Whooo, weeee, we are in a groove now. Training Camp practice number two took place at the Houston Methodist Training Center and as I heard a coach or staff member say coming off the field "We got better today." Yes, they did. So, let's dive into my Harris Hits on day two - training camp observations comin' ATCHA!
I'm going to start with arguably the best play of the day and it was Buckeye to Buckeye. During the last team session, QB C.J. Stroud executed play action out of a two back set. He had former Buckeye star WR Noah Brown on the outside one-on-one basically. (It was cover three but essentially becomes man coverage given the route but I digress…) Brown was blanketed, honestly, by DB Derek Stingley Jr. at the top of his route. I'm telling you it was inches of space between Brown and Stingley Jr. as the two moved nearly as one to the sideline. But, it was in those inches that Stroud threw an absolute DIME. I was standing right in line with that throw and it's about 25-27 air yards or more. There was, probably, a six inch spot on the sideline where that throw could be a completion. There's probably an 8.56% chance, or less, honestly, of that throw being complete. Yet, Stroud stuck that throw on Brown in that six inch space like a champ. DIME TIME! That was absolutely IT! That's the throw that the big-timers make. Now, there were a handful of not so good throws as well by all the quarterbacks, but this one was special given all that I mentioned above.
Earlier in the drill, Stroud and Brown hooked up on the other side of the field on a similar play. Same route. Same coverage. Brown had more separation on that route, so the throw had more margin for error, yet same result. Stroud showed some things on day two and Noah had a really good day for the offense.
Since I'm on the air for the first hour of practice, Coach DeMeco Ryans is doing me a solid by saving seven-on-seven and team drills until after I get off the radio. I kid, I kid, but it does time out that way so I'm happy. As such, the first team drills take place right as I get off the air. On the very first play of the first team session, defensive back Jimmie Ward made one beautiful break on a ball throw on the near sideline. At first, I didn't think he would be able to get there, but he flashed the range of a middle safety and INTER…well, he ended up with a pass break up because he couldn't quite hold on. But, BUT the main story, in my opinion, was the fact that Ward was even in position to make that play. My goodness, the ten year vet was mooooo-VINNNGGGG.
His counterpart at safety Jalen Pitre wasn't lacking for making plays either. I don't know what it is with those two in the back end, but they are freakin' ball magnets. They are ALWAYS around it. They seem to be dialed in on their responsibilities and what the offense is doing, or trying to do to them.
On the first play of the second team session, Stroud took his drop and looked for rookie WR Tank Dell. It was just a short route and not one that it would appear Pitre could disrupt. Yet, there was the former Baylor star breaking up a hitch route in man coverage. My goodness, that young man is going to be a stud. I wrote in my notebook "1 & 5 around every single ball that's thrown" That's what's up and it's been what's up ever since they linked up this offseason.
That secondary was on some straps today. Stroud tried to work the dig/middle route to one of his pass catchers and DB Shaquill Griffin broke up that pass too, and nearly intercepted the darn thing. It's been said a few times the past few months, this secondary can really create some issues for opposing passing games. Ward's insertion will mean more than anyone could know. He's still got juice. Signing Griffin halfway through the offseason program could be a major steal. And, Pitre looks like he's not just picking up where he left off, he's raised his game two notches.
One player who I can't wait to study closer on Sunday when the Texans put on pads is former Longhorn stud/49ers defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway. I just stopped putting "97 ate up that run" in my notebook and just wrote his number to save time. If that continues to happen when the pads go on, my goodness. He's listed at 305 lb, but I gotta think he's a concentrated mass of, well, more than that. But, he's quick as a cat. He's eaten up runs winning on the front side of plays. He stopped runs charging across faces from the backside. Yes, I realize that they're not wearing pads yet, but I've seen a lot of no pads practices before and still haven't seen an interior linemen do those things that often.
I've realized this about QB Case Keenum and I love it: he's reached the absolute gun slinger stage of playing QB. He looks like he's having a blast, dropping dimes or ripping throws all over the field. Late in that first team session, Keenum ran play action but after having his back to the defense, he knew he had to quickly wheel around to get his eyes down the field. As soon as he spun his head back around, he RIPPPPPED a slant route, perfectly on time rookie wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, in between two linebackers for the best throw/catch of that period.
