There was some good, some bad as with all training camp practices, but the best news of all for these players (and for some in the media too) is that there's an off day tomorrow. That was of little consolation as the players fought through the searing, brutal heat on Day 5 of training camp.
How tough was it? Well, let's get to the observations because there was a lot to see.
- Heading off the field, I asked defensive end Dan Pettinato, who played his college ball at Arizona...here or there, which one's worse? Without skipping a beat. "Here. Not even close." Anyone questioning it can put that to bed for good; no one has experienced it like Pettinato and he was definitive about the "winner".
- The Voice of the Texans Marc Vandermeer interviewed punter Shane Lechler on Wednesday evening for our Texans All-Access show. One of the things that Lechler noted was that after the first day in pads (Tuesday), he said the locker room was nearly silent, everyone was in survivor mode as he called it. After the day in the bubble, he said it was a much livelier locker room. After today, I'd imagine it was back to survivor mode.
- Watching the quarterbacks at the start of practice, I saw them doing what looked like a basketball shuffle drill in a figure eight motion. I couldn't hear the instructions, but it was a great drill for helping to avoid pressure and sacks. They weaved up and down and side to side. It was one of those drills that I'd never seen before, but simple and effective.
- Instead of a goal-line drill to get the pads popping early in practice, the offensive linemen/defensive linemen/linebackers/running backs engaged in a halfline run drill at the beginning of practice. One of the loudest collisions happened a few feet from me when guard Oday Aboushi and linebacker Akeem Dent met in the hole on one of those run plays. The crack could've been heard on field three.
- On another play, Aboushi and center Greg Mancz worked a double team during the drill and nearly planted one of the defensive linemen on his backside.
- Rookie defensive tackle D.J. Reader showed his strength and ability to hold the point when he was double teamed and defeated it without getting moved off the ball. That youngster is stout, to say the least.
- The team's most recent defensive rookie signee defensive lineman Ra'Zahn Howard flashed some serious power. He has to work on sustaining that play in and play out, but on his first couple of reps, he shocked a couple of offensive linemen right off the snap.
- Then, on a later rep, center Greg Mancz got into Howard and stayed on the block to open a hole for the running back behind him to run through clean.
- Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork showed his strength and technique working against rookie center Nick Martin. Wilfork knows it's about maintaining separation and keeping linemen from getting up under his pads. He's mastered this for a decade or more now and it comes so natural for him in this drill.
- Executive VP and GM Rick Smith shared a story with us about the relationship growing between the rookie D.J. Reader and Wilfork. At least once every practice, I see the two of them talking at a break in the action. There's no way to put a price tag on the value of a seasoned veteran like Wilfork spending that time with a rookie still trying to find his way in this professional world.
- Center/guard Tony Bergstrom's athleticism and versatility were two things that seemed to attract this organization prior to the free agency period. During that half line drill, it's easy to see those two traits come to the forefront.
- During one-on-ones with the receivers and the defensive backs and, actually, all the way throughout practice, wide receiver Cecil Shorts continued to shine. He's been getting open against anyone and everyone from every receiver position imaginable. Shorts has been fantastic throughout the start of camp. I have his number (18) written down all over my notebook.
- Today's winner, though, in the receiver/defensive back crowd was cornerback A.J Bouye. He seemed to knock down just about every pass thrown his way and he was matched up for much of the day on either DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller. At one point late in practice, Marc Vandermeer, standing next to me, watched Bouye knock another pass down and he just said out loud "That's Bouye's 21st pass break up of the day." He was exaggerating a bit; it wasn't quite 21. His point, though, was a good one - Bouye didn't give up much in his direction and it's been the best any of us have seen him in this, or any other, training camp.
- Safety Eddie Pleasant isn't a name I've mentioned for a while and I'm a huge fan of his game. He had an excellent pick during one-on-ones.
- Cornerback Terrance Mitchell made a couple of plays during one-on-ones as well. He'll take some chances on routes, but he has some decent recovery speed to get back in the plays. I remember him at Oregon for his playmaking ability and you don't become a playmaker like that in college without taking some calculated risks on routes.
