At 7:15 am...ish, I made a walk that I've made hundreds of times; over the Kirby Drive bridge, I strode to the Houston Methodist Training Center for the first day of Training Camp Number 15 (by the way, a reminder of my very first day ever - read about it here). This one felt different, although it wasn't quite back to the raucous days of 2019 with fans hanging over the stands, screaming players' names, but that will happen in a few days. Thankfully, it just wasn't last year. Marc and I were able to do our radio show, the 8th year we've done Texans Training Camp Live on SportsRadio 610 at 8:00 am, in our normal location. The sun beat down on us like we had taken some candy off the sun's shelf and it was seeking its revenge. However, we were there, unlike the skeleton crew that got to watch last year. When the fans come out next week, it'll add another layer of juice to the proceedings, which was sorely lacking last year. What hasn't changed, though, are my Harris Hits - Training Camp Observations - eight years running, so LET'S GO!!
No pads today, so I spent a ton of time watching the pass catchers and pass defenders.
Veteran receiver Brandin Cooks was as sharp as I can remember seeing him on every route that he ran. One of my favorites was during a competitive 1-on-1 or 7-on-7 period. Cooks ran a dig route and completely lost the defensive back on the actual in cut. His cuts, breaks out of his cuts and changes of direction are insanely sudden. He finds a way to make himself available on any of his routes, regardless of length or location.
Over the weekend, GM Nick Caserio made a trade for former Bears product Anthony Miller to bolster the Texans receiving corps (here’s my write up on Miller after the trade). It's clear on tape how sudden Miller is out of his cuts or with the ball in his hands after the catch. Seeing it up close, whew, he has some feet and some quicks. "Twitch" is the word I wrote down in my notes and I'm excited to see him ramp up his reps and his understanding of the offense throughout training camp.
On Tuesday during our Texans' Media Days, Marc and I had the chance to talk with receiver Chris Conley. After we were done, I said to Marc that our Conley interview might have been one of the best interviews we've done with a player in eight years. Over that same time period, we've had some talkers that didn't play up to the level of their oratory skills. If today is any indication, Conley won't fall into that category. He's explosive off the ball and deliberate in his breaks and cuts. I don't remember seeing him NOT catch a ball on Wednesday. Let me reiterate how athletic Conley is - I can't wait to study him as training camp continues.
Lovie Smith's defense was far from an innocent bystander on day one and one of the first times that the O and D went 11-on-11 against one another, safety Justin Reid drove on a short route to the tight end, coming up with a pass break up. I thought throughout the day that Justin was sharp in coverage, finding his way to the football whether in zone or man coverage, and it was the J-Reid I remember seeing throughout the first couple years of his career.
At some point during our radio show (8 -10 am on Sports Radio 610), I looked up and saw number 28 on the field in blue, indicating that he's an offensive player. I racked my brain for a good 15 seconds before it hit me - that's Rex Burkhead. Then, I recalled not seeing him on the PUP list. That was such great news. When he signed, it wasn't totally clear whether he would be ready for the start of the season. Yet, he was ready to go on the first day of training camp. I've always been a massive fan of Burkhead, dating back to his hard charging days at Nebraska, so it was a welcome sight to see #28 ready to roll on day one.
As such, this running back competition is going to be fascinating to watch. There are more options at the position on one Texans squad than I can remember since I started going to training camp in 2007. Now, there's no Arian Foster in his prime, but there are some excellent options in Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, Burkhead and holdover David Johnson. Add on to that a couple of good looking runs from Dontrell Hilliard in the final team period and it's clear that it's a problem...a good problem.
During a team period, Lindsay made a cutback run out the backside of the play and I thought "yeah, that's his game." Later, he made a cut back into the teeth of the interior of the defense and I thought "yeah, that's his game too." I'm not completely sure how he sees what he sees, but the 5-8, 190 lb. runner fears nothing, in particular banging inside on cutbacks or inside runs. He's well put together too, strong upper body, thick calves, legs and trunk.
