The Saints came marching in on Thursday and that's... yes, I know that was cheesy. I'm sorry, but it's that time in training camp when I'm ready for September 11th to get here, if you catch my drift. Regardless of my Groundhog Day implications, the Texans got plenty of work done against Drew Brees and company on Thursday morning.
Here are my observations.
- One of my favorite things during these joint practices is seeing the players congregate afterward to see who knows who, figuring out how they know each other. I'm struck by this every Sunday during the regular season when I see players, coaches and staff meet, hug and laugh with those they know from the other team. Coach O'Brien made his way over to chat with Saints linebacker Michael Mauti before the practice started. Coach has said numerous times how valuable Mauti and his Penn State senior class was to that program when he coached there. The Ohio State guys all got together to talk after the workout. Eddie Pleasant went looking for his Oregon peeps on the sideline after the workout. Stephen Anderson waited after to see his former Cal teammate and The Woodlands resident Daniel Lasco, a rookie running back for the Saints. I always say that there's a definite brotherhood in this game and then I see those reunions. It does nothing but confirm that feeling.
- The first joint drill was between the Saints tight ends and the Texans outside linebackers in a run blocking drill. Two years ago, the Texans might've struggled in that drill, still acclimating to what linebackers coach Mike Vrabel truly wanted from them. But, after two plus seasons of coaching and seasoning, the Texans outside guys didn't budge.
- The first rep I saw was Whitney Mercilus against former Colts tight end Coby Fleener. Whitney has improved immensely against the run and maintaining the edge. He can hold it down and showed Fleener exactly how it was done.
- Jadeveon Clowney, seeing the first action against a different colored jersey since December 2015, held up the same way as Mercilus and it didn't even appear as if he had to exert too much energy to do so against a Saints tight end.
- Speaking of outside linebackers, rookie Brennan Scarlett made his debut today after missing the first few weeks with an injury. He looked sharp throughout the practice. I wrote his name in my notes a couple of times. He's an interesting story, having played for both Cal and Stanford during his career. As a frame of reference, that's like playing for Texas and Texas A&M. Either way, he missed all of 2014 with a knee injury, graduated from Cal and then became the first ever graduate transfer to play ball at Stanford. He's attempting to turn himself into an outside linebacker after playing a ton on the interior at Stanford, but he showed some pass rush ability and toughness throughout the workout. He's definitely going to be a player to watch on Saturday night (No. 57).
- During a 1-on-1 period with the Saints wide receivers versus Texans defensive backs, Kareem Jackson faced off with hulking Brandon Coleman, one of the biggest receivers in the league, and came away with a pass breakup to start the drill.
- Safety Corey Moore was matched against tight end Coby Fleener and after the rep was over, I heard a couple of coaches lauding Moore for his tight coverage of the former Colts pass catcher. Why? Moore was in Fleener's hip pocket the entire way. The former Georgia Bulldog safety has quietly done excellent work in this training camp and he played well out in Santa Clara last Sunday night versus the 49ers. Keep an eye on him on Saturday night.
- Saints wide receiver Willie Snead had a solid practice, making a number of catches, but few of those came against Texans star cornerback Johnathan Joseph. In their first one-on-one rep, J-Jo stayed in the hip pocket of Snead the entire way on his route and knocked away the pass when the ball arrived.
- Not surprisingly, J-Jo was stellar, yet again on the day, ending the Saints two minute drill late in practice with an interception that he snared out of the air from quarterback Drew Brees.
- When the team went to a 9-on-7 run period, the Saints decided to run right at Jadeveon Clowney. But, JD held off the tight end with his left arm, keeping his right arm free just in case the running back bounced to the outside. Saints running back Mark Ingram thought he was going to bounce outside because Clowney was caving in that side, but he then saw Clowney right in his bounce path. He had nowhere to go but back to the inside and the rest of the interior was there waiting for him and a gain of one yard, if any.
- Saints wide receiver Mike Thomas (@cantguardMike on Twitter) made one of the best catches I've seen throughout all camp. It's not any better than DeAndre Hopkins' best work, but Thomas snatched one on the sideline during one-on-ones. Ohhh, that was sweet. If you're looking for a not-talked-about rookie for your fantasy team, Thomas is a solid under the radar prospect. But, make sure you draft the right one - there are two rookies named Mike Thomas in the league now (one also with the Rams).
- Safety Quintin Demps locked up Fleener in coverage during one-on-ones, forcing Drew Brees to have to throw one away. That rarely happens in one-on-ones.
- Cornerback Terrance Mitchell had a pass break up against Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, perhaps the smallest, quickest player I've ever seen in an NFL uniform.
- I didn't see much of the Texans receivers against the Saints defensive backs, but all indications were that the Texans pass catchers had a ton of success.
- A couple that I did see though... Josh Lenz blew past one of the Saints defensive backs for a deep score, on a shot from Brandon Weeden. The other one I happened to see was Will Fuller's touchdown down on the goal line. He completely spun around one of the Saints corners then zipped it to the pylon, snatching the ball with two feet in bounds for the touchdown.
- During the run game period, the offensive line came off the ball with some pop and ran it fairly well. The passing game took a bit of time to get rolling and really didn't hit its stride until the two minute drill later in practice. Both defenses looked strong on Thursday.
