It's only the first day, but IT'S THE FIRST DAY! Training camp 2019 kicked off on an unusually, uh, chilly day at the Houston Methodist Training Center. Okay, so chilly isn't quite right, but the heat volume wasn't quite turned up as it typically is at the outset of training camp. And, by the way, it was good to be home here in Houston. Here are some Harris Hits to get you up to speed on what happened on Day 1.
When a Texans release was issued on Sunday evening that J.J. Watt was starting training camp on Active/PUP, we all hoped that it would be a short stay. Thankfully, it was. Marc Vandermeer and I were on the air with a clear view to the path the players were taking to the field when we saw No. 99 walking over, fully dressed as if he was planning on practice. And, practice he did. He said afterwards that he had always planned on being ready for Day 1 so the PUP designation was a little bit of a shock to him. Regardless, he batted down two passes that I saw (and there may have been more, too) and that left an impression on quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Texans signal caller said that Watt taught him a lesson as a result.
Watt did say that they would be smart with his workload in training camp, but that's no surprise given his importance to this team/organization.
I wrote down in my notebook throughout practice "young dudes doing some work." I felt validated after practice when Bill O'Brien said that he thought that very thing. With a squad laden with veterans that have been there and done that, this team needs contributions from a number of young players on the field in 2019.
One veteran that had all of us intrigued heading into training camp is offensive tackle Matt Kalil. The former Viking/Panther left tackle struggled with injuries the past few years and we weren't real sure when he'd be absolutely ready to get on the field and compete. So, it was a great sight when he walked across the field ready to start practice on Day 1. He seemed to slide in seamlessly and he showed some agility and quick feet that are hallmarks of a healthy Kalil. Health is one of those words that no one in Houston (or any NFL team for that matter) likes to hear, but it's paramount for this team to stay healthy, especially a guy like Kalil coming off some tough years in Carolina.
I remember being in the locker room after the Miami game. That was the night that Will Fuller V tore his ACL and was lost for the whole season. It was clear throughout the locker room how much the squad knew it would miss him. Day 1 showed exactly why. I can't tell you how many times I looked up and Fuller V completely lost a defensive back on a route. Most of the day the Texans worked on red zone situations where that 4.3 speed can be negated due to the lack of space. But, Fuller V kept shaking defensive backs to get open and on time. I said it during the season before he was injured, this offseason as he rehabbed and now today after he returned from that injury, he's evolved into a complete receiver that makes a significant impact whenever he's on the field. I can't wait to see his continued growth on the field during training camp and into the regular season.
Another veteran that I really wanted to watch today was cornerback Bradley Roby. The very first play that I saw after my two-hour stint on Texans Training Camp Live was during WR-DB 1-on-1 drills. Roby made a tremendous breakup on a throw to the back corner of the end zone.
It's weird to think back to the draft analysis of running back D'Onta Foreman. The University of Texas didn't throw him the ball at all so many thought he wouldn't be a factor in the passing game. It's the perfect example of "just because he wasn't asked to do it, doesn't mean he can't do it." Foreman has pillow soft hands and he consistently shows that during 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s.
Receiver Vyncint Smith had a strong offseason and continued that into training camp on Day 1. This receiver group is jammed full of guys that can play, so it's going to take continued progress every day even from a guy that made plays for this team as an undrafted rookie in 2018. Not surprisingly, Smith seems to be so much more comfortable in this offense in 2019 and he's quick to get open. I wrote down in my notebook on an early route "17 with a GREAT move." He also caught a touchdown from quarterback A.J. McCarron on a quick inside route later in practice.
Running back Lamar Miller didn't get much work in the ground game because the team won't put pads on until Saturday, but he looks like he did when he entered training camp last year. One aspect that Miller does well is making himself available for quarterback Deshaun Watson as he did in Seattle in 2017. Today, like he did in Seattle, Watson found a wide-open Miller, perhaps his third or fourth option on the play, in the end zone for a touchdown.
The slot receiver position is jammed with some dudes that can make life difficult on interior pass defenders. Keke Coutee made a tremendous diving catch right at the goal line that precipitated some controversy. Regardless, Coutee is a handful in the slot, no matter where the Texans are aligned on the field. Steven Mitchell played one play in 2018, but it was a huge one in that Week 17 division-clincher over Jacksonville. He seemed to take some confidence out of that moment and a strong offseason as he started training camp well. He had a handful of catches during the day and made himself available to Watson quickly. These two must keep it up throughout training camp to take that legitimate next step.
The Texans most recent acquisition was punter Bryan Anger, who was most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I remember him from his days with the Jacksonville Jaguars and we'd see him twice a year. I used to watch him in pregame hit absolute rockets. I don't know jack squat about punting, but I found myself gawking at the spirals he nailed routinely in warmups and the games. Now, he's a Texan and watching him and second-year punter Trevor Daniel today both hit moon shots was really impressive.
During veteran minicamp back in June, I spent some time watching the Texans practice with University of Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen. He kept telling his assistants, "Watch their pace. They just seamlessly go from drill to drill to drill. That's awesome." I thought about that watching training camp practice today. Head coach Bill O'Brien has mentioned that often throughout his tenure and it's true as can be. Crisp. Clean. Instruction on the field without slowing down the practice train.
Okay, that was a good start and there'll be plenty more for the remainder of training camp. See ya tomorrow, everyone!