At one point during the day, Pro Bowl linebacker Benardrick McKinney started singing about his love of clouds. If I could sing, I would’ve joined him because it was another steamy one at the Houston Methodist Training Center. Put it this way, my dog woke me up at 3 a.m. this morning to go outside and as soon as I opened the door to walk him, it felt like it was about 90 degrees and 100 percent humidity. A few hours later, it was worse and everyone felt the heat. Training camp delirium is a real thing and it’s what EVERYONE is feeling about this time of year. But, nothing is going to stop me from giving you some quick Harris Hits from Sunday’s workout.
The first team drill was situational in nature. Backed up. Coming out. Whatever you want to call it, but it’s one of the toughest for an offense - ball at its own one-yard line. Now, last year when backed up from the three-yard line, running back Lamar Miller took it 97 yards for six. It’s not that easy every time and it’s still one of the most valuable situations an offense can encounter. As such, the offense was brilliant after a procedure call on the first snap (which doesn’t mean a ton given the fact that the difference on the one-and-half-yard line is miniscule). Once that mistake was out of the way, the offense went to work. To start, quarterback Deshaun Watson drilled one to Steven Mitchell - excellent route/timing/throw/catch.
Miller powered through the left side for a few yards, then Watson went back to Mitchell for a key first down to get the offense out of the shadow of its own end zone.
When Joe Webb III came in, he threw a quick out to DeAndre Carter on second down and then threw to wide open tight end Darren Fells who was schemed up to get wide open for the first down.
It was an excellent start for the offense. Execution. Precision. Everything was on point.
The one defensive play in that series was made by linebacker Dylan Cole. The third-year Texan read a run play brilliantly to knife through and stop the run in the backfield. Cole is as smart as he is fast and explosive. He deciphers plays extremely well, no matter which quarterback is under center.
When the interior dudes went down for a 9-on-7 inside period, the offense strung together a couple of nice runs for Miller and rookie Karan Higdon. At that point, McKinney had enough. On the very next play, he stuffed Higdon at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Higdon has shown during camp that he doesn’t back down and runs through arm tackles often. When McKinney hugged him up, though, Higdon went backwards. He found out what it’s like to face a true NFL inside linebacker. That said, Higdon has run tough during this entire training camp.
A guy that really showed up the past two days was defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun. On Saturday, he had a pick and an even more impressive pass breakup. Today, during 1-on-1s, he was step for step with Carter, one of the faster players on this roster, and broke up a throw down the field. I’ve said before how much of a fan I was when he was coming out of the University of Minnesota and he’s making some of those plays now with the Texans.
On Saturday, DeAndre Hopkins made another top notch one-hand catch for a touchdown on a red zone drill. Today, during a situation drill, he made a back-shoulder catch on the sideline that was as good as anything he’s done during practice or a game. He went up and snatched the ball away from rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr., who actually had great coverage. Then, Hop two-tapped on the sideline to complete the catch. What I love about Hop is that he just flipped the ball to the manager and got ready for the next play. He’s a wizard on the field and a joy to watch at all times.
A few plays before the Hopkins completion, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus threw one of the sickest spin moves to get to Watson. One of the first times I remember him throwing that spin move was against the Patriots center in 2015 to get a sack on Tom Brady. One of the least discussed stories in this training camp is how Mercilus has performed at a high level every single day.
I mentioned Lonnie Johnson Jr. earlier and he had a pass breakup against Jester Weah in 1-on-1s.
Speaking of Johnson Jr. and his fellow rookies... the past two days it felt as if there were a few rookies stepping up in the heat to make an impact. After a run stop during inside drill by undrafted rookie Jamal Davis, I heard a coach say “DO THAT EVERY PLAY.” Therein lies the rub for these rookies. Doing it every play is the goal but finding that consistent level of play on every down is ultra-difficult. Showing up for a sack in practice or a pass breakup one time shows that it can happen every play and that was the point - do that every play and you’ll be on the field for as much as you can handle it.
When the team went back to its “coming out/backed up” team drill, on the first play, linebacker Zach Cunningham completely stuffed the running back at the line of scrimmage. In a way similar to how he stuffed Zeke Elliott (Cowboys) and Luke Stocker (Titans) on key plays last year, Cunningham stepped into the A gap and nailed the running back.
It’s clear watching the offense that Watson and his pass catchers are seeing a lot of the same things and making proper reads and adjustments.
Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu joined the team on Wednesday in Green Bay and was dressed out ready to go if needed last Thursday night. He didn’t play, but he’s gotten plenty of reps this week. When he rips it, it’s clear that he has some arm talent. He made a couple of impressive completions during that backed up situational drill. He found slot receiver Johnnie Dixon on an out and then drilled one to Darren Fells for a first down.
One of the last situation drills put the ball at the Houston 35-yard line, down two with 1:11 left and a time out. Watson got hot quickly as he hit tight end Jordan Akins three straight times to get the ball beyond midfield. Watson then threw the aforementioned back-shoulder throw to Hopkins on our sideline. Unfortunately, the offense bogged down and the defense came up with a Bradley Roby pick to end the drill.
Then it was time for another goal line session. After the first two units completed their attempts, the defense had issues stopping powerful rookie running back Damarea Crockett. He scored two or three times in three plays, depending on which coaching staff you were listening to at the time.
That’s a good place to end it and look toward the near future. The Texans have one more practice on Monday before an off day on Tuesday. Wednesday? The Lions are coming to town for a pair of practices with the Texans prior to the Saturday night preseason game. Can’t wait. See ya tomorrow, everyone.