Let's dive right into my Harris Hits/Observations from day two of Training Camp 2021.
I've asked GM Nick Caserio about the constant churn of roster management in this league a few times since he's gotten here, and he always reminds me that it's 24/7/365. He has taken that to heart the past few days. He traded FOR receiver Anthony Miller over the weekend. Then, he traded Randall Cobb to the Packers. Then, last night, he signed another receiver to the mix - Jordan Veasy, a 6-3, 221 lb. pass catcher from Cal who has been with a handful of NFL teams on their practice squads. It just never really stops and that's not a bad thing, really.
The competitive portion of practice is everyone's favorite, well, most everyone. Either way, when the defensive backs and tight ends lined it up against one another during one-on-ones, defensive back Justin Reid came away with a pass break up that he was frustrated that he couldn't reel in for the pick. He's set the tone for the group to start drills on both days. On day one, he came down during a team drill and broke up a pass intended for a tight end. Today, he came up with that physical pass breakup. Solid start to camp for J. Reid!
As I sat down to construct these hits, our Emmy winning videographer superstar Tyler Suddarth asked me what I thought about the tight ends thus far into camp. It's going to be an intriguing group with a mix of vets, holdovers and the lone rookie in the group. The first note I wrote down during the day mentioned the build of rookie Brevin Jordan. He's much more put together than I ever thought he was at Miami and he has the athleticism necessary to play that difficult position well. However, he has to take care of the little details on every play. Near the end of a team drill, he made a catch and turned up the field for a first down. As he did, though, a defender poked the ball away, giving the ball back to the defense. There's little question that Jordan has some serious skills, but little things have held talented players back in the past and Jordan can't fall prey.
Then, there's a fourth year vet like Jordan Akins who catches everything all over the field. He beat a safety across the field for a catch in one-on-one that caught my eye. He made a rolling catch on a throw up the seam during a team drill. He just looks WAY more confident than he's ever been and has caught EVERYTHING in every drill. Jordan and Akins have plenty of company in that tight end room, so the roster battle will be one to watch over the next month.
I had a chance to catch up with defensive back Keion Crossen after practice and he had a couple of my favorite reps on the day. The first one took place during one-on-ones against second year receiver Isaiah Coulter. The receiver drove hard up the field, selling the go route down the field. He hit the brakes and worked back to the quarterback. I was shielded by a player on the sideline so I couldn't see where Crossen was when Coulter made his move back to the quarterback. As the ball was in the air, I saw this blur, wearing #35, arriving right at the moment the ball showed up. Crossen reached over the top and knocked the pass away.
The second moment was the final rep of the one-on-ones. The horn blew to move to the next drill as Keke Coutee and Keion Crossen stood across from one another. The coaches kept signaling to go with it and I'm so glad they did. Coutee fired off the ball and I got the feeling that he felt Crossen was sitting on something short because the receiver hit the gas and burned up the field. When I saw Coutee hit it up the field, I thought Crossen was in major trouble. In a blink, Crossen hit his nitro boosters and worked his way right into the hip pocket of the speedy Coutee all the way into the end zone. I don't remember who threw the pass, but the two Texans raced into the end zone and the ball landed just outside their reach incomplete. This moment stood out because last year was such a struggle against ANY inside receivers and it had the makings of a flashback to last year at the outset. As such, I was convinced Coutee "had" Crossen on that one. However, the fourth year veteran flashed the requisite recovery speed to make that a HIGHLY competitive rep, getting my attention once again.
Defensive back Eric Murray had a couple of strong cover moments during one-on-ones and team periods. He had one PBU and I think he also had an interception during the practice as well. I said "I think" because I didn't quite see it, but he had the ball in his hands after a rep of one-on-ones, so I'm giving him interception credit, if you will.
I love to watch veterans going through training camp because they'll be more apt to try different techniques, test drive techniques, if you will. Defensive back Bradley Roby seemed to do that when he was in coverage in one-on-ones. The other reason that I like watching veterans in practice is that a coach can say just one word to a vet and he'll know the adjustment nearly immediately. I saw a couple of times in practice when a coach walked up, made one quick note/change and the veteran made the immediate adjustment on the spot.
I spent a lot of time watching the running backs work the bags with change of direction drills and the sort. Phillip Lindsay has such quick feet and the sudden nature in change of direction is impressive. Watching him dance through the bags, Mark Ingram looked 21, not 31. For a 231-lb back, David Johnson has much better feet than you'd think. The pleasant surprise, however, has been Rex Burkhead. Not as much from a playing perspective, but just from a health perspective. I wasn't expecting him to be ready on day one of training camp, but he's been ready to roll and has looked sharp. I've always been a big fan of his and an even bigger fan of this quartet.
What makes them intriguing is what good pass receivers all of them are. Watching them work routes on linebackers and during team drills, it's clear that all four of them have the ability to be true receiving threats that just happen to play running back, as opposed to being solid receiving running backs, if that makes sense.
The one guy, though, that the running backs had a tough time shaking in one-on-ones was the NFL's leading tackler in 2020 - Zach Cunningham. Lindsay had already beat a few linebackers to the flat during one-on-ones, but Cunningham was in the hip pocket all the way and made the PBU which got the defense super hyped.