- Cornerback Robert Nelson also had a pick during one-on-ones. He might be a bit lighter than the other cornerbacks on this roster, but that is one fast and competitive dude.
- Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has great hands to catch the football; we've all seen that, right? But, one thing I mentioned studying Hop this past offseason was that he's learned how to use his hands to get himself open or improve his body position. Exhibit A was during one-on-ones against Kevin Johnson. The cornerback was in perfect position right to the top of Hop's route. Then, Hop slapped and swum, like a defensive lineman, to create space and box out Johnson as the ball was delivered. It's a savvy asset that Hop has learned and mastered.
- Public service announcement to all linebackers and safeties, if you don't get your hands on running back Tyler Ervin out in space on his pass routes, you're done. He'll embarrass you.
- Inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney was matched up on tight end Ryan Griffin in one-on-ones and Griffin initially beat him off the line of scrimmage. But, the recovery speed McKinney flashed was HIGHLY impressive and he was able to get back in time to knock the ball away for a pass breakup.
- The first team drills seemed to go the way of the offense. In fact, the offense clearly dominated early in goal line as Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue both ran into the end zone untouched on the first two runs of the day. Miller cut back a bit on his run and darted into the end zone in a snap. He had to avoid Jadeveon Clowney who knocked one of the offensive linemen aligned as a tight end on his butt. But, Miller shook free before number 90 could get there.
- On Blue's touchdown, guard Xavier Su'a-Filo made a great block to get free and spring the Texans running back into the end zone.
- But, after those two, Clowney had seen enough. The offense decided to run at him and Clowney shed not one, but two different offensive linemen, then tackled Blue for no gain, or even a short loss. Single-handedly, he shut down that play.
- When they flipped it around to go into team drills, the offense, again, started well. The first play was a BOMB to wide receiver burner Will Fuller. Quarterback Brock Osweiler sold the play fake, hit his back step and launched one beautifully to Fuller in full stride, a few steps beyond the defense. The crowd let loose with a roar after that one.
- On the next play, running back Lamar Miller ran to the left side, darted underneath a defender and then sprinted back into space for a significant gain. He ran away from inside pursuit but got some excellent blocking.
- As with the goal line drills, the defense rose up on the third play as a starting outside linebacker made a play. This time it was Whitney Mercilus setting the edge and then tracking down Alfred Blue for no gain. That's not a play that Whitney makes a couple of years ago, but he's come such a long way as an impact player in this defense.
- I mentioned Pettinato and he got a few more reps today with a couple of defensive linemen dinged up at practice. He knocked down a pass and was generally solid in everything he did during the workout.
- Inside linebacker Max Bullough came up with another pass breakup in the back corner of the end zone during goal line team drills.
- Wide receiver Wendall Williams can just flat out run and when he gets the ball in his hands, oh boy, everyone takes notice. He caught a short pass and went Mach 5 immediately during team drills.
- Timing is key in any passing game, but Brock Osweiler is getting it down with his receivers. I was focused in on DeAndre Hopkins going one on one with one of the defensive backs. Hop hadn't even broken down to make his cut and I saw Brock throw the ball near the sideline. As Hop got out of his cut, the ball was on him immediately but he made the catch for the first down.
- The offense/defense competition, so to speak, ended down on the goal line as the defense responded with a number of pass breakups. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing had one near the goal line as Osweiler eyed a receiver in the back of the end zone. The eight-year veteran leapt to knock it down, doing his best Jumpman imitation.
- Cornerback Robert Nelson had one himself on a fade route that receiver Quenton Bundrage nearly caught on the ricochet.
- The kicking competition closed the day, but it was highlighted by the number of distractions the coaching staff, one coach in particular, tried to place on his specialist unit. Once he put water on the ball and water on the holder's spot. Once he hollered at the kicker right as he was approaching the ball. Once he had Jadeveon Clowney hopping up and down tried to distract the kicker on the other side of the ball. Creative to say the least.
Tomorrow's a day off, so we'll be back with observations on Saturday afternoon. See ya then, everyone.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.