The best thing about training camp is that there's practice today then the next day and the day after that and the day after that...and so on and so on. As such, Monday was Day 2 of camp for most and it signaled the return of DeAndre Hopkins. Here are my observations from Monday's practice.
- Hopkins was back after missing the first day and it was like seeing a long lost friend. On one of his first routes during team drills, he caught a pass right on the sideline in front of us and The Voice of the Texans Marc Vandermeer summed it up best, "I like him, that new guy." Luckily, the new guy (tongue in cheek) of course, was up to his old tricks.
- He made an end zone fade catch for a touchdown on a throw from Brock Osweiler. It looked like it was Week 5 of the regular season. He caught a deep ball with a subtle push-off at the end to make the catch. There's little question he can make things happen and the offense seemed to feed off of him being on the field today.
- The receiving corps improves by the day and made some impressive things happen. Hopkins led the way, no doubt, but let's start with the comfortability and progression of Braxton Miller. Look people, there are things that some rookie receivers can't do that have been playing receiver their entire career. Miller's learning to do them with ease in only his second year as a pass catcher. A great example of that was during 1-on-1s against the defensive backs. Safety Quintin Demps was step for step with Miller down the field on his inside hip on a go route down the field. I couldn't see who the quarterback was, but he lofted one in the perfect spot near the sideline. Miller looked back and made a really difficult over-the-shoulder basket catch look simple. That certainly isn't, trust me.
- We all know Will Fuller is fast. If you don't know that, then you should probably be watching Real Housewives of New Jersey instead, but I digress (full disclosure...I watch RHONJ when I need a break from real life). One thing that's becoming more apparent watching him up close is that he runs really good routes. I thought that watching him at Notre Dame, but it's become even more apparent seeing him every day. Because of his speed, he can sell deep and run anything he wants underneath. He's fearless and has little problem settling up in a zone cavity, making a catch and getting popped. A few players/coaches lauded him for his route running yelling, "great route, Will" a couple of times during the day.
- Fuller made an extraordinary back of the end zone catch during red zone team drills. Team president Jamey Rootes was standing right next to me and said, "man, he can get up." Forty one inches worth of vertical on Fuller, combined with 4.32 speed. Lethal combination.
- Fellow wide receiver Wendall Williams made a similar catch earlier in the drill, skying over the top of the secondary right at the back of the end zone for a tremendous catch. He continues to impress in all facets as he learns the NFL game. There are fast guys that play football and there are fast football players. He's proving that he's the latter, a fast football player making every bid to make this football team in some capacity.
- League City, Texas native Tevin Jones is another rookie making some noise. I saw him coming off the field and was struck by how strong he looks and well put together he is. During 1-on-1s, he ran one of the nastiest double move, stutter and go routes I've seen in quite some time. He completed left a defensive back in his wake and easily caught the deep ball for a touchdown.
- Keep the name Josh Lenz handy because that dude gets open and catches nearly everything thrown to him. He's got some serious juice and excellent hands.
- Cornerback Charles James did have a PBU on a route thrown to Lenz during 1-on-1s and that was perhaps the only ball I didn't see Lenz catch today.
- Sock update while I'm here...tall black socks with red and blue rectangular pattern. Definitely not the wildest pair we've seen from CJ-31, but still not standard issue white athletic socks. CJ had a pick during 1-on-1 as he tracked wide receiver Jaelen Strong across the formation and was able to wrestle the ball away from the former Sun Devil pass catcher.
- Defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan is a guy that is still sort of a mystery, heading into his third year. After getting some on field time as a rookie, nagging injuries got the best of him in his second year. I watched the defensive line a bunch today and Pagan appears to be much quicker off the ball, decisive and powerful and better with his hands. Overall, he looked like a different player than in past years. Can he stay healthy, strong and available when the pads go on? If he can answer those questions in the affirmative, he'll insert himself into that defensive end mix early and often.
