It was time for some real football on Monday because it was time to put on the pads. But, the real winner was Mother Nature for her rendition of "It's HOT!" for the 8,567th day in a row. That said, it was time to swap some paint in the searing heat of the Houston Methodist Training Center. Here are my Harris Hits from the afternoon.
The Texans went from Indy (individual, I mean before Marc loses his mind mentioning that team up north) and group installation periods right into their first team period. So, first play, Texans QB C.J. Stroud floated one down the sideline and LB Blake Cashman leapt in the air to snag his second interception in as many days. Cashman has more than made his mark early in training camp. He's been as good as I can remember any linebacker in coverage in Texans training camp. Over the past two days, he's had two PBUs and two INT and one of those PBUs should've been another INT too.
The start of the offense's day wasn't quite what Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans and his staff would've wanted. Interception on first play. Flag on the third play. Tough start, but the offense had some sweet moments as well, which we'll get to in a bit. Regardless, it was a rough start, yet a ton of teachable moments
The NFL refs were on hand too which was really important. Head official Land Clark and his crew were in Houston ready to roll and that was huge. Those NFL refs know exactly what NFL guys can get away with and what will get penalized throughout the season. The officials being on site was perhaps the most important aspect of the day. There were a good handful of flags thrown, which will be HUGELY important for learning time with this young squad.
One of those great offensive plays came a few plays into QB Davis Mills stint at QB. He dropped to throw and moved up in the pocket a bit to find rookie WR Xavier Hutchinson on a deep post to the middle of the field. I love that combination route and have run it for years. A big thanks to Mills, no, not Davis, but former Florida WR Ernie Mills for that one. Anyhow, for the second straight day, Hutchinson ran past the Texans secondary DEEP for a big catch and score. I've been sayin' it, I've been saying IT since Saturday in the draft. Just don't be surprised, that's all I'll say now.
Now, here's the flip side of that play - in a real game, rookie DL Will Anderson Jr. would've had a solo sack. He completely obliterated the right tackle with a violent shock/yank to get CLEAN to QB Davis Mills. He pulled up and didn't touch Mills so he could complete the play. But, that would've been a defensive celebration for Anderson Jr for sure.
A little later in practice, Anderson Jr was lined up on the defensive left side alongside Roy Lopez and the Texans offense called for a run on the opposite side. 51 and 91 just obliterated that backside and both met at the running back for no gain.
I liked seeing OL Greg Little and OL Michael Deiter work a combination block on a run during that team period in practice. The timing of their double was fabulous; they got movement up front on the down guy and locked up the LB for the RB to hit the gas for a first down.
A couple plays after that, QB C.J. Stroud linked up with WR Tank Dell for a first down. Stroud whipped his head around after a play fake and threw a laser shot to Dell. THANKFULLY that wasn't a game because DB Jalen Pitre would've hit Dell so hard that the entire offense would've felt it. Pitre pulled off, as he should in practice, at the right time to allow Dell to make the catch. But, the entire defense "OOOHHHHed" and "AHHHed" because it knew. That said, good ball, excellent catch, tremendous restraint.
Once down in the red zone, the first rep was fun to watch. QB Davis Mills had WR John Metchie III on a slant route immediately. I heard DB Jalen Pitre yell out "CHRISTIAN, CHRISTIAN" letting LB Christian Harris know to look for an inside route. Harris immediately got his eyes toward Metchie III who pulled up short so as to not get thrown INTO Harris. Mills saw the same thing, so he purposely threw behind Metchie III a bit to make the completion. I love the cat-mouse chess match before the snap but it's even more intriguing after the snap too, as evidenced right here.
I mentioned Will Anderson Jr earlier and I've got to bring him up again. The Texans were back in the red zone and C.J. Stroud threw a quick screen to WR Steven Sims TO Will's side. As soon as the ball came out of Stroud's hand, Anderson pivoted back whence he came and sprinted right to Sims, tackling him for a TFL. I mean, WHAAAA??? It was a bubble screen to Anderson's side; that's supposed to be a play for someone else to make. Yet, Anderson ran down one of the fastest players on this squad for a TFL. All those national media types can miss me with "that was a bad trade." If THAT'S what Will Anderson Jr. brings NOW, my goodness, that'll be remembered as a great trade.