A little later, Keenum threw another excellent throw to an open Brevin Jordan. The third year tight end circled back to the middle against man coverage, got a step and Keenum put the ball right on him as he did for Hutchinson too.
The QBs made some excellent throws in addition to the ones already mentioned. TE Mason Schreck had a strong day making a few catches, including one from QB Davis Mills that was expertly placed on a seam route down the field. Mills had seam routes on both sides and threw the best in-between (not a laser rope, not an arching parabola - in-between those) ball all practice long. Schreck never broke stride and held on as the ball landed right in his hands. Schreck and Mills had a solid connection throughout the day.
Davis Mills had a strong day to start the practice, but then he threw an interception to Steven Nelson and that did disrupt things a bit. But, he bounced back on the final play of practice, reading the coverage PERFECTLY, throwing a strike for a completion to an open Brevin Jordan. That play stood out in the sense that precision and execution was absolutely on point. Mills recognized the coverage quickly. Pass protection was strong. Routes were timed properly. Pitch. Catch. It just looked easy and that's what it looks like when it's that precise and executed well.
I didn't watch much of the OL because, well, there are no pads, but standing watching on the sideline, Marc Vandermeer said to me "Hey, where has Juice been?" He asked where rookie OL Juice Scruggs had been lining up to that point in practice. I had seen him multiple places, but on this rep, he was at the center position. When he snapped that ball, man, wow, he got out of his stance and up to linebacker level on a zone run as quick as I've seen any Texans center do it since former Pro Bowler Chris Myers. Now, Sunday is that day where getting to that LB is important but, even more so, it's the strike, follow and finish with pads on. Regardless, the athleticism, feet and quickness are certainly present.
I mentioned the linebackers helping tremendously in pass coverage yesterday and it didn't stop on Thursday. Blake Cashman had a PBU, a beautiful one at that, covering Brevin Jordan down the seam. Cashman has always been able to run and his speed pops at practice, for sure.
It'll be like this for a while, but my heart flutters a bit when WR John Metchie III makes catches during practice. He caught one from C.J. Stroud on an underneath route in the first team session. Then, later in practice, he caught a slant route from QB Case Keenum in that final team session.
That second catch caught my attention, not so much for Metchie III, but the fact that RB Mike Boone stepped up and handled blitz protection like a champ. Again, no pads, but he knew exactly who to block, slowed the blitzer down and gave Keenum time to find Metchie III for the completion.
Stroud, though, threw some gems during the day. Second round of the first team session, he hit TE Dalton Schultz on a slant for a first down. Later, against the blitz, he drilled another slant to WR Steven Sims on a play that I just wrote down "Excellent everything". Later in that same team session, he scanned the whole field and eventually found TE Mason Schreck heading toward the flat for another completion.
Oh man, how could I forget…in the second round of the first team session, he was absolutely enveloped by the rush. It was at a point where I lost sight of him in the pocket. Then out of nowhere, I see a right arm come forward and the pigskin flying out. Stroud spotted rookie WR Tank Dell on the dig route over the middle and ripped his best 98 mph fastball. That was a 20-25 yard air yard throw and he put it right between the 1 and the 3. After the play was over, I turned to watch up on the video board and I still can't see Stroud making that throw. He did do it, though and it was spectacular.
Like I said, the majority of my BIG athlete observations will be saved for Sunday when pads go on, but rookie Dylan Horton showed some pass rush acumen, getting free with an inside move out on the edge during one pass play. It just happened to be right in line of my vision to the QB and gave me a little charge. Long, strong and quick in short spaces. Horton will have my attention, for sure, on Sunday.
CB Derek Stingley Jr. made one of the most athletic plays of the day when he swatted away a pass intended for WR Robert Woods. Stroud is uncanny with his ball placement so Stingley knew he had to be in phase before he made a play on the throw. He did and knocked it away brilliantly…at least, that's what I wrote in my notebook in big bold letters "BRILLIANTLY DONE!"
Alright, that's going to do it for day two as it's time to get rested up for a big day before a players' day off on Saturday and pads on Sunday. Let's GO!!