The Grind has officially set in. The Texans have been at it for nearly a week; the pads are on and the heat refuses to be turned off. Yeah, the Grind is OFFICIALLY here. That said, there was still a ton going on at Houston Methodist Training Center on day six, so let's get to those Harris Hits right about…NOW.
Last night before laying my head on my pillow, I kept having this thought about the Texans' defensive team speed. Yes, I'm sick and need a lot of help, but I can live with it if you can. Anyhow, that team speed is much more evident with this group. Now, a big part of that is play recognition and experience. But, there's also faster personnel on this roster in 2023. I bring that up because on the first play of the first team session, LB Christian Harris flew across the field and locked up RB Dameon Pierce in the backfield for a loss. What stood out was how fast Harris got across the field to get to the Texans star ball carrier. It even seemed as if Pierce was surprised when Harris made his way, rapidly, through the chaos to make the tackle.
On the second play, Harris, again, ran down the run play in the backfield. It's impressive to watch #48 move at a faster rate of speed than anyone else on the field as he's shooting into the backfield to make TFLs happen.
He wasn't the only former Alabama LB FLYING around making plays. Rookie LB Henry To'oTo'o split a gap on an inside run play during a team drill later in the day and tagged off on the running back three yards in the backfield. He saw a gap open and shot through into the backfield in a blink. In my estimation, To'o To'o's short area quickness far outweighs his speed, which is substantial in and of itself. But, his decision making and quick, explosive first step are really, truly impressive.
Making the social rounds this morning was a beautiful pitch and catch that occurred a few plays later in the team session. QB Davis Mills had a blitz arriving in his face just as he took the snap. He stepped up in the pocket and threw a downfield strike to WR Nico Collins for a 30-35 yard completion. DB Jalen Pitre was in the area when Mills threw the ball so he might've come up with the sack. Regardless, Mills laid one right in the bread basket, over the defender, into the hands of Nico for the big play.
If I've seen this happen once in training camp, I've seen it a dozen times - DL Hassan Ridgeway stuffing another run play. In pads, or not, Ridgeway has completely disrupted the run game throughout the first six practices. On this play, the offensive line tried to down block on him, but he just ran through the downblock all the way into the lap of the running back.
The pass catchers weren't completely on their game today for their quarterbacks. Too many drops occurred. QB C.J. Stroud threw two gems early in practice - one on the sideline, just a pretty ball, dropped. Then, he threw one on the other sideline right in between the WR's numbers and that was dropped too. Later in a team session, he checked down to a RB, dropped. I thought Stroud threw the ball better today, much more consistently, but his pass catchers didn't help him out a great deal.
Today, though, he threw just one bad ball and DB Steven Nelson baited him into a pick. Nelson was in zone coverage and had eyes on everything happening in front of him. When he saw Stroud looking at the deep over route to WR Tank Dell, Nelson waited for the right time and pounced when the ball was in the air to come up with a pick.
Rookie RB Xazavian Valladay may have had the best run in camp and it got the attention of everyone on the offense. He hit on an outside run as the DE was pinned inside. Valladay dodged him initially, staying true on his outside path. Because the DE was pinned all the way inside, Valladay finally had room to hit the gas pedal and blast upfield untouched for 20-25 yards. I'm telling you that young dude can scoot. He was MOVING up the field.
On the next play, Valladay ran a similar concept and I wrote down that it was the best two back-to-back runs we've seen. I'm a big fan of what Valladay can become with time and opportunity in this offense.
The next three plays were indicative of some of the offense's struggles on Monday. First play - WR fell out of his break on a well thrown out ball. Second play - DROP, right in the numbers. Third play - pass protectors didn't pick up a blitz forcing Stroud to scramble out of bounds.
A few plays later, Mills threw an absolutely beautiful ball to the sideline where WR Steven Sims held on and got his two feet in bounds for a big gain. Sims was unable to hang onto one on the near sideline earlier, so that was quick redemption, so to speak, for the first down catch. Great throw. Excellent receiver route, mechanics and body control to make the play.
The next play, though, LB Blake Cashman blew up a screen with simple recognition. He wasn't fooled and hugged up on the running back nearly immediately upon the QB making his drop. It's not even arguable at this point that Cashman has been one of the ten best players in this camp through six days. Perhaps even top five - he's been that good.
DB Cobi Francis had a pass break up a few plays later on a slant. I was convinced that Francis was coming over the top and going to interfere with the receiver. But, he didn't and made the over the top knock away for the incompletion.
I'm getting more and more convinced each day that the one position group that outshines all the others on a daily basis is the linebackers. On the play after Francis' PBU, I notice right before the snap LB Garret Wallow gesturing to a defender on his inside and then to his outside. I wasn't totally sure what he saw but as soon as the ball was snapped, I got my eyes to the former TCU star. Then, I saw what he did - the outside WR ran a slant, trying to get in the way of Wallow as the RB ran up the field on a deep route. The hope was that Wallow would get picked off and the RB would be wide open. But, Wallow went over the top of the slant perfectly and ran step for step with RB Valladay. His tight coverage forced QB Case Keenum to overshoot Valladay as Keenum had no room to put that football.
On the first play of the following drive, Mills threw a gem to WR Noah Brown for a long first down and the Texans offense moved the sticks. Two plays later, Mills hit Brown again for a first down on a bootleg.
Then, DL Roy Lopez said he'd had enough of that. He backdoored a run play and drilled the RB in the backfield for a four yard loss. On the very next play, he volleyball spiked Mills' throw over the middle ala J.J. Watt. That's not something I can remember him doing at all the past two years. Consequently, I don't remember seeing a pass get knocked down at all in drills.
Two plays later, RB Gerrid Doaks found a seam around the left side as the DE got caught inside on the run play. Doaks had a downhill lane and hit the gas. Big fella has some juice too. He blasted out for a 30-35 yard gain.
On the next play, Stroud set up a slip screen to Valladay about as well as it can be done. OL Jimmy Morrissey was out in front with a key block and Valladay directed his blockers down the field to spring him for even more yards. Now, there was a flag called for an ineligible man down the field, but the execution on that screen was as good as I've seen.
Keenum runs the bootleg game as well as any of the three QBs and he started off his drive with a strike to WR Johnny Johnson III for a first down. Sold it, booted out, 88 wide open, pitch and catch for a first down.
Valladay has definitely shown some sweet feet out on the field. I wrote this in my notebook
"27 great feet on the cutback! So SWEET, slide in, back, out and gone"
On the final drive of the day in a situation period to end practice, Stroud strung together his best play of the day. After his first throw was dropped, he found my new pal Andrew Beck for a first down. Beck was wearing LB Christian Harris like a cheap suit but big #47 held off the former 'Bama star LB and made the catch.
On the next play, Stroud dotted WR Nico Collins for another first down. Then, he threw a dime to Beck again down the seam. He was cruising along and finished with a strike to rookie WR Jared Wayne. But, the coaching staff ended the drill right there just as Stroud found a rhythm. Regardless, Stroud was in total command with just one inaccurate throw in that high pressure situation. He was just a bit inaccurate on a throw that was a tad high for WR Tank Dell. However, every other pass, minus one drop, was caught for a first down or a near first down.
Alright, that's going to do it for Harris Hits for a few days. Off day on Wednesday, so I won't be back with it until Thursday as the Texans will next take the practice field one week from teeing up against New England next week. Wow, it's nearly here, y'all!! LET'S GO!!!