A couple of quickies I wrote down in my notebook without a specific play/example reference:
1. Anthony Miller is "hard to cover"
2. Alex Erickson is seemingly always open.
Watching Miller and Coutee, in particular, work their inside routes is a fascinating watch, honestly. Receivers are a lot like pitchers in baseball. No two pitchers are the same. Some have great fastballs mixed with sliders or curveballs. Some throw sidearm. Some can spot pitches with fine tuned control. In the end, they're just asked to throw strikes consistently, regardless of the approach. That's really the same for a receiver. Get open and catch the ball. How? Well, that's where the fascinating differences emerge, just like with a pitcher. How Coutee manages inside routes vs. how Miller does is intriguing to me. Here's the rub - they both get open and do it rather easily.
Erickson doesn't have Coutee's quickness (no one does, really) or Miller's suddenness, but every time I looked up and #14 was on the field, Erickson was open. Some guys just have a knack and it feels like Erickson has that knack. Now, it's not just veteran savvy and guile getting Erickson open because he can still run fairly well. Erickson just gets open and catches the ball nearly every single time he's on the field.
One of my favorite plays of the first two days was a dadgum, pretty-as-can-be throw from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Phillip Lindsay against man coverage. I just happened to be standing in a spot where I saw Lindsay beat the linebacker in coverage and just as he turned up the field, Taylor zinged the ball into his belly for a completion. I audibly yelled out "GREAT BALL!!" Thankfully, no one was standing near me to hear my exclamation.
The more that I've thought about it, I think covering really good slot receivers is one of the toughest things a defensive back has to do. Defensive back Desmond King came up with a sweet pass breakup during one-on-ones. He matched the receiver's inside-out shake on the juke move and knocked away the pass. It is not easy out in space against some of these Texans inside receivers and King came up big on that play for sure.
I feel bad and incomplete that I haven't spent a ton of time writing notes on the big fellas, but that'll change soon when the pads go on later in camp. That said, I still saw a few things that stood out during some pass rush one-on-ones.
The Charles Omenihu that stepped up on his first rep during that pass rush drill was the Charles Omenihu that the Texans NEED to see on a consistent basis in 2021. He creates such problems because of his length, but he's learning some of the tricks of the pass rushing trade at the same time. He's also learning how to continue to use his length to his advantage. At the same time, I feel like I'm seeing a quicker Omenihu too and that helped him during that drill. Later in team drills, he worked a similar move to get free into the face of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. His pass rush acumen is rising and he can be a serious problem for linemen with that sort of consistent rush..
Defensive lineman Ross Blacklock has tremendous athleticism, size and, honestly, everything that a defensive lineman MUST have in the NFL. I looked over for his first rep and he tried a bull rush move on guard Max Scharping who held up relatively well against it. I wrote in my book "Change it up, let us see something!!" It was like a subliminal message I was sending to the youngster out of TCU because he had a second rep a little while later and it looked like a different player. When the ball was snapped, he did too. He exploded off the snap, deked here, ripped there and he was past the poor lineman in a blink. I mean, I just wrote "BEAST" in my book and if I had more time in between reps, I'd have written "DO THAT EVERY PLAY!" It's there, it's in him and I saw it on that pass rush rep.
Defensive lineman Jacob Martin and I spent a good five to six minutes talking about pass rushing during Texans Media Days. I just hung on every word listening to him talk about the process he goes through and his approach. Then, he went out on the field on Thursday and it's like he's using, seemingly, something new in his repertoire. I saw him working some different pass rush moves on Wednesday than he did on Thursday. Then, during one-on-ones today, he threw a different move that I hadn't seen him use before. I absolutely love the utilization of various ways to get to the quarterback and Martin certainly showed those moves in that pass rush period.
One guy that Charles Omenihu didn't beat on Thursday was offensive lineman Tytus Howard. When we talked to Howard during Media Days and I asked him what he needed to do to take THAT step, he noted, almost immediately, "being more consistent." He even went on to say that he'd have a great rep against an excellent pass rusher and then he'd have a struggling moment. I don't know that I've seen struggling moments, but his first rep of the period against Whitney Mercilus was not up to his full potential. Why do I know that? Because Howard's next rep against Omenihu was clinic teaching tape. Sunk hips. Quick feet. Excellent hand placement. Just locked up Omenihu for one of the few times all day long. As I told Marc later, "Tytus has that and nearly every other club in his bag," using a golf analogy to describe the talented third year trench warrior.
It was great seeing defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Taylor at different times knife into the backfield and make stops for TFLs. What I loved about both was the explosiveness and twitch they showed to make those plays. Big VT also came up with a pass breakup, batting down a pass during a team period later in practice.
I mentioned above how important little things are and rookies can learn a ton from watching the veterans work their craft. During a team period late in practice, quarterback Tyrod Taylor put the ball out for his running back and at the last moment pulled it away, completely fooling the defense, before tossing it out for a completion to his tight end Antony Auclair who was wide open. A simple play fake? Really? Yes, absolutely. Two hours into a long, hot practice, an 11 year veteran could very easily have mailed it in on play two of the script, but he was as deliberate with his play fake as he'd be in the fourth quarter with the game on the line in the regular season. Somewhere Peyton Manning was smiling from ear to ear saying "Now, THAT'S how you do it, young quarterbacks." #Detail.
A little later in that same drill, linebacker Neville Hewitt had a tremendous pass breakup on a short route that, honestly, is nearly pass breakup foolproof. I could see #43 just flying down from his spot and arriving right on time to knock it away. Hewitt showed some serious closing speed to make that play.
Alright, I'll close it there and start to get ready for day number three at the Houston Methodist Training Center on Friday. CAN'T WAIT!!
Check out the best photos from Day 2 of Texans Training Camp presented by Xfinity.