides and had to run a lap for it. But, he was so excited to be out there on defense that he ran that lap as fast as anyone has to get back in position for the next play. Little by little, folks, one brick at a time.
- The offense tried to catch the defense on a similar route that San Francisco ran against them twice on its only TD drive of the night. This time, though, ILB Max Bullough jumped the route as it crossed his face and came up with a pass break-up.
- CB Darryl Morris ended the second offense's two minute drill with a pick in the middle of the field as he did vs. Buffalo in his first game as a Texan last year.
- Tom Savage ran the two-minute drill like a champ all the way down the field, until he got bogged down in the red zone. That was where Demps came up with his pick to end that drive.
- That said, Savage seemingly handles those end-of-game, end-of-half situations with a ton of calm, composure and poise. I like seeing him work at that part of practice.
- On the last play of the game drill, Ryan Mallett dropped a dime on Cecil Shorts III for a TD and then a punt-the-ball-in-the-crowd celebration.
One more practice this week, before a Friday walkthrough, before the Broncos arrive. I'll be back with more tomorrow, see ya' then!
The Houston Texans roster in photos.