The pads are on!
Those are the four best words of any during Training Camp.
A couple of days from now wearing pads, or anything for that matter, will eventually lose its luster. On this day, though, the first one in pads, the freshness was certainly there at the Houston Methodist Training Center. Here are my Harris Hits: Training Camp Observations Day #6.
Every single practice, I watch linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (KPL) practice his long snaps with Jon Weeks, the longest tenured Texan on the squad. Every day, without fail, KPL's one of the first players on the field, working on that one thing. Hopefully, he'll never have to use that skill, but it struck me how valuable a guy like KPL is because long snapping is something he can do in a pinch. What I love even more, though, is his ability to blow up runs at his linebacker position. He did that in the first team drill of the day, coming up with a TFL.
One of my favorite plays of the day took place in that first team period. Tight end Pharaoh Brown and defensive back Lonnie Johnson were back on Tuesday for the first time since Training Camp started. Coincidentally, they, uh, met each other on the field and not in the nicest way. Brown was lined up on the left side of the formation and as quarterback Tyrod Taylor dropped to throw, Brown crossed the formation to help protect on the right side of the formation. As he moved across, Johnson moved up near the line of scrimmage and had eyes for Taylor. Just as Johnson was ready to strike, WHAP! Brown just clocked him and knocked him out of the way. Taylor sidestepped their collision point, looked downfield and found rookie Nico Collins on the deep ball. That got everyone on the offensive side of the ball hyped up for sure.
Each of the running backs, all six of them, has caught my attention for various reasons, but Phillip Lindsay had my attention today. The first time that he caught my eye was a run during a team drill in which he stopped on a dime, dropped under a tackler, never lost his feet and sprinted up field for a decent gain. Later in team drills, he was lined up in the gun and took a handoff that was destined to be a wide run to the left side of the formation, but nearly immediately upon taking the handoff, Lindsay spied a hole just on the other side of the center on the right side. There was a sliver of space, but he somehow saw it and burst through the hole for a first down gain - nearly untouched. To be able to see that hole was just so impressive; I saw it twice - once live and once on the videoboard, and I still don't know how he saw that hole on the backside of that run.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel has had some up and down moments during camp, but I thought he made his best throw of camp in that same team drill. He saw receiver Anthony Miller come free in the middle of the field and RIPPED one out of his hand to the open pass catcher. Talk about a frozen rope, my goodness. That was a 95 mph fastball from the veteran quarterback.
Following the team session, kicker Kaimi Fairbairn put on a field goal making clinic. He was perfect on each kick, including the last one from 52 yards.
There comes a point in every practice when Marc Vandermeer says to me "THIS IS A SONG OFF OUR NEW ALBUM." His point is that when the team goes into special teams' periods, it's like a classic rock group with hits galore deciding to play a song off their new album that not everyone likes or respects and the fans check out, so to speak. In short, Marc doesn't love the special teams part of practice, but he's missing some of the more energetic periods of practice.
Justin Reid has started 43 of the 47 games he's played in this League, yet he's out working with the gunners as if he's the last man on the roster. He puts as much time into that aspect of the game as anyone. That has rubbed off too. The work the gunners put in for Frank Ross/Sean Baker's special teams units is impressive. These guys compete and the energy is felt throughout the entire group.
I spent the day again watching the offensive linemen and defensive linemen crack pads during pass rush drills. I'll start with offensive lineman Tytus Howard. He's been getting reps at nearly every offensive line position not named center. Watching him during pass rush drills, I've really gained an appreciation for how strong his upper body is. He had a rep against a pass rusher I forgot to write down where it looked like Howard was perhaps vulnerable on his edge, but Tytus just locked his outside arm and put the rusher in a vise grip. Rep over, emphatically.
Here's the thing about pass rush drills - come with a plan, defenders. We all know you can bull rush, but WORK ON SOMETHING. Okay, rant over.
Offensive lineman Justin Britt is a hoss in the middle and anyone trying to bull rush him won't have much success. I love the way that he sinks his backside to get his back straight and head up to stay on a pass block.
