We've officially reached that point in camp when EVERYBODY is hanging. The alarm hit this morning and, whoo buddy, it felt like it was screaming at me. The practice had a little bit of that as the GRIND has really set in. That said, the Texans still did some great work at the Houston Methodist Training Center and, that's right, I have your TC Observations right here, pal! Let's rock.
One major thing about practice seven-on-seven is I want to see QBs release the ball on time. It can be a frustrating drill for many, especially the DBs when they lock down the back end, then the QB holds the ball, patting it two or three times, then after four or five seconds, he throws to a finally open WR. Ugh, nobody gets anything out of that. So, with seven-on-seven, I'm WAY more concerned whether the QB made the right read immediately and threw on time. Case in point, the first play of seven-on-seven in the red zone, QB Davis Mills did exactly that on an out route to TE Pharaoh Brown. As soon as Mills hit that back step, he knew where he needed to throw, let fly and put the ball on the money to Brown. Well executed.
The next play, then, bordered on holding it a bit too long…or maybe it didn't, you decide. Mills eventually found WR Nico Collins on the post route for a touchdown, but my first thought was that Mills got it out maybe a beat late. The delay wasn't egregious at all as Mills first looked to his right and saw NOTHING. Then, he scanned back left and found Collins. I watched it back ten times and felt like I needed my good friend Mr. StopWatch to settle the situation. Hit play, hit start, hit stop and…2.85 seconds from snap to release, which is far from an eternity in the pocket. So, okay, D Mills, I'll give you that win (and he did everything right on the play so I'm less picky).
On the next play, LBs Garret Wallow and Kevin Pierre-Louis gave a master class on how not to get picked off in man coverage. They were in press coverage on TEs Brevin Jordan and Pharaoh Brown. The two pass catchers needed to pick off, at a minimum, one of the two linebackers, but KPL hugged up on Brown and Wallow went over the top on Jordan's crossing route, chasing him all over the yard. Mills had to essentially throw the ball away. Solid LB coverage for sure.
The very next play, rookie DB Jalen Pitre made an incredible effort for the diving interception off a tipped pass. Mills looked at the only true option on the play - WR Chris Conley directly in front of Mills. But, LB Neville Hewitt and DB Tavierre Thomas closed quickly with Hewitt tipping the ball into the air behind him. Pitre laid out and made the pick. NICE!
Then, something happened that really caught my attention. Pitre ran. Rookies haven't been conditioned just yet to the fact that a ball carrier isn't down unless he's touched. Often, defensive rookies forget that aspect and don't tag off on an offensive ball carrier when he goes down. It's a tough rule to remember for rookies because they've never played under those rules. But, Pitre got it right. He dove, made the catch, got to his feet immediately and ran for a lot more. Love. IT.
It was great to see WR Phillip Dorsett get into the seven-on-seven mix as well. He made his first catch after that Pitre pick. Dorsett also had a catch or two during team drills later in practice. Great to see him back.
There's Connor Wedington…again…with consecutive catches - one on an out route and the next one on the post for a touchdown. We happened to be on the airwaves when he caught that touchdown and just as I was about to give Wedington his props for his performance in camp, we went to a break. I'll save my kudos for Monday's radio show.
The Catch of Camp Award is done, locked up. I don't know exactly how anyone is going to top Chris Conley's grab in the far corner of the end zone. Holy cow. Conley ran a fade route and had DB Fabian Moreau all over him. But, Conley showed off his 40+-inch vertical and snatched the ball out of the air AND…AND got both feet beautifully in bounds. Award ceremony can commence anytime because it's going to be HARD to top that catch anytime soon.
Man, I have not seen anyone effectively slow down DL Mario Addison on his pass rush. He has such an arsenal of moves, dekes, step throughs. You name it, he's unleashing it in full on this offensive line. Every time he steps up for his reps, he has my 100% full attention.
The past few days in pads I can see OL A.J. Cann kicking off more and more rust. He's a veteran and has seen a lot of time on the field, but, after getting injured last year, he had gone nearly a year without banging in pads. As such, it takes EVERYONE some adjustment after that much time away from your craft. His first pass rush one-on-one rep on Friday was awesome. DL Maliek Collins destroyed everyone, especially due to his get off and his first step. So, Cann decided to not let him get that juice upfield and hit him, literally, struck him, delivering a rock hard punch that staggered Collins a bit. That was just enough for Cann to settle in and stay in front of Collins easily. That was the best rep I've seen from Cann and highly, highly impressive.
