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33 Practice Observations: Texans in Denver

The Texans arrived on Monday in the Mile High City for a three day series of workouts with the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos.

How'd it go for your favorite ball club on day one? Well, let me quote future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning: "I thought our offense stunk today. I thought their defense kicked our butt. We will learn from the film and hopefully we come out tomorrow and do a better job from a players standpoint and execute".

Well, alrighty then, my work is done...okay, sort of.

Here are my 33 observations from the first day in Denver.

  1. The news of the day, though, came before practice started as OG Brandon Brooks was cleared for work after passing his physical. He's not in football shape but to have him back with the team doing any sort of work was a sufficient start.
  1. Man, the sight of LB Brian Cushing with his defensive mates today during some team work was a sight for sleepy eyes. He looked fresh and quick to the ball and completes this defense. CB Johnathan Joseph was back today too but didn't do much in the way of team work. The band is nearly back together.
  1. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson got in some work in all drills throughout the day. I've made mention of Foster's receiving skills and how they can be such an asset in this offense. Layers to the offense, that's all I'll say.
  1. FB Jay Prosch has worn a massive club on his left hand for a couple of weeks. Watching him during individual periods since the Club first arrived, I can't remember him dropping a pass. Today, he caught everything thrown to him, no coverage mind you, but still, that's not an easy feat. Here do this for me if you think it is, go find a boxing glove and put it on one of your hands and tell me how your day goes.
  1. One of the most underappreciated aspects of Manning's game is his ball handling and ball faking. He sells play action as well as any QB ever.
  1. That said, his furor about his team's workout was valid. But more of his ire was back at himself. He pointed out that he wasn't close to being happy with his performance. He missed open receivers throughout the day, including a deep ball in 1-on-1 to Andre Caldwell who had a half step on a Texans DB.
  1. The individual play of the day in my opinion was made by Kareem Jackson. During 1-on-1 DB/WR

drills, he was matched up with Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos receiver ran a deep comeback but he sold the route with a couple of quick changes of direction before he broke the route to the sideline. Jackson stayed in his hip pocket the entire time and when Manning threw to the sideline 25 in white caught the ball as 88 in orange lay prone on the field watching.

  1. CB Elbert Mack returned this week and made two tremendous pass break ups on consecutive plays. First, he ran with a post route and went over the top of the receiver to break up one play. Then, on the very next down, he broke on a flat route and knocked that away too.
  1. Speaking of the deep ball, Manning and the Broncos quarterbacks didn't hit the deep ball much throughout the day.
  1. During one of the last team periods, Manning noticed the Texans in dime man coverage. Just prior to the snap, he yelled out a one word call. I'm not sure if that then alerted the offense where he was going with the ball, but he eyed Welker in the slot on a seam route against Jackson. The pass fell incomplete and was the symbol of a tough day of practice.
  1. After practice, I saw Broncos WR Wes Welker talking at length with Bill O'Brien, forgetting how much time those two spent together in New England. Welker is just so difficult to cover in the slot. In

The Texans practiced against the Broncos on Tuesday afternoon in Denver.

1-on-1s against the Texans interior cover guys, safeties and linebackers, Welker shook poor ILB Akeem Dent for an easy catch and run. I say poor guy because no linebacker has any chance of staying with Welker without holding or tackling him.