I made my stance on bull rushes very clear earlier, but offensive lineman Charlie Heck took care of that work for me out on the field. He faced a bull rush from the edge and held up extremely well. As he completed that rep, there were plenty of "GOOD JOB, CHARLIE" kudos thrown up from the blue shirts (offensive players).
I got a little frustrated with some pass rush reps of the interior defensive guys yesterday, but Maliek Collins more than erased that memory from my head when he went to work on Tuesday. He threw a spin move that happened so quickly, I initially wondered if I actually saw what I had actually seen. That was a spin move, right? I thought I was sure, but it was so quick. I looked at the videoboard and saw a gorgeous, lightning quick spin move that left one interior offensive lineman grabbing thin air.
A guy that is really growing on me is interior offensive lineman Jordan Steckler. Look, the offensive line has some depth, really, for the first time in a while, so it's going to be difficult for the entire group to step forth and snatch a spot on the 53-man roster. That said, Steckler has a rep or two every day where I write down Steckler's name with "good rep" next to it. His first rep wasn't a great one as he was beat up the field. However, the next rep was much more effective, and I noted as such in my writings from practice.
Defensive lineman Jon Greenard can really be a pass rush menace when he opens up and makes it rain, so to speak. There are times when he doesn't always get to that point, but when he really has a focus on his plan of attack, he's tough as all get out to stop from getting to the quarterback.
Offensive lineman Cole Toner absolutely shut down one of the interior lineman trying to throw an arm over at him on one of his early reps. Toner had a handful of starts last year for the Chargers and has gotten a bunch of snaps at both interior positions during this Training Camp. That shutdown rep was his best rep of the day, although I will say I didn't see all of them. Regardless, it was impressive.
The group worked two-man pass rush drills as well. The left side of the offensive line, Laremy Tunsil and Max Scharping handled an E/T twist as well as it could be handled. It was clinic stuff. They just passed one guy to the other and didn't yield an inch. Defensive linemen Jordan Jenkins and Maliek Collins were in perfect sync on the other side of the ball. For the first time working partner stunts and protection in Training Camp, overall, it was much cleaner than I expected.
During team drills, the aforementioned Jordan Jenkins created a couple of issues for the offense. The offense ran a zone play with the tight end coming back across the formation. Well, that's what I figured happened because I never wrote down the actual play because of what Jenkins did to the tight end coming across to block him. He landed him on his wallet in a hurry, and it was one of the few collisions that was audible to the naked ear - and I'm deaf in one ear so it was one heck of a collision.
A little later during a two-minute situation, Jenkins beat the offensive tackle to get to rookie quarterback Davis Mills for a sack. The flip side of that play was Mills' completion to fellow rookie tight end Brevin Jordan. Mills ripped that throw to Jordan in the middle of the field, and I'm fairly convinced that it was his best throw throughout Training Camp. So yes, a sack, which was good for Jenkins, but the throw under pressure for Mills was outstanding too.
Then, on the final drive of practice, Jenkins completely ran over an offensive lineman on his way to Mills. It was a bull in a china shop type day for Jenkins, but that's a GREAT thing actually.
At the end of practice, it was time for two-minute situations. Once quarterback Tyrod Taylor got things rolling, it was one of the better first two-minute drill situations I've seen in 15 Training Camps. Typically, the first time that the offense gets into a two-minute situation in camp, it's a mish mosh of just BLECH. Today, though, Taylor seemed to really thrive in that two-minute situation. On third down, he got the defense to jump offsides, but he never stopped the play and threw a dart to receiver Keke Coutee for a big first down. After a quick time out, Taylor then threw a dime to receiver Brandin Cooks inside the five yard line. Taylor then spiked the ball to stop the clock and ran one in untouched on the next play to end the drill.
Rookie Davis Mills' two-minute situation featured that throw to Brevin Jordan that I mentioned above, but it unfortunately ended in the hands of defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III, his second interception of the day.
The first day of pads can be a raggedy mess but this one was cleaner than I expected. Are there things to get corrected? Oh, of course, but it was not a mistake-filled atrocity as some I've seen over the years. Alright, day two in pads and day seven on the grass is on tap for tomorrow. See ya then, everyone!
Check out photos from the sixth day of Texans Training Camp presented by Xfinity.