We thought there would be pads, but there weren't…and that's okay. The Texans still got a ton of great work, including some one-on-one work, to help gear up for what we'll see on Monday. Let's dive into my Harris Hits from Day 4 at the Houston Methodist Training Center.
One of my main observations, especially on defense (because it happens right in front of our radio location), is the time spent in communication and walkthrough periods. After practice, we asked DB Eric Murray about this new defense and the first thing he noted was the communication. That was notable as we have seen them spend a ton of time on that communication in those cerebral, mental periods. Knowing what to do, where to go and why to go there is WAY more than half the battle. This defense doesn't seem to have many mental busts in practice and my gut tells me that's why. Attention to detail is a wonderful, painstaking process but it's being applied every day.
I like to see leaders emerge during practice and one way a leader actually leads is by taking responsibility for things that happen. During one drill in the individual period for the linebackers, rookie LB Henry To'oTo'o was in the drill with three other linebackers. Coach snapped the ball and it was disjointed so Coach called everyone back up to re-do the drill. Immediately, To'o To'o tapped his chest as if to say "that's on me, y'all!". He then glanced down the line at everyone and seemed to get them on the same page and ran the next drill rep flawlessly.
Another rookie stood out to me today and that was former TCU star Dylan Horton. The past few days during team drills, I've seen him use violent hands to get free, even without pads. But, today, he was even better, in my estimation. During pass rush one-on-ones, he was a move-a-minute. If one of his moves didn't hit immediately, he was ready for a counter. He won inside and then won with some power. During team drills, he nearly tackled the running back with the tight end as he shut down a run play his way.
I'm going to go to another rookie because it was the only rep of one-on-one's with the WR and the DBs that I saw - Xavier Hutchinson made one heck of a catch after blazing past a defensive back for what would've been a long TD catch. He made it look easy too. Then, after practice, who was working on routes and catches with QB Case Keenum? Hutchinson. When he was drafted, I just knew he had baller capabilities and I hope this continues.
I spent most of my time watching OL/DL one-on-ones so I didn't see hardly any of the fly guys one-on-one passing session. I missed the first couple of reps, but the first rep of OL/DL that I saw was DL Hassan Ridgeway powering through an interior lineman easily to the QB. It's not unlike what we've seen all week, but on the second rep, Ridgeway started to bull rush, got the OL on his heels then swiped/ripped through to get a clean win. What a unit he is, my goodness.
Will Anderson Jr. is super explosive and fun to watch, but on his three reps, he slipped off the edge. He can play so low to the ground and bend that edge, but he didn't have his feet under him to power through that offensive tackle's outside arm. But, BUT one thing that I like about Will is that he can line up inside and rush against guards, winning with power, speed and/or quickness. He did that one time and it was clear that he's just as comfortable swapping paint with guards in pass rush situations.
One of the best matchups all day was OL Shaq Mason against DL Roy Lopez Now, I feel like it's a great rep when I can see flashes from each side and this was one of those reps. Roy used his hands to get to Mason's inside and I thought Roy was going to get hip-to-hip with Mason. He then could've powered through and past for the sack. But, Mason was somehow able to drop his inside arm, slid his quick feet to the left and regathered to square up on Roy. Then, Lopez countered back the other way. Mason then slid that way. That rep was like a tennis rally, each guy landed haymakers from the baseline back at the other.
When that rep was over, I said to no one in particular, that rep was as good as I've seen from a Texans interior OL in a while. Yet, Lopez pushed Mason the entire way. I can still see that whole rep in my head and it was glorious.
I like the feel that OL Tytus Howard has out on the edge as he continues to grow into that position. He's finally staying at his natural position and he's much more calm and poised. In his rep against DL Jerry Hughes, he let Hughes get into him a bit, but Howard never panicked, sat down and anchored against Hughes to keep him from getting to the QB.
Another rookie that I enjoyed watching was Kilian Zierer, the first year OL from Auburn. He had to take some reps against some salty guys, with a few OL still banged up, and he more than held his own. I've seen DL Jacob Martin work his favorite move a ton against tackles and get clean to the QB, but on one rep later in the drill, Zierer caught Martin clean on that move and slowed him up before Martin could get to the QB.
It seemed like DL Thomas Booker IV had more reps than anyone on the field combined. He had a couple of stout bull rush moves that put OL in the backfield.
OL Juice Scruggs had a couple of strong, solid reps in those one-on-ones as well. He went against DL Kurt Hinish, who has seemingly mastered one of the hardest moves for a pass rushing DL. But, when he got in position to throw that move on Scruggs, the rookie OL from Penn State trapped Hinish's arm in place and locked it in to keep Hinish from making headway into the backfield.
The OL that probably impressed the most on Sunday was Jimmy Morrissey. On one rush, he took his left hand and got it latched on the defensive rusher. He then locked out, sat back on his haunches and didn't budge an inch. I wrote "79 locked up (insert defensive jersey number here)" a couple of times in my notebook. He's naturally strong and has built in leverage, so rushers struggle against him.
Hinish was able to win big against one interior offensive lineman a little later in the drill.
