The temperature gauge read 90 degrees, but I'm telling you it felt WAY hotter than that at Practice #16 at the Houston Methodist Training Center. It was evident on EVERYONE'S face walking off the field. I was waiting for tight end Antony Auclair for my daily post-practice interview and watched every single individual walk past me with that glazed over look as if they were all saying "UNCLE!!" That said, there was still some good work to be had at practice, so here are my Harris Hits - Training Camp Observations Day 16.
I want to start with an observation that really has nothing to do with the ball on the field today and everything to do with the ball on the field today. I try to watch everything that I can at practice and I've watched offensive lineman Justin Britt closely for the past few weeks. From the day that he got here, he seemed to relish being a veteran leader for this offense. He's mastered the little things that not only make him a respected player, but one that others love and appreciate. In pre-practice quarterback exchange work, he greeted quarterback Tyrod Taylor with a hug and dapped him up. After practice, he walked off the field over to second year offensive lineman Charlie Heck who was waiting to do an interview with Drew Dougherty and chatted him up before dapping him up and walking in. Being the man in the middle is such a huge responsibility and it appears Britt takes that role as seriously as ever. The way Britt is around his teammates tells an interesting and important story about his strong leadership on and off the field for this entire team. It's always little things that stand out for me and Britt has really shown those and then some.
Today was a great day for both sides as practice was designed for the defense to provide a few different looks for the offense in all facets. During the period formally known as one-on-ones, the offensive line actually went two v. two against the defense, working on some unique two-man pass rushes. Then, they went three on three on the interior against similar type pressure looks. During team drills, the offense saw a few things that the defense threw at the Packers on Saturday night that they hadn't shown as much in practice prior to that game. It was the perfect day to do it too - that heat forced those guys to grind mentally, especially in hour number two.
Then, the perimeter players worked seven-on-seven in the red zone, one of the most difficult drills for the offense in that area of the field without a run game to keep the back seven honest. So, practice was designed to be ultra-challenging for the offense, made even more so by the intense heat and temperatures.
In that seven-on-seven drill, quarterback Tyrod Taylor hit a couple of short completions before he connected on the best pass/play of that period. Taylor dropped to throw and scanned the field. Eventually, he located tight end Kahale Warring crossing in the back of the end zone. Taylor rifled one where only Warring could get it. The third year tight end extended his full 6'-6" frame to snatch the catch for a touchdown.
However, when I looked back down a few plays later, it was the defense making plays. First, defensive back Tavierre Thomas made a wonderful interception. Then, on the very next play, Thomas' pal from their days in Cleveland last year, linebacker Tae Davis, slid back underneath a receiver to come up with a second consecutive interception. Earlier in practice in a team period, defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. came up with a pick as well, one of the many picks he's had in these 16 days of training camp.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel came onto the field a couple of plays later and threw two consecutive touchdowns. On the first one, he rolled out to his right and threw a seed to receiver Alex Erickson for one touchdown. Then, he showed patience making a short toss to running back Rex Burkhead across the middle wide open for another. That Driskel-Burkhead connection would end the day, but that's for a little later.
When it was time for the field goal team unit to get some work, special teams coordinator Frank Ross put kicker Kaimi Fairbairn on the spot. "Down two to Dallas, last play" That was the situation and the ball was on the 30 yard line or so. Everyone not in the 22-man mosh pit on the field was asked to heckle, yell and try to disrupt Fairbairn, but to no avail. Fairbairn hit it right down the middle to beat Dallas...errr, end that drill. Seriously, though, he's already beaten Dallas before with a kick :)
The play of the day, from an offensive perspective, was a beautifully thrown deep ball from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to receiver Chris Conley. That completion was the result of Taylor's continued emphasis on the little things. One of the first days of camp, I wrote about Tyrod's play fakes. He didn't take them for granted then and he certainly didn't today because one day he knew it was going to pay off. Here are my exact words from Harris Hits: Training Camp observation Day TWO!
