The return from an off day can be a bit sloppy or in some cases lethargic, but that was certainly not the case for the Texans on Wednesday. It was one of the most, uh, competitive practices that I can remember. Here are my Harris hits from a day spent inside (thankfully) just one day before the fans arrive tomorrow.
I missed the first 30 minutes or so of practice doing radio, so I missed some individual work and special teams. So, the first thing I saw when I walked in was inside drill. Nothing but inside runs. Oh, man, that's a way to get things rolling. Pure run game. Pads popping. Blood pumping. Perfect.
The only play I got to see in that drill was rookie running back Karan Higdon getting drilled by a linebacker but keeping his feet somehow for a solid gain.
Speaking of rookies, tight end Kahale Warring returned after missing the first week of practice. He was on PUP/NFI to start training camp, but he was in full pads ready to roll. There was a lot of excitement around Warring during the offseason and for good reason. But, he's going to have to do some serious work to get back in this talented tight end rotation.
When that inside drill ended, the Texans went into a highly competitive 11-on-11 drill. On the first play, quarterback Deshaun Watson hit receiver Keke Coutee for a completion, but a Benardrick McKinney pass breakup as he dropped in coverage ended the series for Watson and company.
During that drill, defensive end Angelo Blackson flashed again as he held up multiple blockers to slow an outside run. That was just the warm up for what happened later down on the goal line.
One of my favorite plays occurred when quarterback A.J. McCarron was under center. He had plenty of time on the play clock and wanted to audible based on a look he got from the defense. When he started to talk to his offense, potentially changing the play, the defensive players on the sideline started gesturing loudly and yelling out what they thought the play was. McCarron snapped the ball at one second on the play clock and it was a different play than the defense seemed to expect.
Defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun seems to be around the ball all the time when he's on the field. He shut down a quick perimeter throw during that drill and would've finished with a TFL if that were in a real game.
Quarterback Joe Webb III ended the drill with one of the prettiest throws of the day. He hit receiver Jester Weah on a corner route that was just MWAH gorgeous. The offense erupted chasing Weah all the way to the end zone to celebrate.
So, I'm going to use this space for a PSA. That's a Public Service Announcement for those unaware. Receivers, pass catchers, whomever handles the ball in a two minute situation at the end of the half or the end of the game...HAND THE BALL TO THE REF...ALWAYS. Please learn that habit now and don't forget. Don't flip it to him/her. Don't put it on the ground. Run over and put it right in his/her stomach. In that situation, time is at a premium, obviously, so don't cost your offense any more. I saw that happen today, actually both good and bad, and it had expected results each time. HAND IT TO STRIPES then line up and talk trash later.
The situational drills came fast and furious today and the offenses executed well. The first one was 44 seconds, down six at the end of the first half with no time outs. Both Deshaun Watson and A.J. McCarron led the offense down for field goals to end the half.
Watson threw a dime to Keke Coutee as the clock wound down inside 10 seconds. Just like he did at Indy in Week 4 last year, he got the team gathered at the line of scrimmage to spike the ball with a scant few seconds left for a field goal attempt.
McCarron threw two consecutive darts to receiver Vyncint Smith to get the team in position. Smith snatched one crossing the middle on a slant and then made an excellent catch inside the 20-yard line to set up a field goal for that unit.
The team transitioned into 11-on-11 and the first play was a run to the right side and both linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham worked together to shut that run down for little gain. On the next play, cornerback Bradley Roby tracked a receiver all the way across the field to come up with a pass breakup.
During that team 11-on-11 situation, I saw something I haven't seen in quite some time. Watson took a shotgun snap and stood there. I mean, literally, stood statuesque in the pocket for a good two to three seconds. I thought someone may have blown the whistle and looked around for it, but it was just the pass protection. I wrote down "GREAT pass pro" a few times during the day. The defense had its moments out on the edge a few times, but as a group/unit, the offensive line seemed to give #4 some time to throw from a clean pocket.
Watson threw a beautiful ball to Jordan Akins with ample time to find him. Watson didn't have a ton of space to squeeze the ball into his tight end, but he did so brilliantly.
On the next play, Watson had plenty of time and looked up a receiver across the middle but defensive back Aaron Colvin broke up the pass. That was another good sign from Colvin, seemingly on a mission to erase 2018 from his memory forever.
A few plays later, Bill O'Brien called for goal line and there was this murmur that filtered through the Bubble. EVERYONE in that building had his/her blood pumping as O'Brien placed the ball at the two-yard line and both groups strapped up the helmets a bit tighter, the pads a little more taut. It was time.
On the first play, rookie fullback Cullen Gillaspia was responsible for blocking J.J. Watt. I couldn't help but think about how surreal that must have been for the man affectionately known as Gilly. He grew up as a fan of the Texans and was in junior high or early in his high school career when Watt came to Houston. It was one heck of a collision and something I'd imagine Gillaspia will remember for a while.
On the next play, D'Onta Foreman ran right behind some excellent interior blocking to get into the end zone. He clearly got in on the second rep and the offense celebrated as if it was Week 7 against the Colts.
The next units stepped into the huddle but Bill O'Brien said "same groups." So, both first goal line units strapped up again. The Texans ran right directly into the arms of Angelo Blackson. The third-year Texan flew into the backfield, beating a block easily and devoured Foreman for a key tackle for a loss. O'Brien knew that he had seen enough from each group and brought in the next units.
Rookie running back Damarea Crockett slammed one in the end zone on the first play of the next group but on attempt number two, he ran right into the arms of second-year linebacker Peter Kalambayi. On the final play, running back Karan Higdon ran right into a huge rookie defensive linemen wall that consisted of Ira Savage-Lewis and Javier Edwards.
That was clearly the best entertainment of the day and most any other day at training camp.
The last drill of the day was an end of game situation and quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two gems on consecutive plays to Keke Coutee and Will Fuller V. Veteran safety Jahleel Addae came up with an interception, though, on the final play of the drill.
Blackson came up with a bat down on an A.J. McCarron pass on that two minute, end of game situation to complete what was an excellent day for the former Auburn product.
Good day on both sides. I liked a lot of what I was able to see on both sides of the ball (and the kicking game/operation). I can't wait for the fans to see the 2019 Texans for the first time tomorrow. It should be fun. See ya then, everyone.