We all get a rush of excitement for a lot of things.
The first bite of brisket when we haven't eaten BBQ in a while.
Stepping into a sports arena for the first time.
Riding a roller coaster.
Reading the acceptance letter to your favorite college as a high school senior.
For me, any and all of those are pretty exciting, but everything pales in comparison (all family things aside, of course) to walking on the grass for the first day of training camp. Now, as a player, it didn't always feel so exciting, considering how challenging two-a-days were back in the day. But, to just know football is here? C'mon now. That's the REAL rush of excitement.
So, let's dive into my Harris Hits - my Training Camp Observations, ten years running. I used to count them, but nah, I'm just going to spoon feed y'all the best Texans TC nuggets I can to make you feel like you were right next to me watching practice. Fair deal? Cool. Let's rock.
Just prior to practice, two incredible moments happened for the Texans. First, many different sources noted on social media that OL Tytus Howard signed an extension with the Texans. He's moved around to so many different positions in his first three years and never griped or complained, just balled out the best he could. I remember in 2021, he hadn't played LT in two years but when he was put over on that side against the Chargers, because of injuries and COVID, he had one of his best games that season. He said to me the next day it was just like riding a bike. Well, he can buy one bike or three thousand bikes now, for that matter. I'm so happy for Tytus who should finalize things later on Wednesday as GM Nick Caserio pointed out in his press availability before practice.
It was Caserio who also shared even greater news in that press conference. He noted that John Metchie III was cleared for training camp and ready to roll. We were on the radio live but carrying the presser so when Caserio shared that news, I just let out, well, some words I can't repeat. Let's just say I felt THAT rush of excitement for a guy that hasn't played since December 2021 when he tore his ACL against Georgia in the SEC Championship game. But, it was the AC leukemia that sidelined him for the full year here in Houston, a much different fight for Metchie III this past year. However, he's cleared to rock with the team and practice as we've all wanted to see.
It was clear, throughout practice, that Metchie III was trying to get his bearings back on the field. I can't even imagine what was going through his mind because he fought his tail off to get back on the field. So, he'll settle in quickly, but one thing that stood out was the fact that he took to all the coaching throughout the entire practice.
There were no pads today and there won't be for the next two days. But, overall, if there was a winner today, it was the interior defensive line. I thought that group was disruptive in the run game, charging upfield and creating mayhem and forcing cutbacks. On the first play of team drills, DL Roy Lopez knifed into the backfield, quick as a hiccup, and turned a run right back around, nearly, as the RB took the handoff. I wish I could show you a 2021 rookie picture of Roy and an update pic. My goodness. That man has remade his entire body. He's always been quick but he looks on a different plane now, if that makes sense. Obviously, and I could say this a lot, there were no pads so the OL didn't really have a chance to respond. So, I get it, I get it!. But, seeing Roy move in that manner, with explosiveness and disruption in his heart was great on day one.
That was a consistent theme for the most part. DL Thomas Booker IV did something similar on the backside of a run and nearly tackled the RB before the QB handed him the rock. We didn't get to see much of Booker in the offseason but he looked like a MUCH more confident dude up front today than as a rookie last year. He'll bolster that group in a big way with some of the position flex that he's got on the DL. 2023 FA signing Hassan Ridgeway also created a ton of havoc upfield throughout the practice - I wrote two or three times "97 blows it up again". My goodness, if that DUDE is healthy, he's going to be a monster to block.
I didn't get to see much of seven-on-seven, but did get to see QB C.J. Stroud and Davis Mills complete a number of short throws and checkdowns initially. On Mills' last rep, the QB scanned the field and didn't find anything until rookie WR Xavier Hutchinson broke into a tight window about 15-17 yards in the middle of the field. Mills had to throw low, away from the defender, so Xavier laid out to attempt to make the catch. I don't ultimately think he caught it, but it was one heck of an effort by the rookie who showed his pass catching acumen nearly snagging that low (by necessity) throw.
Late in seven-on-seven, QB Case Keenum tried to find the aforementioned Metchie III on a settle up across the middle but LB Garret Wallow dove in front of the WR and DB Grayland Arnold knocked it away for the PBU.
The best throw/catch during seven-on-seven was from Keenum to rookie WR Jared Wayne. Keenum saw press man coverage out on the perimeter so he ripped a back shoulder throw to Wayne. The rookie from Pitt wheeled around, with the DB draped all over him, and snatched the throw out of the air and locked it into his two huge mitts for a great catch.
