Joint practices always bring the excitement, especially at the Houston Methodist Training Center. The 49ers arrived last night ready to get great work with the Texans this week prior to their preseason game on Saturday night. Consider it mission accomplished for both squads.
Here's the Harris Hurry-up from the first day between the two squads.
-- Throughout training camp, I can't tell you how many people texted me, tweeted to me, slid into my DMs (from a football standpoint only, thank you), questioning why I wasn't writing much about J.J. Watt. WAS SOMETHING WRONG AND YOU'RE NOT TELLING US? People were reading into it WAY too much, so let me allay fears right now...99 was all kinds of dominant today.
-- The offensive line and defensive line matched up one-on-one in a run game drill, which really isn't bare knuckled brawl or anything. It's just a way to get the pads warmed up, guys get hands in proper position and it's over in two seconds. On the first rep of the day, Watt put rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey on his wallet. I'd never seen that in all my years covering the NFL, not in a run drill.
-- Later in team drills on the first play, Watt forced Jimmy Garoppolo to throw out to a 49ers receiver about five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Tyrann Mathieu and a couple of Texans were on the spot to lock up the tackle for a loss forced by Watt's immediate pressure.
-- A few plays later, Watt again got into the backfield with his rush but wasn't completely free and clear of the 49ers offensive lineman. But, as he headed into the backfield, he ripped under with his right arm and actually grabbed the right hand/ball of Garoppolo. The 49ers quarterback then just got rid of it incomplete to avoid further damage.
-- Later in team drills, Watt sprinted past the right side of the line to get in the face of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and forced a hurried throw. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was in the right place at the right time to pick it off and take it to the house for six points.
-- Watt played on both the left and right sides throughout the day and made plays repeatedly. So, there you go, folks, now you know for a fact that 99 is more than okay and ready to ball out again.
-- The 49ers have made some significant changes to the offensive line. McGlinchey is one additional piece, the ninth overall pick in the draft. Center Weston Richburg is a former New York Giant who started from day one in New York.
-- Richburg had some issues with Texans defensive lineman D.J. Reader during pass rush reps. On the first pass rush rep of one-on-ones, Reader ripped right through the right side of Westburg to get at the feet of the quarterback. When Westburg then overset to the right on the next rep, Reader snatched and swam him on the other side to get clean to the quarterback.
-- One thing I always think about in these joint practices is rookies tangling with seasoned, Pro Bowl veterans. Exhibit A, I give you Texans rookie outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor and 49ers longtime Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley. On the firs pass rush rep, Ejiofor tried to use speed up the field and Staley stoned him and nearly knocked him into the fans that had gathered down on that end of the field. The 49ers cheered on Staley, who has really seen it all in his career, so I was curious to see how Ejiofor would respond. On the next rep, the rookie started back outside then ripped back inside and was able to get some pressure against Staley - it wasn't perfectly clean to the quarterback but a solid answer after a rough first rep. It's going to be great work for Ejiofor to face a guy like Staley this week.
-- The Texans running backs seemed to have a ton of success in the passing game against the 49ers linebackers. Every time I looked over, Lamar Miller and company were getting open. Miller, in particular, made a few 49ers linebackers struggle in coverage against him.The 49ers also had issues with running back Troymaine Pope in the passing game.
-- Sometimes with Pope in the run game, he's too anxious. He sees cuts sometimes before he gets the handoff from the quarterback. He'll start to cut up his run and he hasn't even gotten the ball yet. He's fun to watch and one heck of a weapon out of the backfield.
-- I will mix in some 49ers thoughts as well and as I wrote about the 49ers linebackers, I can't help but mention Reuben Foster. Oh. My. God. I don't know that I've ever seen a heat seeking missile like him. He's absolutely fearless and can blow up the run game in a quick minute.
-- I thought Tyrann Mathieu had a strong day as well. I mentioned the pick six that he had during team drills, but he also had a couple of pass breakups in one-on-ones to start the day as well.
-- Neither team really threw the ball deep much, but during one set of team drills, Garoppolo attempted to find speed burner Marquise Goodwin deep down the field. Cornerback Aaron Colvin was right in Goodwin's hip pocket and knocked the pass away. That was a completion against this defense last year and Slick broke it up without interfering.
-- Newest Texans acquisition Quan Bray has some juice in his boots. He shook a 49ers defensive back on an inside route during one-on-ones on one play.
-- During the first set of team drills, I watched the Texans offense against the 49ers defense. The ball didn't hit the ground in the passing game. Quarterback Deshaun Watson completed all three of his throws, two gems to tight end Ryan Griffin and Braxton Miller on an in route. Brandon Weeden then hit Sammie Coates on a deep in route, then Joe Webb drilled one to receiver Jester Weah. Like I said, the ball didn't hit the ground. It took to the very last play of red zone seven on seven, the next drill, for there to be an incompletion.
-- One of my favorite completions during the red zone period was a dart from Watson to Will Fuller V. There wasn't much space to the back of the end zone and some trash in front of Fuller V, so Watson had to get enough air on it to get over the guys in front, but not sail it out of the end zone. I've seen many Texans quarterbacks struggle with that throw, but Watson dimed it to Fuller V, who ran a pristine route to get open.
-- Going back over my notes and I keep seeing "Watt...stuffed that run". Man, he was good today.
-- One of the best throws I've seen from Deshaun Watson throughout this entire training camp occurred today during a team drill. He scrambled to his right and somehow saw receiver Bruce Ellington in his view. He lasered one, nearly sidearm to Ellington and hit him right in stride. Total dime.
-- A couple of players on the 49ers caught my eye today as well. Former Louisville tight end Cole Hikutini had one of his best games against Deshaun Watson and Clemson back in 2016 and was a tough cover today. Also, I kept seeing number seven for the Niners today, wrote it down, checked the roster and realized it was former University of Houston star Steven Dunbar. There's a logjam at each position but those guys caught my eye during the workout.
-- The two teams ended practice with situational work. The situation - down four, sixty yards to go, one timeout and one minute on the clock. The Texans first offense struggled and went three and out while Garoppolo threw a rocket on the last play of the game, if you will, to Pierre Garcon for a touchdown. Brandon Weeden threw a couple of dimes to Sammie Coates to get them in range for a last play dime to Jester Weah for a touchdown.
-- On the ensuing drive, safety Kurtis Drummond made perhaps the play of the day ripping the ball out of the hands of his former Michigan State teammate Aaron Burbridge on a crossing route. I've seen Drummond since his days at Michigan State find a way to make plays just like that regularly.
-- One final note and it's about punter Shane Lechler. The final drill of the day was a coffin-corner punt situation. He and rookie Trevor Daniel alternated kicks and they both dropped some gems, but Lechler's second punt was a Picasso. He lofted one inside the five yard line and as it bounced, it took a left turn right out of bounds at the two yard line. Brilliance.
Well, hopefully that kept you busy and set the scene from this morning's practice. I'll have more for you tomorrow. See ya then, everyone!
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 3/2/2021)