Day eight. The Grind is officially on for Training Camp 2021, but there's a lot to get to in my Harris Hits: Training Camp Observations #8, so LET'S GO!!
One guy who is often glossed over because of his position and because his season unfortunately finished early last year is defensive lineman Brandon Dunn. Over the seven years that he's been a Texan, he's provided such value as a member of the interior defense for this team. Without him over the final stretch of last season, it was an even bigger struggle for that interior group. He came back this year after rehabbing said injury and looks as disruptive and disciplined as ever. During inside nine-on-seven, he was ultra-difficult to double out of the way but he also got up field a couple of times too which caused problems.
There's little question the type of pass catcher tight end Brevin Jordan can be, but young tight ends have to prove they can hold their own on the edge in the run game. I noted a few times during the draft process that Jordan was much more effective as a run blocker than many thought. I noticed him mixing it up with defensive lineman Jacob Martin early in practice in said nine-on-seven period. Look, it's not going to be perfect, but Jordan is more than willing with some pop. I've seen more than my share of tight ends survive that inside period but Jordan doesn't seem to shy away in the slightest.
During the nine-on-seven period, the receivers and defensive backs went at it in one-on-ones. With my focus on the linemen, I didn't see a ton of one-on-one reps but I did see receiver Chris Conley DOING WORK! On one goal line route, he made a beautiful adjustment on a back-shoulder throw for a touchdown. As he's coached to do, he worked back through the defensive back but the ball got on him a little quicker than he expected, so he had to nearly do a complete 180 to get his hands to the ball. He then snatched it out of the air and hit that two toe tap for the touchdown.
My next note was just "18 is sharp." Now, there's no telling what exactly that meant but it had to be good, no? I was writing furiously watching the video board for those one-on-one reps while watching the inside period live so I'M SORRY!
My last note from that one-on-one period was about receiver Keke Coutee. "16 is tough as heck on all routes." I've mentioned throughout camp how difficult it is for the inside cover defensive backs to match and mirror Coutee in coverage. The former Texas Tech star has a different gear on all of his routes, which makes it such a challenge to effectively cover him, especially in the quick game right off the snap.
It's always great to watch practices in pads, but when the SOUND of practice hits my ears, that's when I get really excited. There was one audible moment in practice, well, one more than the rest on this day. Unsurprisingly, it was tight end Pharaoh Brown who was the originator of that hit too. He came across on a run play and connected with a defensive lineman or linebacker. That had to feel good. When you hit a guy and it sounds like that, you don't feel it at all. Brown has had a couple of those type of strikes during the first few days in pads.
During the first team period of the day, quarterback Tyrod Taylor drew the defense offside and then got out of the pocket to make a throw. Rolling to his right, he lofted one to a spot where only Keke Coutee could make the catch and it was just an inch or so over Coutee's outstretched hands. I say an inch only because it was on the other side of the field and I truly didn't see the finish of the play. Regardless, the fact that Taylor got out of harm's way and nearly completed that pass was impressive to me.
A few plays later, defensive back Keion Crossen stuck like glue to receiver Chris Moore on an out route, coming up with a pass break up. Crossen had a pick later in practice as well. He told me last week that yes, he was an outstanding special teams player and that would never change, but that he was improving as a defensive back in coverage. That proof is certainly in the pudding through the first eight days of training camp.
When the pads go on, there's always that in-between sort of spot where linebackers and safeties aren't totally sure whether they should make a hit or just tag off on a ball carrier down the field. Defensive back Jonathan Owens had a moment on Wednesday when he nailed a receiver on the sideline just at the end of a play downfield. Neither the receiver nor the offensive players had an issue at all with Owens' contact. Today, running back Rex Burkhead caught a check down route, turned up the field and took a solid shoulder pop from linebacker Neville Hewitt. It wasn't nefarious in any way and Burkhead, like the receiver from yesterday, sloughed it off. I was glad there was no vitriol either way as I heard that collision over near the opposite sideline too.
During seven-on-seven, quarterback Tyrod Taylor had tight end Pharaoh Brown on the backside of a play open in the end zone, but Taylor had already started to scramble the opposite way before throwing incomplete. It's clear that someone saw something because on the very next play, Brown got just a couple of inches of space into the end zone and Taylor threw a laser into his arms for a touchdown.
One of my favorite goal line/red zone seven-on-seven plays was a touchdown from Taylor to tight end Jordan Akins. I discussed the tight ends today on Texans Training Camp Live and what I said about Akins seemingly came to roost on that particular situation. I had mentioned that as a rookie or second year player, it's commonplace to know the play, run the route and make the catch. "A" goes to "B" goes to "C" sort of sequencing. However, as a veteran, having done it for a few years now, it's about figuring it out when it doesn't always go so perfectly or according to plan. Here's what I mean: Akins started his route up the field and it appeared he was heading to the corner or the back of the end zone, but he spied the safety to that side too deep into the end zone. So, he just stopped on a dime, showed his 88 to Taylor and the veteran threw him a dart for the touchdown. I don't know what the play call was or what his exact responsibility was actually supposed to be on that play, but he made it work. He either adjusted his designed route perfectly or sold a different route so well that his designated route came wide open. That's some solid veteran work.
I spent a ton of time again watching the pass rush one-on-ones and I thought it was going to be a defensive line domination early on. Derek Rivers just went to work on a tight end as did Jacob Martin. Then, Jordan Jenkins threw a sick double swipe to get loose. Vincent Taylor struck with a HEAVY club move to get in the quarterback's face. Brandon Dunn kept striking and swiping until he won his matchup.