- Socks update... they glow in the dark. Literally. Charles James had on these fluorescent, pastel looking today with Batman code words - BAM, POW on them. I joked with him coming off the field that they looked like they would glow in the dark. He said they did, seriously.
- Today was really the first look at recently acquired defensive end Alex Carrington. He's nimble for a 300-pound guy. I like his movement skills and the use of his hands. He's going to be someone I watch a bunch on Saturday night.
- During pass rush one-on-ones, interior lineman D.J. Reader completely whipped a Saints lineman. If you blinked, you missed it. Yep, it was that quick. The lineman tried to quick set Reader and the former Clemson product went by the Saints lineman in a snap.
- Each practice, I see rookie defensive end Joel Heath throw a spin move that just surprises me. He did that today again. I wrote in my book that Heath had a strong day rushing the passer. That's good news for a young guy fighting to make this roster.
- Saints tackle Terron Armstead is an impressive looking dude and a much better tackle than most know. He locked up a couple of different Texans rushers on the outside during pass rush one-on-ones. He came out of practice later in the workout, so hopefully he'll be alright. But, the former Arkansas-Pine Bluff star has truly blossomed into one of the best tackles in the NFC.
- There weren't many "oooohhhhs and ahhhhhhs" as guys were fairly gassed later in practice, but the Texans rushers lit up when outside linebacker Carlos Thompson dipped and ripped past a Saints tackle. Thompson got to the quarterback as fast as if he had no tackle in front of him. It definitely got the attention on both sides.
- During Texans punt returns, Tyler Ervin caught every single one of his returns. I say that tongue in cheek after a rough Sunday afternoon catching punts for all the returners in Santa Clara. But, on the last return against a full cover team, Ervin caught the punt and hit the gas. I mean, he turned on the juice and it caught the attention of Saints on the sideline. I was standing a few feet behind them and the Saints defense starting "ooooohhhhhing" as Ervin sprinted up the field.
- During seven on seven, I watched two reps of the Saints offense against the Texans defense. On the first one, Johnathan Joseph picked off Drew Brees. On the second one, Brees had to hold the ball for a long while and eventually had to throw it to a check-down tight end. Kareem Jackson knocked it away from him. I figured it wouldn't get much better and the defense had it under control, so I watched a little more of the offense at that point.
- Running back Lamar Miller, as the Voice of the Texans Marc Vandermeer said, is approaching bubble wrap status. As in, we've seen enough, wrap him in bubble wrap and let him get ready for September 11. He was battling a head cold, according to head coach Bill O'Brien, yet still was balling out today against the Saints defense in both the run game and in the passing game.
- The Texans fans on hand really got a treat when DeAndre Hopkins did DeAndre Hopkins-like things during one of the initial team drills. He went up over one of the Saints defensive backs and snatched one right off the top of the defensive back's head. When he came down with it, the fans gave a loud ovation. Then, he ran down near the end zone to pump up the crowd a bit more. Not surprisingly, the fans loved that.
- I mentioned Charles James earlier and his socks update. He had another solid workout against the Saints receivers. He had one pass breakup that could've turned into an interception. Then, during the two minute drill later in practice, he came down with a pick off Drew Brees to end that drive.
- The Texans scored a field goal and a touchdown in their two attempts at the two minute drill, including a tremendous catch by Stephen Anderson down the seam for six points. It wasn't totally clear whether he got in the end zone as the Texans rushed up to the line of scrimmage after a brief celebration. But, the refs stepped in and signaled touchdown and the end of that drill. As an aside, the fans seemingly have a new favorite young player in Anderson.
- Watching Drew Brees is fun. On one rep, center Max Unger sent a worm burner back to Brees that didn't get an inch above the ground. Brees picked up the snap with the rush surrounding him, found his bearings and completed a quick pass to his running back such that he could catch and run after the grab.
Check out the best fan photos from Thursday's joint #TexansCamp practice with the Saints.
- The two minute drill work by the Texans was excellent. Brock Osweiler ran nine plays, eight of which were throws. He completed seven of those throws, three of which went to DeAndre Hopkins. Nick Novak nailed the field goal to "win" the game or the drill, whatever works. That drive was outstanding and clearly the best drive of the day.
- Then, Tom Savage put the 'twos' in the end zone on the aforementioned touchdown by Stephen Anderson.
- One rookie that has grown in stature and confidence throughout the past two weeks or so is safety K.J Dillon. He's looking to hit anyone in a different colored jersey. He ran through a Saints receiver as if it was gameday. He has continued to flash the past few days, hitting and tackling everything in sight.
- One of the best throws of the day was by Tom Savage to Anthony Denham late in practice. It was a 25-yard laser right in the waiting arms of Denham for a first down.
- In the last period of the day, Nick Novak knocked home all of his field goal attempts, minus one 53-yarder that came up just a bit short. He nailed a 54 or 55 yarder with a few yards to spare on his last kick as well.
Well, that should give you a decent idea of how the day went. The defense was outstanding most of the day but the offense needed some time to find its footing, hitting its stride during two-minute drill action. We'll see these two on Saturday and I'll have more observations after the game too. See ya then!
Check out the best pictures from Thursday's joint #TexansCamp practice with the New Orleans Saints.