Defensive end Jon Greenard said it best when I asked him about playing/practicing at night…
"It feels like high school."
That's exactly it. When the lights go on for a practice (the first time since 2015), it takes everyone back to those Friday nights when the only thing going on was a ball game at 7:30. The views were beautiful. The lights shining for all to see three blocks away. A cool breeze. And ball. A lot of ball. Here are my Harris Hits: Training Camp Observations from Day, errrr, Night #10.
The clear winner of the night was quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He made a number of excellent throws to all areas of the field throughout the night. Regardless of the situation, two-minute, first down offense, red zone, Taylor was outstanding. I'll note those throws and plays as we go, but I wanted to make sure that I acknowledged the night that Tyrod had for this offense. Okay, let's roll.
Head referee Brad Rogers and his crew were on hand for the last three days and it was the absolute right time to have them. The training camp Grind has kicked in. It's a night practice before a day off. Focus has to be on point and the officials helped force that on everyone, well, most everyone. After practice, Texans head coach David Culley emphasized the pre-snap penalties, in particular, that tripped up the offense a few times during the night. All in all, the officials provided clarity for players and coaches alike the past few days.
The night started down on the goal line. On the first rep, running back Mark Ingram II pounded over the right side following offensive lineman Tytus Howard. However, the defense held firm and kept Ingram out of the end zone. On the second rep from the one yard line, the right side of the offensive line buried that portion of the defense, allowing Ingram II to dive across for the tuddy.
On the second set of goal line reps, the offense followed the same script. Running back Dontrell Hilliard drove the ball down to the one, but the backside defensive end knifed in to stop him cold. On the second play of that series, running back Scottie Phillips bounced out to the right side for a stand up touchdown.
Each of the team periods for the rest of the night had a singular purpose. Some were red zone, some were two minute and some were standard "start the drive at the 25-yard line." Special teams were mixed in if the offense scored (extra point work) or got stopped (punt or field goal opportunities). It had a scrimmage-like feel and in less than an hour too. Suffice to say, the overall night was well executed.
During the first team period, quarterback Tyrod Taylor faced a third down and looked up receiver Nico Collins across the middle. Taylor fired a strike, but defensive back Bradley Roby darted in front to come up with the pass breakup.
A few plays later, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor penetrated into the backfield to occupy a pair of offensive linemen to seemingly slow down running back David Johnson. However, Johnson stopped on a dime, noted the chaotic pile of people that Taylor created and darted out the backside for a solid gain.
Two plays later, receiver Brandin Cooks took a short one from Taylor and blew through the defense with his blazing speed. He took it all the way down inside the five, but a penalty was thrown on offensive lineman Charlie Heck. Now, I want to give credit to Heck, though, because he was flying downfield to help Cooks and was 35-40 yards downfield when the defensive back turned to chase Cooks. It was an aggressive moment, yet an easily correctable one too. Regardless, to see Heck busting his tail to help out his receiver was a wonderful sight all the way down the field.
A running back's ability to run the rock is what usually gets him to the league. A running back's ability to pass protect is going to keep him in the league. Enter Mark Ingram II. On the very next play, the defense brought a blitz and Ingram stepped right up to drill a linebacker to keep the pocket clean for Taylor. With ample time to throw, the Texans signal caller threw a dart to tight end Jordan Akins for a first down.
On the next play, Taylor threw an absolute DIME to fellow tight end Pharaoh Brown for a touchdown. Brown was on the near side so I had eyes on him from jump and, seemingly, so did Taylor. He put it right on the money, such that Brown didn't have to break stride as he waltzed into the end zone with the gorgeous throw from Taylor.
On the ensuing set of downs, rookie quarterback Davis Mills came through with a trio of completions. He hit receiver Andre Roberts on the move for a first down. Then, he dotted one to fellow rookie tight end Brevin Jordan, but his best throw on that drive was his completion to receiver Anthony Miller on the next play. Unfortunately, there were two flags that offset and forced the completion to be negated. Mills missed the next throw, which brought on kicker Kaimi Fairbairn for the field goal on fourth down.
The first play of the following drive was shut down by defensive tackle Brandon Dunn. The offense tried to hammer away at the interior, but DJ Dunny held up against the blocking to hold Mark Ingram II to no gain. However, Taylor picked up the first down with a completion to receiver Alex Erickson on the very next play.
On third down, Taylor was forced to scramble as his receivers were all covered downfield. One receiver was covered a little tighter than the rest which solicited a flag from the officials, which helped set up one of my favorite plays of the night.
Taylor had receiver Brandin Cooks and another receiver to the offense's left side. Cooks started up the field and as he got the attention of the underneath coverage and the safety, he broke his route to the outside. Taylor put the exact amount of air on the throw right into the waiting arms of his receiver for a touchdown. That touchdown throw got the offense HYPED. There was some serious emotion after it, which was very cool to see.
Then, it was time for red zone work. On first down, after a play fake, Taylor held on to the ball and tried to catch the defense sleeping, but defensive lineman Jacob Martin was not going to get caught being undisciplined. He wrapped up Taylor for a tackle for a loss.
The defense came up with another stop on the next play as linebacker Zach Cunningham knocked down a throw to a running back to set up a third down attempt.
Earlier I mentioned how Taylor made a wonderful throw to Pharaoh Brown down the middle of the field for a touchdown. This time, rookie linebacker Garret Wallow was in perfect position to get his hands on Taylor's throw on third down to end the drive. After the play, I was explaining what happened to Marc and Deepi and as I did, I could see Taylor looking in my direction. I got worried for a split second that he was watching me describe his incompletion, but like I do for a good portion of the night, he was watching the video board to see the replay right there on the field. I love that dadgum video board and I've seen more and more players utilize it as a tool right there on the field every single day...or night.
A couple of plays into the next series, a two minute drive, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock completely disrupted a pass BLASTING into the backfield. I hit the all-caps for "blasting" because that's the way it felt watching that play. He just hit whatever turbo button he had on his person and ran by, through and over everyone in his path on his way to quarterback Jeff Driskel. Man, I'm telling you, the Blacklock flashes are so dadgum BRIGHT and that one was just so impressive.
A couple of plays later, Driskel looked for his receiver across the middle, but just like the end of practice on Friday, his pass landed in the arms of defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. for an interception.
The last two-minute drill was a complete 180 for the offense from what it was on Friday, although it seemingly didn't start that way. On the first play of the drive, defensive end Jacob Martin fired off the edge to get into Taylor's face for the sack. The next five plays, though? A Tyrod Taylor/Texans offense clinic. The play after the sack, Taylor ripped one to tight end Jordan Akins to get some yardage back. Then, Taylor went back to his money man Akins on the next play for a first down. On the next play, Taylor drilled one to receiver Brandin Cooks in the hole on the sideline for another first down. Taylor, then, flipped one out to tight end Pharaoh Brown for a short gain to set up one final play on the drive. On that play, Taylor went back to throw, got GREAT protection and RIPPED one to Akins who stood all alone in between three different defenders in the end zone for the six points. That was a fantastic drive for the offense to take into the day off on Sunday.
Alright, that's going to do it for an extremely fun night at the Houston Methodist Training Center. We'll be back on Monday as it's GAME WEEK...can you believe it? CAN'T WAIT!! Let's GO - see ya then, everyone.
Check out the best photos from Training Camp presented by Xfinity.