  1. On the other field, Texans WR Travis Labhart continued to channel his inner Welker, making a couple of catches in 1-on-1 against Broncos DB. QB Case Keenum fit both balls into him beautifully.
  1. Keenum is a backshoulder throwing wizard and he stuck one to Lacoltan Bester for another completion later in the same drill.
  1. I did see one rep of Andre Johnson during 1-on-1 vs. Omar Bolden. As with his counterpart Thomas, the vet Johnson knows the subtle ways to get open and did against Bolden, who held Dre for a flag.
  1. I spent a ton of time watching the Texans defensive linemen and outside linebackers in 1-on-1s against the Broncos offensive linemen.
  1. I would love to have every tackle in the league mic'd up when he faces Clowney. On his first rep, Clowney pressured Winston Justice, the USC veteran. The Texan shocked him with his power then ripped inside to win. I saw Justice sort of shake his head afterward as if to say "wow, that guy's a beast". Or something like that.
  1. OLB Whitney Mercilus continues to improve, in my opinion. He's playing with a ton more confidence and fared well in his reps against the Broncos LTs. On one rep, he "stabbed" the tackle with a hard one arm shot to get separation and then ripped free to the inside late to get to the "QB". There's no time clock, but that rush would've gotten Mercilus there in time for sack or hurry. His second rep, he rocked tackle Paul Cornick with a stab move then ripped outside to get free. I sensed the former first rounder lost his confidence a bit after the Arizona loss but he's a different player since Atlanta arrived in Houston. He needs another solid performance on Saturday night, no question.
  1. The Broncos' Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez are as good a pair on the interior as the Texans are going to face. Ramirez more than held his own against powerful Jerrell Powe, not giving much ground and holding the point of attack.
  1. During those pass rush 1-on-1s Chris Clark did a solid job on J.J. Watt on the first rep. Well, Watt isn't the best defensive player in the NFL for nothing...he beat Clark on the next rep rather handily.
  1. DE Tim Jamison is going to be a vital piece in this defense. There are times when he just embarrasses offensive linemen and he did that in the pass rush 1-on-1s against OL Ben Garland.
  1. During team drills, I tried to see as much of S D.J. Swearinger in coverage as I could. Knowing how much Manning likes to utilize his tight ends Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas, I thought this was a massively important week for the Texans safety. He made a number of plays during the workout, especially in coverage on Tamme.
  1. When the Texans second offense came on the field, Alfred Blue ran hard, even in shorts and jerseys. He's got some juice and people are seeing what a few of us knew heading into training camp - this young man is the deal. Again, with running backs, doing it in pads is the key and that full pads day will be tomorrow.
  1. During that same series of plays, Keenum found TE Ryan Griffin wide open on the bootleg for a significant gain.
  1. The first offense ran the same bootleg prior to the twos coming on the field but wily, cagey vet Demarcus Ware was waiting for Fitzpatrick on the backside. Ware and Von Miller, Miller and Ware, huh? Very intriguing pair of edge guys to say the least. I didn't get to see much of Miller today but I'll move around to see him on Wednesday.
  1. Having refs out to practice is becoming a much needed asset to be honest. As Marc Vandermeer and I were finishing the last segment for Texans All-Access, I looked out to the field and saw a ref talking with Hal. It wasn't hard to decipher the ref's point as he grabbed Hal's shirt, as if to say "you can't do this; you'll get a flag every time".
  1. The last drill of the day was an interesting one. Both teams were given one late game two minute drive, heading into the end zone where all of us media were standing. I had a perfect view and could hear nearly everything, which is important for a couple of these clips.
  1. The Broncos started the drill with a completion from Manning to Caldwell. As the Broncos were in hurry-up mode, they all sprinted to the line of scrimmage. Except Clowney. The refs hired to work the practice threw a flag on Broncos T Chris Clark for holding the Texans rookie. With no one really sure what to do, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien yelled out "play on, keep it going".
  1. So, Manning got back under center and eyed Thomas in the back of the end zone. Manning lofted the ball over Hal's head to Thomas who toe-tapped for a touchdown. The score unleashed the Broncos' sideline with some words for the "young buck" Hal who got beat. The Broncos defensive backs were louder than most of the others but then again, last I saw that group was in the Super...okay, I'll stop.
  1. Prior to the Texans first snap, I looked over near the Broncos sideline where DB Aqib Talib and DeAndre Hopkins were in a, say, discussion. Talib, as usual, was doing most of the talking and at some point he tried to get Hopkins attention. But, Hop ignored him and as he did, the Broncos on the sideline voiced their opinion, loud and clear. On the snap, Hop drew a flag on Talib for holding which ended up negating an interception.
  1. That kept the drive alive. A few plays later QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pass intended for DeVier Posey but it was batted down. Right then, NT Terrence "Pot Roast" Knighton, one of the vocal ringleaders on the Broncos sideline yelled out "Hey JJ, we can bat passes too" or something to that extent. Of course, Knighton was on the sideline because it was a "No Pot Roast allowed on the field" drill.
  1. A few plays later, Foster made a brilliant catch on a pass downfield to set up one final play at the goal line.
  1. I knew that with one final play left in the scrimmage that one sideline would erupt after the play. Alas, neither one did. Fitzpatrick attempted a throw to Hop at the goal line that was incomplete but Hop drew another penalty on the Broncos' secondary. That drew the ire of Broncos safety TJ Ward who had a rather forceful conversation with the officiating crew on hand. I completely saw his point that Hop pushed off to get separation and they missed that but then called Ward for contacting Hop at the goal line.
  1. That last drill was as intense a non-game, non-padded scrimmage portion of practice as I've seen since I've been covering the Texans. I wanted so bad for Hop to score the TD and then...see, I'm getting fired up just writing about it. See ya tomorrow with some more from Denver.
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