WE BACK, FAM! Oh, it's so exciting to be back for the 2022 season, my ninth with the team, my 16th covering the Texans. There were fans on hand, sun out in full force and Texans on the ballfield; nothing compares to THAT, quite honestly. Before we dive in, one note - you might have heard or seen some names that aren't familiar to you. That's quite alright because I have you covered - 90-man TC preview. Every player. Every. Single. One. » Check it out!
Uhh, you're welcome! Just kidding, of course, but I hope that this roster preview becomes your go-to when you're reading this or at practice. When I mention a name here, use that preview as a guide. Okay, it's time, let's dive into the first Harris Hits of training camp.
It's easy to start with one of the team's stars, WR Brandin Cooks. But, I'm not starting with him because he IS a star. I'm starting with him because he doesn't act like a star. He approaches every single rep like it's his last in the NFL. Also, having seen him now for the past few years, I can really see the little things in his game that make him one of the better receivers in the NFL. First route or last, he's going a million miles an hour as if that route is during the two minute drill in the Super Bowl.
One of the first competitive drills of the day was a halfline seven-on-seven drill. So, think typical seven-on-seven, but on just half of the field. Aligned against rookie Derek Stingley Jr, Cooks flew off the snap and sprinted upfield like he was headed to the Teal lot on the deep route. Then, when he got the rookie to turn upfield, he broke his route to the sidelines, open and available for QB. Davis Mills didn't throw it to him because of the drop of LB Garret Wallow, but Cooks' approach and execution were just brilliant to get that much separation on his route.
(A quickie on Stingley Jr…since OTAs/minicamp, the approach has been to ramp him up to get ready for Week 1. As head coach Lovie Smith said after practice, he expects Stingley Jr to get a little bit more action, a little bit more than that and a little bit more than that over the next few days and weeks to get ready for that opener against Indianapolis. That said, it was good to see him get some reps in that halfline drill in a group/unit setting. I'll say this for the rookie, dude is smoooooth. Footwork is certainly on point but he'll tell you he has a lot of work to do to get ready.)
A little later in a team drill, Cooks made a tremendous catch - the absolute, no doubt catch of the day. I said to Marc Vandermeer a while later on radio that we expect certain things from Cooks - speed, route running, tough after the catch, etc…However, the ability to climb the ladder and make a catch WELL outside his natural catch radius isn't one aspect for which we give him enough credit. So, on an interior route, he was open in between the top of the numbers and the hash. Mills threw the ball a bit high to avoid the LB in front and Cooks went to a different level of vertical leap to make the catch. My heart fluttered.
I think the hardest route to throw is the deep out from the opposite hash and Davis Mills showed on the next play that he has that club in his proverbial bag. WR Chris Conley drove his cornerback off the ball, selling the deep route, hit the brakes and turned on the out route. As he did, Mills delivered a dime on the sideline for the completion. So, let's do a little pythagorean theorem - that's MATH, people. The ball went 22 yards downfield. It's approximately 30 yards from hash to sideline. Do a little a squared + b squared = c squared and that means the throw went 37.2 yards in the air. On a line. Right on target. Arm strength badge acquired.
Tight end Brevin Jordan's number nine is all over my notebook and I didn't even see the full practice. He caught everything thrown in his direction on Friday. He also made one sick move on a defensive back. He caught a shallow crosser and the one thing that Jordan really did well at the end of last season was turning up the field with no hesitation. So, he caught and turned all in one motion as the cornerback darted him from the outside. Jordan dipped inside, darted outside and left the corner holding air. If that club is in HIS bag, whoa, look out. (yes, that's another golf analogy)
There's not always a great scorecard for the defense in practice, especially when the defensive line can't go full out at the quarterback without pads. As such, when the defense gets back in the meeting room, I know that Lovie Smith and his defensive staff will point out how many catches the underneath receivers, outlet TE and running backs made on Friday. Those have to be considered wins for the defense. There's work to do, but the coverage was solid on Friday.