Then, it got to offensive lineman Tytus Howard and he put an end to all of that. Lined up at guard for that rep, he hit Jaleel Johnson with a strong initial punch off the snap and that was enough to keep him in control. Howard then had another excellent rep on the following snap. From that point on, these two groups went back and forth the rest of the drill.
Throughout training camp, defensive lineman Charles Omenihu has effectively gotten hands on every offensive lineman he's faced and then did what he wanted to for the rest of the rep. Against offensive tackle Charlie Heck, though, Omenihu was unable to get completely clean or use his length and hands to get separation. Heck was able to stay latched with his outside arm/hand to keep Omenihu from getting all the way to the quarterback. Omenihu has been outstanding all camp long, so seeing Heck, who has improved so much from last year at this time, have success was a great sign.
I've been a fan of defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker for a while, as I mentioned yesterday. He's always been a sort of tweener at 280-290 lbs. Playing in college at Florida State, he always played inside, which was possible at that level and at that weight, but I wasn't 100% sure about his exact role as he was about to enter the NFL. Here's my scouting report from Walker at FSU:
"Overall: Walker decided to go back to Florida State for his senior season in 2016. Although the season got off to a rough start, Walker made a significant impression on scouts right out of the chute. He registered 4.5 sacks against Ole Miss on national television and that got everyone's attention. He closed the season with a similar performance against Michigan, disrupting Michigan's blocking scheme all night long. He had four tackles for a loss and a sack, but those numbers didn't really do his performance justice. He's well built (6-3, 288 lbs.) and strong at the point of attack, but teams aren't sure what position suits him best. Worst case, Walker can be a power end in a 4-3 and play that role well. He improved his hand usage and utilized a number of different ways to win at the line of scrimmage. His swipe/wiper move and the stab/long arm are his go-to, pet moves. He doesn't win with speed/dip/rip up the field when rushing from the edge, and if he does win from out on the edge, he's going to do it with power and hand usage. Powerful? Yes. Quick and twitchy as others on the edge? Not quite. If teams bump him down to play over guards on third down, he'll certainly have value as an interior pass rusher.
Final Thoughts: He was incredibly effective moving inside on third down as a college pass rusher. Can he have the same success? He is ABSOLUTELY convinced that he can, but scouts are lukewarm as to whether he can do it consistently. He's a 4-3 end with success moving inside against guards and centers in college. There have been a lot of those guys in the past that haven't made that transition in the NFL. If anyone CAN do it, though, it's Walker."
It was funny to see my mention of that swipe move because that's the exact move I noted that he used to get to the quarterback in the one-on-ones. He's intriguing to say the least as an interior pass rusher/disruptor.
Early in camp, I could see offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt struggle a bit in one-on-ones, but in each of the last couple of days, he's had some excellent reps in those drills. His butt and legs are bigger than NRG Stadium and he's been playing with a lower base to utilize that strength and not get moved off any spot.
Once the two units got into another team period, running backs Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson each showed up on the first two plays. Lindsay flashed that vision with a sweet cut behind his blockers for a solid gain. Then, Johnson burst through a hole in the "A" gap to carve out a similar type gain on the ground.
The aforementioned Charles Omenihu then showed up to chase quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the pocket. On the next play, linebacker Christian Kirksey knifed through an open gap to tag off on Lindsay in the backfield.
A few plays later, rookie quarterback Davis Mills attempted to throw a crosser to receiver Chris Moore, but defensive back Tremon Smith went to a different gear to help force an incompletion. That 4.37 speed showed up in a big way as Smith closed from distance in a hurry.
I mentioned earlier that I discussed the tight ends on radio this morning and one of those guys that Marc and I discussed was Paul Quessenberry. He lined up at fullback today and, well, you remember my note about the hits you HEAR? Well, Quessenberry and rookie linebacker Garret Wallow collided like two runaway trains on a run play during one of the final team periods. I could see it coming too. As soon as Quessenberry lined up in front of running back Scottie Phillips, I knew to keep my eyes on #45 and then I saw Wallow. I knew it was ON! It was well worth the price of admission to see those two young bulls strike.
The first play of the final team period before the two-minute situation, Taylor again looked up his tight end Pharaoh Brown who was wide open down the field. By wide open, I mean "I think someone blew an assignment" wide open.
A few plays later, quarterback Jeff Driskel threw to rookie tight end Brevin Jordan who hit the jets up the field for a big play.
Today's two-minute situation was not as successful for the offense as it was the other day. A false start hampered the start of the drill, but a couple of Jordan Akins' catches got it rolling. Receiver Alex Erickson made a catch for a first down, but Charles Omenihu came up with a sack that essentially ended that drill for the offense.
Quarterback Davis Mills' shot at the two-minute situation had similar struggles. Defensive lineman Derek Rivers got free for a sack on play one, then a penalty slowed things further. However, on fourth down, Mills made a great throw to receiver Jordan Veasy who made a whale of a catch on the sideline for a first down. The very next play, though, Mills was intercepted by Lonnie Johnson Jr. to end the drill.
Having to start training camp on NFI, it's been a tough start to training camp for Johnson, but that interception hopefully will kick start the rest of camp and the 2021 season.
Alright, that's going to do it for day eight. See y'all tomorrow - thanks so much for reading!
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