"I mentioned above how important little things are, and rookies can learn a ton from watching the veterans work their craft. During a team period late in practice, quarterback Tyrod Taylor put the ball out for his running back and at the last moment pulled it away, completely fooling the defense, before tossing it out for a completion to his tight end Antony Auclair who was wide open. A simple play fake? Really? Yes, absolutely. Two hours into a long, hot practice, an 11-year veteran could very easily have mailed it in on play two of the script, but he was as deliberate with his play fake as he'd be in the fourth quarter with the game on the line in the regular season. Somewhere, Peyton Manning was smiling from ear to ear saying "Now, THAT'S how you do it, young quarterbacks." #Detail.
Why did I harp on that at the time? Well, 14 practices later, one Texans safety got caught watching that play fake in the backfield and was sitting low waiting to make a tackle against what he thought was a run play. Unfortunately, that's not where said safety needed to be on this play. By the time the safety realized it was a pass, Conley was on his way over the top, getting just enough space to make the contested catch. That was exhibit 1,567 as to how little things pay off. Maybe not on Day Two, but it did happen on Day 16. If doing the right things pays off in game number four like this, count me in.
On the next play, though, the defense amped up the pressure coming from all different angles for a sack on Taylor. At first, all I could see was Taylor and he threw high to receiver Chris Moore. Then, I saw the replay and it was clear why he overthrew his trusty receiver as the pressure arrived cleanly and quickly.
When tight end Pharaoh Brown has been mentioned by me or others in the media in this training camp, it's typically been as a result of his pass catching prowess. That's a shame because he's as physical as any tight end we've had in the building since I've been here. A couple of plays after that pair of plays mentioned above, Brown was initially on the backside of a run play. Running back Phillip Lindsay started the run one direction, but he saw the gate blown wide open on the far side and darted through untouched for a sizable gain. Why? Brown DESTROYED a defender on that side of the play and caved in the entire side, leaving Lindsay wide open spaces.
A few plays later, running back Buddy Howell did much the same thing, starting a run to his right and then winding it back to a wide open hole on the left side for a big run.
Taylor connected with receiver Jordan Veasy on the sideline as Veasy made a beautiful diving catch on the ball in front of him. He had to work back to it to secure the catch but was able to do so. There is a serious logjam at the receiver position, but Veasy has gotten on my radar for the work he's done in training camp and in the game v. the Packers. He had a couple of strong special teams plays and had a special teams tackle as well.
When Marc Vandermeer and I had a chance to catch up with running back David Johnson just prior to training camp, I asked David what he took more pride in - pass protection or pass catching? He mentioned that he took pride in both and we've all certainly seen the impact he can have through the receiving game. That said, he's a monster in pass protection and a Texans linebacker found that out today. Said linebacker came through the 'A' gap during that red zone team period and Johnson stoned him right in the jaw. That allowed Taylor to find receiver Alex Erickson for a completion on the slant route.
The last two plays of the day were split right down the middle - one good, one bad on either side. The second to last play was a run play that linebacker Joe Thomas stuffed at the line of scrimmage. I mentioned Thomas in my Observations from the Packers game, but he deserved a bit more kudos for the monster hit he dished out to a Packers offensive lineman. Thomas' hit truly shut down that run play almost singlehandedly. That was about as sick of a collision as I saw in that game. Today, there wasn't a similar type collision, but effective enough to hold the offense to no gain.
The last play of the day went to the offense. With the ball around the seven yard line, quarterback Jeff Driskel went back to throw and scanned the field. After watching the play again, I'm fairly certain that Driskel's scan was to buy running back Rex Burkhead enough time to win his one-on-one matchup. Either way, the timing was spot on as Burkhead burst into an open spot and Driskel dotted him with one for a touchdown.
Tough day all around with Mother Nature clearly coming out the winner, but it was still great work in all three phases of the game. There'll be more tomorrow - see ya then, everyone!
Check out the top photos from Day 16 of Texans Training Camp presented by Xfinity.