Well, that was interesting. The second day of Texans-Broncos practices nearly concluded with team-on-team fisticuffs on the opposite end of the field.
As I noted yesterday, it was percolating since the end of Monday's practice when Aqib Talib and DeAndre Hopkins squared off in the last team drill of the day. I'll get to what happened later in the piece, but there was much to see throughout the second day in full pads. 48 observations worth of sights and sounds.
- Somehow, I gravitate to watching the outside linebackers during practice so I can hear/see LB
coach Mike Vrabel work with those edge players. He's no wallflower and players need to be mentally strong enough to handle his coaching style. But, there's no question that this group has improved and will continue to do so.
- I was shocked when the Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler in the second round in 2012 out of Arizona State. He towers over the other Broncos' QB, including Peyton Manning. But, he doesn't have the arm strength a guy of that size typically possesses. He certainly doesn't drive the ball but his accuracy has improved a bit from his college days.
- Watching the nose tackles work with coach Anthony Pleasant, Louis Nix III has a ways to go before he's truly comfortable back in the middle of the defense. He'll get there, hopefully, in due time but don't expect it yesterday, if you catch my drift.
- The first drill of the day was a red zone 11-on-11. The Broncos first offense dominated the first two plays as Manning found Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas for touchdowns on those two plays. The next few though the Texans defense bounced back as Jadeveon Clowney batted down a pass and Brandon Harris knocked a pass away from WR Jordan Norwood on third down.
- A Bronco to watch from afar this year is former Indiana product WR Cody Latimer. He caught a
The Texans and Broncos practiced in full pads on Wednesday in Englewood, Colorado.
shallow under for a touchdown during this drill from Osweiler and then he made an extraordinary catch in the back of the end zone later in the day. On that play, he skied near the goal post and snatched a pass out of the air that had no business being caught. Just keep it in mind for fantasy football late round draft purposes.
- Wes Welker did not practice today so the Broncos spent a great deal of time in 12 personnel, with tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme in the lineup with Thomas and Andre Caldwell.
- The Broncos finished the drive as Osweiler threw consecutive touchdowns to the rookie from Fresno State Isaiah Burse. On the first one, Osweiler eyed Burse as his second read which was impressive as he beat the Texans safety for a TD.
- When the third groups came on the field, Texans DB Marcus Williams laid a lick on Cameron Morrah to separate the Bronco from the ball at the goal line. I haven't had the chance to see too much of Williams this week but that was a pop, and well-timed too.
- The Texans offense then came up during the same drill and on the first play, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick rifled one to TE C.J. Fiedorowicz to get the drill started.
- Arian Foster continued to get reps and touches. He had his number called a number of times after the Fiedorowicz TD catch. He's one of the best red zone weapons at any position in the league so having him get some reps now is important.
- After a few Foster runs, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped a dime on Fiedorowicz for a touchdown. Pretty pitch and catch that got the Texans on the sideline hyped up.
- After the first unit scored, the second group came on the field. Immediately, Case Keenum found DeVier Posey on his second read. The very next play, RB Alfred Blue blew through the left side, relatively untouched for an impressive run for a touchdown.
- The first play after Blue's run Keenum hit Ronnie Brown for a touchdown which got the sideline even more jacked up.
- Tom Savage then got his shot and threw a dart to TE Anthony Denham for a touchdown. He threw it low and outside where only Denham could make the catch...and he did.
- What I took out of that entire drill was how excited the Texans sideline was after each successful play. More vocal outbursts than I can remember from this group. On Tuesday when the Broncos started making their presence known vocally, the Texans didn't respond either positively or negatively. Today, though, they were in it from jump.
- When the Broncos started 7-on-7, Thomas beat one of the Texans DB. I'm struck by how big and nimble he is. That's an unique combination but he runs exquisite routes and gets open everywhere on the field. I can't imagine how much Thomas' talent was being wasted by Broncos QB prior to Manning that couldn't throw their way out of a paper bag.
- Great to see WR Andre Johnson get reps in both 7-on-7 and team. He got a few reps in each aspect of each drill.
- I made it a priority to see the Texans OL in pass rush 1-on-1 against Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and crew. Overall, I'd say the Broncos pass rushers got the best of the Texans OL but the starting Texans tackles did a solid job.