One of Mills' best throws on the day came in the first team period. He had WR Robert Woods matched up one-on-one with the DB on an out route. Mills had really no room to throw that ball in the field of play. So, he threw it three yards out of bounds and trusted that Woods would make the catch and "two-tap" the toes on the sideline. Woods did, expertly, and that was truly a beautiful pitch and catch.
The best throw/catch of the ENTIRE day happened right in front of me. WR Nico Collins was one-on-one with the DB and ran a nine route (go route). There was late safety help on the play, as well, but Nico flew down the field. Stroud read the coverage perfectly and launched one DEEP, allowing Nico the opportunity to run right under it. Collins had a step, or two, on both DBs and reeled in the deep throw, tracking the ball like a champ. That had the offensive players geeked up and for good reason.
That said, Texans QBs didn't hit on the deep ball throughout practice so it was nice to see that one completed. Johnny the Obvious on this one - it'll be GREAT to hit more of those during the season.
One of the reasons that the Texans didn't have an A+ day was due to the secondary. The defensive backs had more than a few moments during the day. I have written "STRAPS" a number of times in my notebook. DB Tavierre Thomas had one PBU on a throw inside. His pal from the D Desmond King II is a ball magnet. He broke up a pass for WR Tank Dell that he almost intercepted.
I lost count at some point, but there were two or three coverage sacks during the practice too, forcing the QBs to pull the ball down and scramble due to the coverage in the back end.
Of all the WR, veteran Robert Woods was, seemingly, the go-to guy with the most catches during team drills. He made that snag on the sideline I mentioned earlier. Then, later, against off coverage, he hitched up at five yards and caught the hitch from QB Davis Mills. It just feels right to have a vet in that WR group and one that the QBs know, absolutely, will get open for them at all times.
As I mentioned, there are no pads on right now, so the running game won't really get a boost until Sunday when the pads go on for the first time. But, seeing RB Devin Singletary slide, slither and scoot through, and around, defenders is quite the watch. He already has a low center of gravity and then he runs even lower to the ground. So, at field level, I often lose him on runs away from my sideline. Then, ZOOM,he just darts through, somehow, someway, out into the open.
Without pads, the linebackers know that there's more pass coming at them than run, but it was still impressive to see a couple of young backers make plays in pass coverage. The first one was rookie LB Henry To'oTo'o who would've had an interception if it weren't for those pesky hands of his (I kid, I kid!). But, what stood out to me about that play was the fact that he read run first, then dropped right into the passing lane, exactly how it's coached.
On a later pass play, the QB didn't have a chance to even throw the ball because second year LB Jake Hansen dropped back into coverage PERFECTLY once he spied a receiver in his area of the field. I saw the QB cock his arm to throw and Hansen showed up just as he did. The QB was forced to pull it down and look elsewhere. These Texans linebackers can all run, that's for sure, but pass coverage is about eye discipline and route recognition. Those two youngsters showed that, and then some, on those two plays.
Saw this in minicamp/OTAs and saw it again today - QBs recognizing the defensive front, understanding of defensive numbers and run fits and changing the play, or the direction of the called play. QB Davis Mills seemed to do that on a run play that hit quick and fast off to the left side in a team drill. Y'all know I LOVE seeing QBs, in particular, win the chess match that occurs on every single play.
QB C.J. Stroud had a moment similar to that, but on a pass play. He saw blitz coming and realized that Woods was one-on-one on the backside of the pass play. So, he immediately scanned over to Woods, delivered a strike and drew a defensive pass interference. He recognized the defensive scheme quickly and then knew exactly what, how & where to counter it, picking up a DPI and a first down in the process.
Mills hit Houston homeboy WR Steven Sims on a hitch route on the sideline late in a team drill in practice. The Texans QB saw the coverage against that route combination, made the right throwing choice based on the coverage and threw a rope to Sims for the completion on third down.
All in all, though, this defense was gassed up throughout the day, especially making the running game difficult. The Texans pass catchers weren't as sharp, dropping a few passes throughout the practice that most of those guys make regularly. Now, it was a 99 degree "feels like" temperature on the first day, so it'll take a bit to get to full throttle. That said, though, the defense, though, plays at that level consistently, last year will be the last time this defense ranks in the bottom two against the run.
It was a good day. Football is back. That's good enough on day one.