It was day three for nearly everyone at the Houston Methodist Training Center, with one major exception. It was day one for Texans fans and they showed up in DROVES. I've never seen a crowd like that in my ten years of being in the building. The fans have always been a driving force at practice and games, but today was something else. From our broadcasting perch, I looked to my right near the North end zone and it was five or six people deep! Jawdropping. Just AWESOME in the true sense of the word. Thank you fans for supporting this team today and always. Let's get into my Harris Hits from the third day of work for the Texans at Training Camp.
During pre-practice, the punt returners engaged in something that I haven't seen before, yet like many years, it's one of those things that I wish I had thought of when I coached…a while ago, a LONG while ago. Special Teams coordinator Frank Ross had a tennis racket in his hands and he took turns skying a tennis ball to the heavens, forcing the returners to have to catch the tennis ball out of the air. Now, for a baseball player with a glove, easy as pie. For a punt returner, that's a focus drill if I've ever seen one to snatch that little yellow tennis ball out of the air with just their hands. After that, Coach Ross hit TWO balls into the air and told the returners which ball to catch while those balls were in the air. Really cool, fun drill.
The Texans went to team drills after lengthy individual and unit periods. Each unit spent a TON of time doing mental work throughout the day. It's paying off too because I don't see a ton of mental mistakes and I'd like to think I can sniff them out pretty well. Anyhow, as they jumped into team drills, the defense was locked and loaded. On the second play of the first team drill, QB Davis Mills ran a bootleg and DE Jerry Hughes sniffed that out from Sugar Land. He immediately forced Mills to tuck and run. The defensive edge players had good days today, doing the little things as Hughes showed on this particular play.
Man, Texans RB Dameon Pierce has even more dangerous scoots this year. He's sliding and gliding through holes quicker and with more burst even than last year, it seems. He noted after practice that he put a huge focus on getting his nutrition right and his workouts on point. The true test is when the pads go on, but I think he's going to pass that test with flying colors.
However, on the first running play, DL Maliek Collins ate it all up, wrapping up Pierce at the line of scrimmage. Yes, say it with me "THEY'RE NOT WEARING PADS!!", but they will on Sunday. That said, the interior guys have been a problem from the first snap of training camp and Collins was a major part of that issue, especially on this play to start that team drill.
When Pierce needs a rest, there's no drop off in the dangerous RB category. RB Devin Singletary 'Motor' is smooth as melted butter and he showed that on a run in the team drill as Pierce stepped out of the huddle. He took the handoff and started on a zone path to the left side, then without stopping, he darted back inside and froze a defender, all the while motoring past that concrete-footed defender. Singletary is so sudden that he can start with a plan where he's going to run, spy an opening elsewhere, stop on a dime and dart out the other way. Slick and so darn slippery.
I'll say this, though, Boone is quick and effective in a number of different ways. During another team drill period, Boone was the lone back in the backfield with Davis Mills at quarterback. The defense brought some blitz funk on Friday and Mills saw it from jump. Boone knew that he was the hot route because when he turned out of his angle route, he immediately turned his head back to Mills as the QB had already thrown the ball to beat the blitz. Boone snatched the rock and left the LB in his vapors as he charged up the field. Boone's got that juice and he's great on the mic too - tune into SportsRadio 610 on Friday night to hear my interview with him this afternoon.
The Gun Slinger, aka Case Keenum, went into full GS mode early in practice. OC Bobby Slowik had him handoff on the first two plays so Keenum had one play to let it rip and he did. He had WR Alex Bachman on a deeeeeeep over to the other side of the field and he lit it fly. I could hear the fans build to a crescendo as the ball followed its beautiful parabola through the Houston sky. In the Jaguars comeback in the playoff game, QB Trevor Lawrence hit this same play for a key touchdown. The Chargers never covered the WR, but the Texans DBs were right there with Bachman, even though he had a step. He put it in another gear and launched full out with his hands outstretched. The ball hit his hands but popped out as he hit the ground. But, this is what I loved - the fans cheered for Bachman because he made such an effort and for Keenum because, well, he's a Houston legend. Knowing that the period was ten plays and that was the last one, I KNEW Keenum was going to unload deep…and he did and nearly hit it.
A guy that I mentioned on Thursday made another stellar pass breakup in the next team drill. DB Tavierre Thomas was in man coverage on WR Noah Brown on a shallow crosser. QB C.J. Stroud got a blitz and he read it perfectly to get the ball to Brown as his hot receiver. Thomas got in Brown's hip pocket and knocked away the pass. Tav has been real active early in these practices.
The second team period was not a great one for the quarterbacks. Mills missed receivers early in his two throws, while Stroud missed on two of his three throws. Keenum then hit a checkdown for a completion. He then found rookie TE Jordan Murray out in the flat wide open, then he threw a dart to WR Jalen Camp on a man coverage combination route.
During the end of special teams, the returners decided to have some fun. They all attempted to catch and hold as many footballs as possible at one time. Desmond King II started it and caught three. The overall winner, though, was… Tank Dell. He had SIX. I don't know HOW on God's green earth he was able to catch six punts and hold them at the same time on that tiny frame. But he did! What stood out to me, mostly, was the fact that this was just a group of guys in the midst of a stressful training camp, smiling, competing and having fun.
The fans had a few moments to get excited about, but the one that seemed to trigger the most reaction was when QB C.J. Stroud threw a gem to TE Dalton Schultz on an over route. Stroud threw a laser shot to the right side of the formation and Schultz snagged it, without breaking stride, turned upfield and made a huge play out of it. The fans love having Stroud here, but they have big expectations for Schultz too. So, those two linking up got a serious rise out of the assembled fan base.
Two plays after Stroud made that play, he made an even more impressive throw. The defense brought a strong blitz against Stroud so the rookie QB had to get rid of it nearly as soon as he got the snap. But, he did and he found fellow rookie WR Tank Dell on the far side of the field before that rush could sack him. Dell turned that up the field and made a huge play out of it. Beating the blitz isn't a little thing…ever, so that win caught my attention in a big way.
On the next play, QB Davis Mills didn't beat the blitz because the defense didn't on that particular play. However, his quick thinking and quick reaction skills contributed to a key completion. He ran a bootleg again and had a DE in his face from jump, so when he turned around to start back toward the line of scrimmage, the DE was nearly at his feet, so he leapt in the air and fired to TE Eric Tomlinson for the reception. That was a sack 99.9% of the time or should've been, but Mills made the play right with a highly athletic play on the boot.
I mentioned the pass coverage skills and recognition of rookie LB Henry To'oTo'o early this week. He showed it again in the last team drill of the day. He first had to react to a possible run and then when he knew it was a pass, he "robot-ed" his way back to the nearest receiver. Robot (roll over and back) is a technique that linebackers use on play action or bootleg, reacting to the run and then changing course to roll over and back to cut off crossers. To'o To'o made a smooth and explosive move into Tank Dell's space and kept Mills from attempting a throw his way.
One of QB Davis Mills' best throws of camp came in the final team session. He ran a play action concept to pull linebackers to the line of scrimmage and then RIPPED a throw over the middle to WR Nico Collins for the completion. What made that one so impressive was that Nico had JUST turned his head inside on his route and the ball was on him immediately. He never panicked and snatched the ball out of the air for a healthy completion from Mills.
Alright that's going to do it for the passing portion/passing game focused practices - OTA, minicamp or training camp. It's time for football for real. Pads go on Sunday and it's time to see this team's physical identity come forth, starting two days from now. CAN'T…WAIT!!! Let's go!