The fourth week of off-season practice, essentially, kicked off on Monday and it had a decidedly Monday slant to it. You know exactly what I mean, too, because all Mondays are the same no matter your occupation. But after working through an early sort of malaise, the Texans found their competition hot spot and got in two good hours of work. Hmmm, competition, that's a good place to start.
The Will to Compete
If something stood out about Bill O'Brien from the first time I met him nearly a quarter of a century ago, it was his insatiable desire to compete.
He was one of the first people I can vividly remember who hated to lose, more than he loved to win. Before you go thinking that's the same exact thing, think again my friend. The "hates to lose" crowd is motivated by not experiencing the embarrassment of losing in anything; winning is only a relief, not an overly happy experience.
The point is that a team will take on the image of the head coach in thought, word and deed and the Houston Texans have definitely done that. The competition level is at an all-time high, that I can remember, in every drill this team does. If a guy isn't competing for a roster spot, he's competing for playing time and there are very few "locks" on this team. The so-called "locks" still feel like they're competing for a spot on the roster even after years of excellence. All 90 guys are looking to impress in some way shape or form and the best way to do that is compete their tail off all day long. It's not always pretty but that's the nature of competition.
Finding their sea legs
The feeling out process, so to speak, will more than likely last on into the season for this entire organization. But four weeks into "practice", it's clear that some of the Texans coaches are getting more comfortable. And, by comfortable, I mean raising the expectation level in practice. The dreaded "get him out of here" (shuddering as I type) was heard a couple of times, yet it was followed by a couple of minutes of teaching and encouragement after the fact.
The first few weeks haven't been country club life. Not in the slightest. But the boat is picking up steam and the men must step up or get thrown off.
I don't remember things like I once did, but numbers and names of football teams? I can hold on to those like an elderly grandfather to his 200 year old $20 savings bond. For Gramps, that's more his decision. For me it's more of a curse, if you will.
My point is, at practice I hear often: Who is number (insert Texans player #)?
And that's even after my man Evan Koch has handed out rosters to people observing the workout. People know that I know the roster well and sometimes just blurt it out unknowingly. Either way, I noticed that happening more and more yesterday for some reason.
Who is No. 65? Former Nebraska defensive end Jason Ankrah. As I've mentioned before, he's transitioning to a stand up OLB from defensive end. The undrafted Husker continues to make heads turn with his size and ability to grasp on to linebacker coach Mike Vrabel's teaching.
Who is No. 17? That one's EZ.
Former Aggie product EZ Nwachukwu returned to practice after being a bit dinged up last week and continued right where he left off during rookie mini-camp. During a "backed up" drill (practicing plays from back inside your own five yard line), EZ beat a defensive back in man coverage and caught what would have been a 98 yard touchdown bomb. You could then hear how happy he was after he did. Even though he was here last year, people still are asking about him, in particular, after he made that big play during the workout. The thing is that it wasn't his only play to shine.
The Education of Jadeveon Clowney
After missing the last day of last week's workouts for the NFL-mandated Rookie Premiere, the Texans number one pick had some make-up work, so to speak, on his plate. But one play early in a seven-on-seven drill showed he can pick things up rapidly.
As O'Brien has said numerous times, these are complex schemes on both sides of the ball and that's for rookies AND vets. Yet after the first play of the drill, Vrabel jumped out of his shoes with praise for his youngest charge for his recoginition and reaction to what the offense had attempted to do to him. Sure, a linebacker missing a practice and a quarterback missing a practice are two different things, but to see the cerebral football growth this early in a highly touted young man is impressive.