- LT Duane Brown anchored in well, slid with Ware and kept him from sniffing the "QB Dummy" on his rep and Derek Newton handled Miller's spin move. Had Newton kept his hand inside on the block it would've been a perfect rep.
- That said, the Broncos star pass rushers did a better job frustrating Fitzpatrick in a blitz period later in the practice.
- One of the most positive aspects of the 1-on-1 pass rush drills was Brandon Brooks completely stoning Bronco DT Kevin Vickerson. The "pitch count" is on Brooks currently but when he's completely ready to go, he's going to be impressive to watch.
- Xavier Su'a-Filo's pass protection needs some work and that was evident against Atlanta. He's such a hammer in the run game but hasn't found his comfort level pass protecting inside. He allowed one of the Broncos' DL to throw an arm under manuever to get to the "QB Dummy".
- One of the most productive Texans and the one consistent standout of the last two weeks is Travis Labhart. He gets open all over the field and catches anything in his vicinity. During 7-on-7, Savage found Labhart open in the middle of the field, one play after Savage threw a dart to WR Alec Lemon.
- The Texans offensive 9-on-7 period was a rough one, in large part because one of the most underrated Broncos ran completely roughshod. Derek Wolfe, No. 95, is the one Bronco that the Texans consistently have struggled to block. He set the edge on the defensive left side about three times in a row that shut down runs that way.
- Later in practice, during a blitz period, Ware and Miller lined up opposite Wolfe. So, the former Cincinnati Bearcat was alone on the left side and he completely powered through the Texans tackle on his way to what would've been a sure sack. That guy is almost as important as any other on the Broncos defense.
- That said, the Broncos have speed throughout the defense and use it to their advantage. The Texans ran outside zone to the left and ILB Nate Irving took off like a shot from the backside. He "ran through" an open spot in the zone scheme to tag off on the RB in the backfield. There are a few ways to defend zone schemes but if a LB has that kind of speed and deciphers it quickly, he can run through the backside to make a play in the backfield. Irving had a pick later in practice as well and if he's fully healthy, he could be a key for a defense missing leading tackler Danny Trevathan.
- One other player I'll keep an eye on Saturday night is Broncos DE Quanterus Smith. The former Western Kentucky star sat out last year with an injury and is fully healthy now. And, it shows.
- During 1-on-1 WR/DB drills, Texans DB Elbert Mack continued his stellar week with a pass breakup on Demaryius Thomas in the end zone.
- Later, Julius Thomas ran a fade on D.J. Swearinger to the back of the end zone. Swearinger was in good shape but Manning put the ball in the one spot that Thomas could catch it. He did but Swearinger argued, as expected, with the ref on the spot that he didn't. I saw Swearinger pointing at the ground as if to say "that's not two feet in, Stripes".
- J. Thomas then ran a fade route on Chris Clemons and the Texan DB broke up the pass.
- That period was filled with intensity and it was due to boil over at some point.
- During the Texans offensive blitz period, the Texans missed a blitzer on the first play and Miller found his way into the backfield. But, on successive attempts, Fitzpatrick found Foster, Johnson and Grimes to move the ball down the field. With the way Foster, Blue, Grimes and Brown catch the ball out of the backfield, there's a ton of mismatches in the passing game and Fitzpatrick found them as he did on the two minute drive to end the first half of Saturday's game v. Atlanta.
- When the Texans third group came back on the field, Savage played pitch and catch up the field. He hit Denham for one catch, then hit Denham again down the seam on the very next play. Then, he dropped a beautiful corner route on Labhart on the left sideline. It was one of the best periods I can remember Savage having since training camp started.
- During the red zone period, I focused on the Broncos offense against the Texans defense in large part because Brian Cushing got some live reps during that drill. He wasn't the focal point during that drill as Manning went after the safeties on wheel routes and crossers to get TDs early in the drill. RB Ronnie Hillman made one of those catches but showed some scoots and burst on a run to the end zone untouched.
- One interesting part of practice was after Manning threw a TD to Julius Thomas in front of Kareem Jackson. As he was coming off the field, Jackson and a couple of DB were talking to one another and then with secondary coach John Butler. The Texans DB coach made a comment that spoke to the difficult nature of matching routes down on the goal line. But, I saw Jackson nod in agreement, showing he understood Butler's comment. The game isn't as easy as "that's my man" any more but Butler made a comment that should help Jackson who is in a tough spot playing on the goal line against Manning and crew.