- I talk about hands a lot when it comes to defensive linemen and pass rushers and for good reason. So, I like to watch the defensive line work on their hands as much as possible. One of the drills they did with new defensive line coach Anthony Weaver was one of the most interesting aspects of the entire day. I'm sure many watching thought it was some sort of funky handshake between each lineman and coach Weaver, but it all had a purpose to work hands and counter movement made by an offensive lineman.
- During the first team session, on the second play, tight end Stephen Anderson made one of the most difficult catches a pass catcher can make, low down by his feet, without sliding or leaving his feet. He flipped his hands, snatched it a few inches off the turf without slowing, stopping or sliding.
- Had it been a real game though, quarterback Brock Osweiler wouldn't have gotten that throw off because outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was on a dead run to the quarterback. Luckily, he moved out of the way. We've seen what happens when Clowney has a full-on sprint into the backfield. To Brock's credit, he got that throw off with 6-6, 280 lbs. sprinting past him.
- Quarterback Tom Savage made one of the nicest throws I saw all day with a gem on the sidelines to wide receiver Wendall Williams. It was a throw Savage maybe doesn't make earlier in his career because Wendall wasn't open by much. But, Savage threw it to the proper spot and let Williams go get it for a big gain.
- He made another one later in practice to wide receiver Keith Mumphery with Kevin Johnson all over him. Johnson saw it the entire way and was on Mumph like glue, but Savage stuck it in an eight to ten inch spot where Johnson couldn't knock it away.
- Quarterback Brandon Weeden made a couple of beautiful touch throws during 1-on-1s, but the one thing I like about him is his understanding of where the ball has to be thrown. A clear example of that was a throw he made to tight end Anthony Denham. Weeden threw away from the defense, low and away, seemingly out of the strike zone, if you will. But, there was an inside defender in position to pick one thrown on the inside and one approaching from behind. The only place Weeden could put it was on the outside corner and hope that Denham would slide under it. He did. That's the type of "pitch and catch" that looks easy, in some sense, but there's so much going on with it that it's actually impressive in hindsight.
- The only thing that saddened me on Monday was the stretching music was pure 1980s vibe which kept running back Akeem Hunt from dancing. There are two things I look forward to the most in stretching - Dance Party USA aka Hunt and Vince Wilfork playing quarterback and throwing the ball to his fellow defenders.
- Quarterback Brock Osweiler had a better day spreading the ball around the yard, using all of his weapons, including Hunt. On one throw he made to Hunt, Osweiler scanned the entire field. I could see him turn his shoulders to one side, then to the other and then back to the middle where Hunt was standing in between the linebackers. I noticed Brock working on his full field scan, if you will, on Sunday and he's getting through that progression a little smoother every rep, every play.
- Osweiler has a pretty good idea of where to go with the ball and that was evident when the defense sent pressure at him and he had to find a hot receiver nearly immediately. He searched quickly and found tight end Ryan Griffin for a completion.
- I can't wait to see the offensive linemen put the pads on to truly assess that unit's progress. I'll say this, I like what I see out of rookie center Nick Martin. He doesn't appear to be overwhelmed physically and/or mentally. He's held his own in pass rush 1-on-1s throughout the past two days against a litany of different rushers, ranging from big (D.J. Reader) to small...smaller, I mean (Whitney Mercilus).
- I mentioned Xavier Su'a-Filo's progress and improvement yesterday and I continue to see the third year guard from UCLA making strides. I've seen him hammer dudes in the run game plenty of times. However, seeing him handle different and varied pass rushers the way he did when I watched was equally as satisfying.
- The offensive line was without Duane Brown and Derek Newton today, so Kendall Lamm and Chris Clark got a ton of reps. Clark is a grizzled vet and has been at left tackle with the first group since the offseason began. Lamm stepped in for Newton on Monday and I think he's progressed well in the two seasons that he's been in Houston. Lamm faced Mercilus in 1-on-1s a few times and more than held his own against this team's most adept edge rusher.
- Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney noted after practice that it's imperative for him to play every game. Be on the field at all times. Watching him in pass rush 1-on-1s, it's clear why. He's so strong and powerful, but he's improved his technique, hand placement and usage. So, if he can put it all together...look out. Yes, I know, he has to prove it to all of you before you'll buy in. Well, get your frequent Clowney shopper cards, people. You're going to need them very soon.
Take a look at all the fun our fans had today at #TexansCamp Day 2.
- I never stand anywhere near former Michigan State rookie Joel Heath. He makes me feel small or at least short. He's an intriguing candidate in this defensive end mix with number 99 on the shelf for training camp. He's a hulk but he looked like anything but that with his spin move in pass rush 1-on-1s vs. one of the Texans guards. Heath spun right past him and I did a double take wondering who that was. Ninety three. That's Heath. It was impressive and the sort of thing I know I don't remember seeing much when he was at Michigan State.
- Another rookie that has flashed early in camp is outside linebacker Eric Lee. Now, this guy is all arms and legs and they're never really in sync and they're going all over the place. It's sort of frenetic and then BOOM, unstoppable spin move. Then, he'll rip inside and get free to the quarterback. I saw him get free rushing the quarterback in 1-on-1s and team drills. He's got length and a stride that eats up a ton of space. There's not a ton of depth at outside linebacker, so who knows where he could fit in. But, I know I wouldn't want to block someone that has knack for getting free to the quarterback the way Lee can.
- One of the best defensive plays of the day was made by Terrance Mitchell, the cornerback/safety who signed with the Texans just prior to the end of OTAs and minicamps. He was isolated on DeAndre Hopkins down on the goal line. Brock Osweiler wanted to throw the fade as that's pretty much a go-to staple with Nuk down in deep. As the ball approached, Mitchell played it perfectly and knocked it away right in front of the fans in that far corner. When he came back to the sideline, nearly everyone congratulated him because they all know how difficult it is to stop the fade against the Texans Pro Bowl receiver.
- Wide receiver Keith Mumphery continued to show that he's not going to be forgotten about in this mix of receivers. He made a number of catches in 1-on-1s and in team drills throughout the day, including a touchdown catch on a crossing route from the other side of the field.
- Linebacker Brian Cushing is itching to hit someone and put the pads on, that much is clear. Wide receiver Jaelen Strong caught a route underneath, and as he did, Cushing about knocked him into next week. Strong got up a little upset and riled up, but it wasn't going to stop Cushing from preparing for the first day in pads coming very soon.
- When running back Lamar Miller catches the rock out in space, he's so sudden turning up the field and getting into the secondary. Dang, he's explosive.
- The offense hasn't gotten much run game work, but when they handed the ball to running back Alfred Blue once inside the red zone, it was clear how far Blue has come since the beginning of last year. Earlier in the 2015 season, he seemed tentative and slower to the hole than he was capable. As the year wore on, he became more decisive and exploded through holes or made his own, as evidenced by his outstanding performances down the stretch of the season. I saw that again today on a run where he weaved his way through the defense. Suffice to say, it definitely wasn't a run he made at this time last year.
- On the first play of the last team session, defensive end Christian Covington decided to pay homage to number 99 by batting down a pass and setting up second down.
- Cornerback Kevin Johnson made a pair of plays that other defensive backs couldn't make or don't make. He broke on a short hitch route in front of him and knocked it away late in practice. Then, he darted in front of a route in the back of the end zone to break up what looked like a sure pitch/catch for a touchdown. As J.J. Watt pointed out on the 2015 season review special, Kevin doesn't catch the ball well or they might have been picks. I kid, I kid. In all seriousness, there are so few defensive backs that could've made those plays that KJ-30 made.
Alright, Tuesday is right around the corner and I'll have more for you tomorrow. See ya then!
Check out the best pictures from #TexansCamp Day 2.