It was only three days, but for some Houston Texans rookies, it was the most important three days of their young professional careers. Rookie minicamp concluded last Sunday and it'll be the last time the full squad isn't together until the end of the season.
With middle school style lockers in the middle of the locker room and 72 hours to prove what they can do, some youngsters made a significant impression on the coaching staff and to the throng of media in attendance. A pair of rookies came to Houston with nothing but a tryout and left with a contract and a shot at training camp.
But let's focus on some math: prior to the draft, the Texans roster included 66 veterans.
There were 46 participants last weekend, including eleven on a tryout basis.
The team can only take 53 players into the first week of the season.
Two plus three, carry the one, add the five and well, that math doesn't add up to much opportunity.
Sure, the team is allowed to keep eight on the practice squad, but the reality of the situation for the rookies is that a handful will have a shot and few will be Houston Texans this fall. That said, there were some who opened eyes throughout the weekend. As such, this is part one of our look at the rookie mini-camp, focusing on the offensive side of the ball.
Considering there was only one quarterback in attendance and he was the team's only quarterback
drafted, former Pitt signal caller Tom Savage wasn't under the same pressure as others. That said, he was arguably under the biggest microscope. But with quarterbacks coach George Godsey able to spend time with Savage, and only with him, the 6-4, 228 pound gunslinger soaked in the knowledge all weekend.
The physical tools were evident from the first throw. I wasn't here to see David Carr live, but I've seen every quarterback since and there's no question that Savage has the strongest arm, by a mile, that I've seen in a Texan uniform. He looks the part of a professional quarterback, for certain, but what I liked was the way he handled his coaching, not just from Godsey but from head coach Bill O'Brien as well. As he got fatigued in practice the ball sailed high at times but after watching him up close and personal after months of studying him on film, I was more than impressed.
Will he start Week One? I don't anticipate that being the case and hopefully, it's not the case. But, before this season's over, Savage will make an impact on this Texans squad.
The only two running backs in attendance were sixth rounders Alfred Blue and Jay Prosch. Non-rookie Toben Opurum injured his leg, in some capacity, at some point on the first day, so for the majority of camp, the two sixth rounders handled all of the reps. Prosch was able to show his athleticism as he did at the Senior Bowl, but his impact won't really be felt, figuratively and literally, under the pads go on.
The surprise, so to speak, was Blue. I've seen him dozens of times at LSU but this past weekend, he was as smooth, fluid and explosive as I can remember. He's got great feet at 220 pounds and caught the ball out of the backfield more times than any receiver or tight end. It's a jam-packed backfield with Arian Foster, Andre Brown and a myriad of others with NFL experience. But Blue showed he's going to fit right in with the veterans when OTAs and mini-camps begin. Can he handle the blitz pick-ups? Can he excel against NFL-level defenders? We'll see soon, but after what I saw last weekend, I'd bet on it, sooner than later.
When I planned out this piece, the first name that came to mind was Lacoltan Bester, the former
The Houston Texans 2014 rookie class take part in minicamp at the Houston Methodist Training Center.
Oklahoma Sooner wide receiver. He was in Houston on a tryout basis and as I was editing the article, the Texans sent out a press release that they signed Bester to a free agent contract. There's nothing I love more than seeing a player make the most of an opportunity, in any way, shape or form. Does it guarantee that Bester makes the squad? No, not at all. But the impression he made, catching nearly everything near him, bought him the rest of the summer and potentially a practice squad spot. I was studying one of Bester's teammates this spring as I watched last year's Sugar Bowl and saw Bester make one play after another. I was a bit surprised that he wasn't drafted, shocked that he didn't even get a contract and pleased that he ended up in Houston.
The other receiver that made a significant impression over the weekend was EZ Nwachukwu. The former Aggie spent last season on the Texans practice squad, which gave him the opportunity to participate in the rookie minicamp.
He was fantastic.
He caught everything thrown his way, often climbing the ladder to catch balls above his head. He caught a couple of pretty deep balls from Savage as well. Since seeing him play in the Texas high school state championship game in 2007 and as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2009, I thought he could play at a high level, but it just never all came together. Maybe this is his chance to make the 53, even though he's one of eleven fighting to make the roster. Regardless, he certainly shined over the weekend.
The tight end position is sort of like a Las Vegas casino/restaurant buffet: so many different options,
and it's just a matter of how hungry you are. Or what you're looking for, I suppose.
Former Iowa star C.J. Fiedorowicz caused the biggest stir among those watching practice, but I kept a close on eye on former Arizona State star Chris Coyle and Utah hybrid Y/H-back Anthony Denham. Coyle seemed much more comfortable as the Y-tight end than Denham. Coyle's blocking technique was good and his overall fundamental level was high. But Denham has athleticism the other two don't. This is a crowded group of tight ends in Houston. Fiedorowicz is eventually going to be a significant part of the offense, whereas Coyle and Denham will have a tough climb to make the 53. More than likely, one will make the practice squad.
Without pads and the ability to be physical, as per the NFL's CBA, there's not a lot to go on other than
physical impressions. But former Bloomsburg star Matt Feiler made one on me. He's a house. This guy is massive. He had some strong moments at the Shrine Bowl and it was a surprise that he didn't get drafted. There is plenty of opportunity at right tackle in Houston, especially with the questionable health of Brennan Williams.
The other right tackle candidate that will have a chance to push to make the roster is former South Dakota State standout Bryan Witzmann. I heard O'Brien praise Witzmann during the Saturday practice and trust me that doesn't happen often, speaking from experience, of course. At 6-7 and 311 pounds, he's lighter than Feiler but has the arm length and feet to be a capable right tackle prospect at this level.