During our Media Days, we caught up with defensive back Terrence Brooks, former Florida State star, and it was a blast. He made clear what Marc Vandermeer has told me for years - Seminoles and Hurricanes have a mutual respect for one another (not so much Seminoles and Gators). So, I couldn't help but think about that when Brooks came up with a pass breakup over rookie tight end Brevin Jordan, a former Miami Hurricane star tight end, in one-on-ones. #Respect, right?
I mentioned a few of the receivers above, but one that I noted a number of times especially in the second half of practice - Texans 2018 4th round selection Keke Coutee. Out on the basketball courts, you'll hear "ohhh, he broke his ankles" or "he broke him off," indicating a player faking a defender out on his way to the basket. Coutee does that on the football field as easily as anyone I've seen. During one-on-ones, he completely lost an interior cover guy on an in route. Coutee pushed up the field, gave two shimmy shakes to the defender and he completely lost him. The defender chased the ghost on the out cut, leaving Coutee WIDE open on the inside. I mean, it can be so unfair trying to slow Keke down given his burst, twitch and suddenness when he's fully healthy.
The trench warriors got some work in as well, just not in pads. Defensive linemen Charles Omenihu and Jon Greenard both batted down passes during team drills. Those two are going to be even more important to this team from a rushing perspective as I noted here. I'll definitely have my eyes on these two from a pass rush perspective once the pads go on and, honestly, that day can't come soon enough.
Defensive back Keion Crossen came up with an interception on a tipped pass during a team drill. He's such an interesting piece on this team and I'm really intrigued what he can bring on defense and on special teams in 2021.
I love the art AND the science to pass rushing. There's something about watching an excellent pass rusher use his tools to get to the quarterback. So, when the defensive line works pass rush drills, I nearly always watch. As I did, I couldn't help but confirm something I've known about former Nebraska star and current Texans defensive lineman Maliek Collins for a long time - he's quick as a cat and extremely sudden for a 310 lb. interior dude. During those individual pass rush drills, he was sort of getting into position to work his pass rush move and then, in a blink, threw his move. Say, what just happened? I just did a double take. I said something the FCC won't let me print under my breath. If I had blinked, I would've missed it. I knew he had that in him; I've seen that since his college days in Lincoln, but seeing that quick burst and that explosive nature in such small, tight spaces got me excited. He's got to be disruptive up front and he can't be the only one.
Near the end of the offseason, offensive lineman Justin Britt met with the Houston media and one of the things that came up was Britt's wrestling background in high school. I'm a huge, HUGE fan of interior linemen, on either side of the ball, with wrestling backgrounds. Britt went on to say that wrestling helped him a ton and it's extremely apparent in his play on the field. The way that he utilizes his base and his feet are so reminiscent of watching a wrestler work his craft. Oh man, if he can just stay healthy this year.
I was intrigued to see how rookie quarterback Davis Mills would handle some competitive reps as a professional quarterback for the first time. It wasn't perfect for sure, but it's clear that he's got some assets to work with when he drops to throw the football. One thing all rookies learn at all positions is that things MUST happen quicker and earlier than it happened in college. That seems obvious and all rookies have heard that upon entering the NFL, but getting out on the field and experiencing it is a completely different animal. This will be valuable work for Mills throughout this entire training camp and the fact that he has three preseason games in front of him as well is a football godsend.
One player from the 2020 NFL Draft class that caught my eye a few times on Wednesday was former Rhode Island star receiver Isaiah Coulter. He was the last player selected in that draft class and resides in a relatively deep receiver room, so he can be lost in the shuffle on occasion. However, the 6-2, 198 lb. pass catcher made a few catches throughout the day as if he was saying "yo, I'm still here." Now, unfortunately, he ended up fumbling after making a catch on a slant route later in practice during team drills, so it wasn't a perfect day. Yet, it was one of those days that made me want to keep watching to see where this goes for Coulter in the near future.
I know my man defensive lineman Brandon Dunn would hate it (and me) if I didn't mention the big man's pass break up during team drills later in practice. He happened to slide right into the lap of the running back and knock away a Tyrod Taylor pass. He's not Deion Sanders, but it was just good to see Brandon make a play after rehabbing an injury all offseason to get ready for the 2021 season.
Alright, I'll close it there and start to get ready for day two on Thursday. See y'all then - THANKS for reading!