The run game didn't really get rolling against the defense on this day, but on one run play in the red zone, OL Scott Quessenberry and OL Shaq Mason worked a combination block beautifully. The joy I get seeing a combination executed to perfection is more than the average person, I think. But, it's okay because it's needed for the run game to pop.
Our Monday morning radio guest DB Eric Murray came through with an excellent PBU down in the red zone. Stroud eyed a slant on the opposite side of the field, but LB Denzel Perryman jumped into the passing lane and took that away. Stroud pulled it down and couldn't find anyone open so he fired to TE Mason Schreck near the goal line. Murray was in Schreck's hip pocket for the pass breakup.
Two plays after one of the better runs of the day by RB Xazavian Valladay, QB Case Keenum completed two flat routes in a row. He hit WR Alex Bachman just short of the goal line and on the other he completed a pass to Valladay, who was knocked out at the one yard line.
DB Shaquill Griffin had a wonderful pass breakup just at the goal line in that same team period. QB Davis Mills knew he didn't have much time or space to complete a slant route to WR Robert Woods so he fired into, well, not much space. Griffin went hard at the ball and knocked away the pass for the PBU.
On the next play, Stroud kept the ball himself on a run play and at first it looked like it was a sure touchdown. I felt that way because I wasn't focused on DB Jalen Pitre. The second year safety saw it the whole way. He read his keys and would've tackled Stroud for a loss or no gain. Pitre continues to play at a high level early in camp.
On the first play of the third team session, Stroud tossed the ball to RB Dameon Pierce around the right side. It looked like he had some room but the defensive team speed slowed that play completely, in particular, blazing fast rookie Henry To'o To'o who beat EVERYONE to the ball.
I thought Stroud's best throw of the day came a couple of plays later. He threw a laser shot to WR Nico Collins across the middle for a completion. It was not a day the QBs will remember forever, but small wins, like this one, make for incremental positive progress. That was a throw for sure.
The throw that Stroud would love to have back, though, slipped out of his hands. These NFL QBs are so good throwing the football that when the ball has a bit of a wobble, it catches your attention. Well, this one was flat out flopping in the air. Even had it been a great pass, DB Derek Stingley Jr. would've picked it off. Regardless, he DID snatch this one and took it back for six.
The best run of the day came from RB Mike Boone who took advantage of a defensive look in which not all the gaps were seemingly accounted for or covered. He split a seam and the youngster from Macclenny, FL HIT…THE…GAS. He was out the chute in a hurry. That was the best run of the first five days of camp. One of his key blocks was rookie OL Juice Scruggs who was at guard on that series, sealing off the linebacker to spring Boone BIG TIME.
The next play, a run by Boone, was stuffed after the defense got embarrassed on the previous run. On the next play, though, QB Case Keenum threw a gem of a pass to rookie WR Jesse Matthews for a first down on a deep over route. That was pretty and Matthews did a veteran thing knowing he hadn't been touched. He got up immediately upon hitting the ground and took off for another ten to 15 yards.
When the offense finds its groove, RB Devin Singletary 'Motor' is going to be a huge part of it. He's so sudden with all of his movements but just when it looks like he's only just dancing or shaking people, he's already five to seven yards into the secondary.
Perhaps the craziest play of training camp thus far was on a throw from Stroud to WR Jalen Camp on a slant route. As soon as the ball arrived, so did DB Shaq Griffin. The ball popped into the air, was tipped by another DB and then Camp turned around and snatched it for a reception. Went to football practice and a volleyball match broke out.
DB Ka'dar Hollman made the finest play of the day, my goodness. He was matched up on rookie WR Xavier Hutchinson on the goal line - Slant or fade, that's the game that close to the end zone. Hollman lined up inside of Hutchinson so the rookie WR ran the fade and Stroud made a beautiful throw. High and outside to the back shoulder of Hutchinson who had the ball in his hands. But, Hollman timed his punch perfectly and punched the ball out of the rookie's hands for an incredible PBU. That was high class play all around.
A few plays later, DL Adedayo Odeleye stood up the tight end to his side, shucked the blocker and stuffed a run down near the goal line. The defensive mates to my side of the field loved seeing Odeleye make that stuff in a key spot near the end of practice.
First day in pads was a success because there weren't many injuries, if any at all, and there were learning/teachable moments all over the place. We'll be back for more tomorrow and I can't wait. Day five over, day six just 24 hours away.