- The Texans second defense, though, made a few plays when it came on the field. DE Julius Warmsley batted down a pass. OLB Quentin Groves ran down a RB deep in the backfield on the other side of the field for a TFL.
- After Latimer's tremendous catch in the end zone during the same drill, Mack intercepted Osweiler for a pick six...with a Texans sideline convoy, hooting and hollering the entire way. Mack's been brilliant this week, a vital one, to make a roster push.
- When the third group came on, the most interesting play took place when rookie tackle Michael Schofield caught a Keith Browner tipped pass and headed up the field. Schofield made a few yards before BOOM...rookie ILB Chris Young dropped the hammer on Schofield which drew some oooohs and aaaaahs from both sidelines.
- I didn't see the Texans offense during the red zone period but Posey made a tremendous catch during that period. I want so much for the new father and was excited to hear that he made another athletic play.
- Then it was situation time...3rd downs. On the first Broncos offensive rep, Manning hit D. Thomas on an out route at the sticks on the sideline, right on the numbers. Just pretty to watch.
- The Texans offense's was a disaster but on successive reps, Fitzpatrick found Johnson for a first down. Then he threw one low and away to Hopkins who made a great diving catch on the Broncos sideline. Fitz missed a couple of throws later in the drill, including one in which Talib and Posey battled for a ball on a go route down the right sideline. There was athleticism fighting for that ball, wow.
- When Keenum came out for the third down situation, he threw an interception to Broncos DB Tony Carter as Posey slipped on his route and that got the Broncos defensive players excited. But, on the next series, Keenum hit Labhart for a first down. Then, he found EZ Nwachkwu down the sideline for a TD. Nwachkwu made his best catch of training camp as he laid out for the pass and held on for one of the best catches of the day.
- Keenum doesn't have an exclusive agreement with Labhart though. Savage found Labhart open in the middle of the field later when the third group was at work.
- Then, it was two minute drill time...oh boy.
- The Broncos offense started with a completion from Manning to Caldwell which got the Broncos sideline jawing with Brandon Harris. But, a couple of plays later, J.J. Watt got heat on Manning who threw a pick to Swearinger to end the Broncos drill. If there's a player squarely in the crosshairs for all Broncos, it's Swearinger. That's not all that unusual but seeing Swearinger come up with that pick after pressure from Watt on a drill that is made for Manning was a tremendous sign.
- Then the Texans offense came on and started a drive down the field. After a few first downs, a Hopkins catch and then a Garrett Graham reception, Fitzpatrick went to ground the football and that's when it got chaotic. Tempers definitely were at a premium and before you knew it, there was a congregation of 180 Broncos and Texans discussing the most recent events in Ferguson, MO. Well, maybe? Nah. Apparently Talib didn't care for something that was said or happened and he apparently slapped the ball out of Fitzpatrick's hands. That sent Broncos from their sideline and Texans from their spot. Asked after practice about the minute and a half "discussion", Bill O'Brien said he had no problem with it, said it was just competitive and it boiled over a little.
- Oh, then Randy Bullock knocked home a field goal to "win" the drill.
- Through two days of mixed practices a few players have truly stood out in my estimation
a. Broncos DE Derek Wolfe is a mix of power and technique and he's going to have a stellar season.
b. Texans DB Kareem Jackson has made a few key plays, in particular against D. Thomas
c. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas is just so impressive in every way, shape and/or form
d. Texans DB Elbert Mack made three huge plays that I've seen and there may be more I didn't.
e. Broncos DB Aqib Talib is a trash talker, but he's big and strong as an ox on the perimeter.
f. Texans WR Travis Labhart got open against anyone and everyone
g. Broncos DT Terrence Knighton is Casey Hampton/Gilbert Brown reincarnate
h. Broncos C Manny Ramirez and G Louis Vasquez excel inside.
i. Broncos ILB Nate Irving is fully healthy, finally, and it shows - loved this kid coming out of NC State but he was always in recovery mode.
Tomorrow, these two will back off a bit, in preparation for Saturday night, but it's been a competitive and testy couple of days. A fun pair of practices too.