I did get my head up in time to the video board, which was replaying the WR-DB one-on-ones, to see rookie WR Jared Wayne make an excellent HANDS catch on a dig route over the middle. He did that thing where he snatched the ball out away from his body and then held it there as the DB ripped and tugged at it. Had he brought it into his body, there's a good chance that he would've had it knocked away. Didn't happen due to those vice grip hands of his.
The first play of team drills, QB Davis Mills dialed one up DEEP to WR Nico Collins but Jalen Pitre "on-the-spot" was directly in the path and was the closest Texan to the football. Pitre wouldn't have gotten a PBU but he deserved one having such great coverage.
The fourth play of that first team set, DL Roy Lopez completely stuffed a zone cutback run. That's what he and his mates have been doing for the first four days.
When QB C.J. Stroud stepped under center, he threw one of the most gorgeous passes I've seen him make in this training camp…and there have been a few of those. He had fellow rookie WR Tank Dell on a sail route to the sideline. So, Stroud lofted the ball to the one spot where Tank, and only Tank, could make the catch. DIME TIME as Stroud layered that ball perfectly to Dell on the near sideline.
On the very next play, the aforementioned Dylan Horton completely stuffed a tight end, shed said blocker and shut down a run play in the backfield.
On the next play, though, QB Case Keenum found WR Jared Wayne on a bootleg throw. That was exactly how bootleg is supposed to look.
A few plays later, the Texans ran a play they haven't shown in practice much, but as soon as they tossed the ball to the running back, LB Christian Harris burst through as quickly as possible to tag off on the RB two steps into his path. Man, THAT was explosive.
On the next play, QB Davis Mills appeared to throw over the middle to Robert Woods, at least that's what I first thought. But, after the ball sailed over Woods' head, I thought wow, what a bad throw that was. It wasn't, though, as Mills had eyes for WR Tank Dell behind him who made a wonderful sliding, rolling catch.
On the first play of the following team period, Stroud layered a wonderful seam throw to TE Dalton Schultz but DB Jimmie Ward made one heck of a break on the ball and broke up the pass. Schultz stayed down on the field and scared everyone, but he seemed okay later in practice. But, Ward's explosive break on the ball? Ridiculous.
Then, Stroud ripped one to WR Robert Woods on the very next play. That was an NFL throw for the completion.
Then, the Blake Cashman show started. The Texans LB is as fast as anyone on the defensive side of the ball and showed it on the next rep. He ran step-for-step with TE Brevin Jordan on a seam route and knocked away what was a beautiful pass. On the next play, Cashman spied the tight end on a route that the offense was hoping that he wouldn't. Mills threw it in that direction and wanted it back immediately. Cashman picked off that pass. Back-to-back plays, Cashman stole the show, and the ball.
It was great to see DL Derek Rivers destroy an edge blocker against a run play. He tossed a TE out of the club on a run toward him, which turned the run back into two charging DL. He is such a pass rush problem, but run defense like THAT will round out his game for sure.
The last play of that team drill was a tremendous pitch and catch between new found friends Case Keenum and Xavier Hutchinson. The rookie pass catcher ran a dig route and as soon as he got to the middle of the field, Keenum lasered one right into his chest for the completion.
A few reps later, Will Anderson Jr. and Roy Lopez ended up in the lap of QB C.J. Stroud on a straight dropback. Stroud could barely get it to his checkdown on that play.
The first rep in the third team session was the best ball I've seen Davis Mills throw in quite some time. He had TE Brevin Jordan on a seam route. Brev was motoring too and Mills put that throw in the only spot where Jordan could make the catch. He did and the offense had a beautiful first down.
On the next rep, Stroud got early pressure on his right side. So, he looked to checkdown to TE Eric Tomlinson. But, at the last minute, Tomlinson slid back inside. I don't know if Stroud knew that was happening but as he was just about to let the ball go, he flicked it in that direction for the completion.
It was great to see LB Garret Wallow blast through and blow up a run play. Because of the injury in this year's OTA/minicamp and injuries last year, Wallow is sometimes forgotten about a bit, but he can flat out play when he's healthy.
Another guy who should receive his flowers for today was DB Darius Phillips. He made one heck of a play on a back shoulder throw his way late in the practice. He couldn't have played that any better. Then, a few plays later, he read the QB's eyes and broke on a short pass in the flat. Phillips couldn't have played that ANY better. He saw it. He broke. He…then dropped a sure pick six. Regardless, the way that Phillips showed out in that team session was impressive.
Blake Cashman showed up again a little later in team drills as he played a backside route about as well as possible. Similar to Phillips, though, he did everything right BUT…the catch. That said, Cashman had two PBUs and a pick on the day.
A few plays later, Mills ripped one to WR Nico Collins for a big gain over the middle. It's interesting what experience does because that was a route where Collins spied the coverage and settled up, instead of continuing his route INTO the coverage. Settling where he did allowed Mills to hit him with a fastball between the one and the two.
Alright, that'll do it for the Sunday action. Can't wait for the pads tomorrow…well, I'm holding out hope that we do see the pads on the guys tomorrow. See ya then everyone!