After three days of veterans minicamp and three days of rookie minicamp, Day One of OTAs on Tuesday was the first time the 2014 Houston Texans squad, in full, took to the practice field.
Again, without names and logos on the helmets, just so we don't get into that discussion like we did after veteran minicamp.
Regardless, at worst, the seeds of optimism were planted on Tuesday. At best, the seeds of a championship ball club were dropped into the fruitful earth. Or maybe it's somewhere in between but I've got to admit, I liked plenty of what I saw. Here are a few observations from the first day of practice.
The one we didn't see
Andre Johnson is the one person we didn't see and he's the one that we'd all like to see. It's more than likely the only negative to come out of Tuesday's practice, but considering the news about Dallas
star linebacker Sean Lee, it's a relatively small hiccup.
It wasn't a huge surprise that Dre didn't show at OTAs, having alluded to bypassing the voluntary sessions a few weeks ago. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times that his absence allows for opportunity for DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin and a slew of others competing for targets, playing time and/or a roster spot. It'd be nice to know that Dre will eventually return, learn the new system and ball out each and every Sunday, but for now, the waiting game continues.
JD fits in
An innocent bystander watching practice with a trained football eye wouldn't ever know that No. 1 pick
Jadeveon Clowney had never taken a snap against NFL veterans. His athleticism pops but his ability to change direction is off the charts.
He does need to learn a few pet pass-rush moves but with no contact allowed until training camp, he'll have to be a quick study in late July/early August. It's a mouthful but after seeing him drop, rush and play the run, he should be one of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's key chess pieces this season.
You're my boy, Blue
Okay, that one is almost too easy to be honest, but former LSU product Alfred Blue started the day
with a smile on his face, taking some polite ribbing from former Georgia product Ben Jones, and thrived until the final whistle. LSU coaches believe that the Texans got a steal in the sixth round and I'm inclined to believe them.
I've been here since 2007 and I've not seen a back with Blue's burst to-and-through the hole. Now, that's easy to show when no one is ready and willing to introduce you to the turf when the pads are on. That said, don't expect Blue to shy away from contact when the Texans don the pads later this summer. If he stays healthy, he could truly add a different wrinkle to the backfield this season.
The Texans had four sixth round selections in the 2013 draft but only one made an impact on the
The Houston Texans took part in the first Organized Training Activities (OTA's) this morning at the Houston Methodist Training Center.
team – former UConn tight end Ryan Griffin. The other offensive perimeter player drafted in that round made quite the impression on many in camp last year. Unfortunately, an injury knocked Alan Bonner out for his entire rookie season.
During last year's training camp, whether it was as a backup receiver or as a punt returner, Bonner had everyone's attention. After missing the year, Bonner looks as healthy as ever and caught my attention on day one again. He's so explosive running his routes and caught nearly everything. As such, it's evident that he makes defensive backs uncomfortable with his route running. Taking advantage of the expected emphasis on utilizing a true slot receiver, Bonner might be of more value to this staff than the previous one.
Did you bring your juice?
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer constantly asks his players whether they've brought their juice to the field. You know, juice – their energy, their passion and their heart. Ever since I heard him use that phrase, I wonder what teams, players and coaches have brought their juice to the field. Well, Bill O'Brien, Meyer's old B1G foe, demanded that from his squad and it answered with a resounding yes.
This group brought a ton of energy to the ballyard, fed off the music and competed intensely all morning long. The coaches did too, which I've always said is a good sign. I've often said show me a team that finds a way to compete in every single thing it does and I'll show you a team that hates to lose. I'll take that team 100% of the time. What makes it more impressive is that a football team typically needs to pop the pads to get going, but O'Brien's crew was juiced without one physical hit.
Chopped: Linebacker style
One of my favorite current television shows is the show Chopped on the Food Network. The jist of it is
that chefs are given a basket of mystery ingredients and asked to make one cohesive meal. The producers pack the basket with phyllo dough, gummy bears, bison meat and prune juice, as an example, and a chef will come up with a savory nepolitan with a béarnaise sauce made from gummy bears, prune juice, limes and carrots. The best part about Chopped though is when the chef opens the basket and stares at the contents not knowing what to do initially. Then, you see the light go on and the great chefs make magic happen.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is that chef and he just opened his linebacker basket. It includes a star inside linebacker that missed most of the last two seasons, a three year veteran that has a world of talent but still isn't total sure of himself at outside linebacker, a four year veteran that
could play outside or move inside, an uber-talented rookie, three smart, effective role players, an undrafted free agent that could be a vital part of the run defense and special teams and a coach that has three Super Bowl rings. Okay, 16 games on the clock, Romeo. Go.
To me, this is the most interesting puzzle to watch this coaching staff solve and if all are healthy and right, there are a million different combinations that could ultimately make sense, which showed some of itself on Tuesday. But, Brian Cushing isn't quite 100% healthy. Whitney Mercilus hasn't yet unleashed the beast within on the NFL world. Brooks Reed, seemingly, has no definitive position. Jadeveon Clowney hasn't even taken an NFL snap yet. Jeff Tarpinian, Mike Mohamed and Justin Tuggle are dependable, yet not starters. Max Bullough is an undrafted free agent that could earn playing time or get cut, as most undrafted players do. Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel has only coached three years and none at the NFL level.
So, again, good luck, Romeo. Let's show the judges what you've made.