One thing that stands out, in particular, with the receiver group is the level of twitch and speed with the entire pass catching group. The young receivers, though, have really added to that element and then some. It was even more evident seeing them again in person how fast and quick they get through their route to make themselves available for a passing target.
If Brandin Cooks' sky high grab was the best catch of the day then TE Pharaoh Brown's snag down the seam was next best. During a team period, Brown sprinted down the seam while Davis Mills spotted him open. Mills had to get the ball over the linebackers in underneath coverage but in front of the closing CB and S. That alteration forced Brown to go up, HIGH up, to snatch the throw in front of CB Isaac Yiadom who made an excellent break on the throw. Brown has gotten a ton of work early in the first few days of practice and he's made his presence known for certain, that catch, in particular.
QB Kyle Allen then connected with WR Jalen Camp on two consecutive throws - one out route and one on a slant on the next play. Camp is a BIG body now and he's got athleticism for days. I can't wait to see his progress in this training camp.
We had the chance to chat with S Terrence Brooks after practice and he was great as usual, just as he was a few plays after Camp's two catches. Brooks saw WR Chad Beebe break in front of him on a dig route, waited for the exact moment (QB hand off the ball) and bolted in front of Beebe for the pass breakup. It was a wonderful play for the nine year veteran.
One of the best throws of the day was QB Jeff Driskel's completion to WR Connor Wedington in that same team drill a little while later. The receiver beat the jam easily at the line of scrimmage, stayed on the stem of his route, broke in on the dig route and Driskel put a money shot right in the hands of the former Stanford receiver. I have Wedington's number written in my book a handful of times.
Overall, QB Davis Mills had a solid day but he'll be the first to tell you that he missed Brandin Cooks on two deep routes, overthrowing the speedy pass catcher each time by just a yard. Why do I know this without having talked to him? Well, glad you asked, John…after practice, while I was on radio, I looked down to the north end of the practice field and there was Davis lobbing deep balls to Cooks 40 yards away in the end zone, on nearly the exact throw that he missed during team drills.
These first few days without pads can be tough for the big dudes up front as there really isn't much they can do in practice to make an impact. No pads, trying to not hurt anyone, etc…so it isn't often that I write about either OL/DL during this period. But, when I saw DL Michael Dwumfour slow down Brandin Cooks in the backfield, I knew I had to write about it. The center released Dwumfour to go block on the outside. Dwumfour then saw Cooks get the ball and started chasing. Now, Brandin tried to shake him a bit, which Dwumfour handled beautifully. He broke down in space like a safety or linebacker, stayed in proper leverage and "tackled" Cooks easily. THAT was athletic. THAT was really impressive.
I wrote earlier this month about players I had my eyes on during training camp. Okay, okay, so I do watch them all, but there were guys that had been productive but still needed to remind everyone of the impact that they could ultimately make. WR Chris Moore was one of those guys I wrote about. Now, it wasn't so much that he has something to prove, but given the addition of John Metchie III, the return of Phillip Dorsett and the signings of a gaggle of young bucks, the receiver position has some competition going on and Moore is right in the mix. I've always been Team Moore dating back to his days at Cincinnati but even more so when he arrived last year in Houston. He came up with big plays last year during the season and had a number of catches today. One in particular was on a curl route where he got the DB to rock back just enough to turn in front of him and make an uncontested catch from QB Kyle Allen. As a vet, he knows the ins and outs of route running and he's a decent sized target. Do not forget about #15.
I absolutely loved the play that DB Grayland Arnold made on a deep sideline route. He came over from the middle to get on top of a Connor Wedington route. QB Jeff Driskel tried to stick that route in front of Arnold, but the former Baylor star rolled over the top to knock it away.
Late in practice, there was a beautifully excellent Mills to Chris Conley hook up on a deep intermediate route in team drills. Strong, decisive throw and precise route. That was beautiful.
Day one for us is in the books. I'll be back with much more tomorrow.
Suffice to say, it's so good to be back.