Another guy who may have had the best rep of training camp was DL Ross Blacklock. The former TCU star showed the full package in his first rep of one-on-ones. He shimmied to get the guard to declare and when he didn't, Blacklock got on the outside edge and then WHAM…hit him with a nasty long arm right to the solar plexus. Ross then held the guard at bay as he sprinted into the QB's face. THAT WAS IT! That's the Ross Blacklock that can change things in a quick minute. That was awesome.
Blacklock's next rep wasn't as dominating, but it might've been as encouraging. OL Max Scharping did the right thing and squared up a guy that's approximately 30 lb. lighter than him. This is where Ross has struggled a bit in past years; he needs to get on an edge to win on his pass rushes. That's where his quickness, long arms, power and twitch all come into play, just like on the first rep. So, I thought Ross might struggle again, but he tried to dart inside and Scharping cut that off, so Ross violently went back the other way, ripping and bending now on the outside edge of Scharping. Blacklock then was able to turn back to the QB and get him to move. Sometimes it's not always about getting a dead-on shot on the QB like the first rep but what it ALWAYS will be is the relentless pursuit of pushing that pocket with all the assets a DL has. Blacklock did that on those two reps for sure. I loved it!
On the very next rep, I said some bad words because I saw something awesome…again…from a rookie. Three days ago, rookie DL Kurt Hinish had one of the best reps I've ever seen when he just clubbed a center out of the way to get upfield. Today? Same thing and he nearly bent the center in half. I screamed out and I knew someone had to hear me. Holy smokes!! The former Notre Dame star DL is making his presence felt for sure. Next rep? He just bull-rushed the center five yards backwards. I mean, what?
Just watching this defensive line today, I was reminded by how tough the cut to the 53-man roster is going to be in late August. One player who consistently shows up at practice, especially in one-on-ones, is Michael Dwumfour. For a guy that is built like a run stuffing monster, his quickness and pass rush acumen are absolutely on point. He threw a chop/arm over that left the left guard grabbing air on his first rep. He caught him leaning but that's the problem against a guy of Dwumfour's ilk. Sit back and he'll bull rush. Quick set him and he has the foot quickness and the hands to chop and rip or swipe and rip to win the battle.
OL Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms was able to slow Dwumfour a little later. To do so, the OL must have learned a bit from Cann earlier, channeling a little Cobra Kai - Strike first, strike hard. As Dwumfour tried to come inside on Wallace-Simms, the former Missouri product threw a right to the neck of Dwumfour. That slowed the DL just a little bit which allowed Wallace-Simms to collect himself and slow Dwumfour as he continued inside and up the field.
Ohhh, DL Derek Rivers spin-o-rama was nasty! Inside spin move…just sick!
During the first team session, a few plays into the drill, the Texans reeled off one of the better runs of the day. RB Marlon Mack cut right off the butt of a tremendous Max Scharping block on his way to daylight, right up the middle of the field.
And, when the offense can run the ball effectively, what does it do on play action? A few plays later, Mills threw a dart on the deep out to Brandin Cooks wide open. Underneath defenders were locked on the run because two plays prior Mack gashed them inside. Chicken? Egg? Doesn't matter which comes first, but run/pass success can assist the other, obviously.
On the next play, Brevin Jordan ran a ridiculously great route to get free down the field and Mills hit him for a big, easy gain.
LB Neville Hewitt had a couple of big plays in the passing game on Friday. He tipped a pass as noted earlier that was intercepted by Jalen Pitre. Then, later in the team period, he skied to knock down a pass from QB Kyle Allen. He nearly picked it off after he tipped it in the air, but couldn't hang on. Regardless, it was a great all-around effort.
One of the most impressive plays of the day came courtesy of QB Davis Mills. He started in the shotgun, took the snap and stuck the ball in the belly of RB Rex Burkhead. On the opposite side, DL Demone Harris had destroyed the OT to the side and was coming scot free in Mills' face. As quickly as I've seen him do it, Mills quickly spun his feet around and fired to TE Mason Schreck down the seam without Harris putting one hand on Mills. Huh? Did I just see that? Harris nearly had no impediment at all so Mills had to throw that RIGHT NOW…then he did, beautifully.
The Catch of the Day went to WR Chris Conley for his outstanding catch in the back corner of the end zone during seven-on-seven. I'm giving the Play of the Day to DL Jon Greenard. The Texans were working a team period in the low red zone. Mills looked to his left where he had Brandin Cooks and Pharaoh Brown working a combination route. Mills fired but as he did Greenard leapt high in the air to bat down the pass. What he actually did was bat the ball to himself, snatching it before it fell back into Mills' hands and he took off for the six points the other way. Think J.J. Watt against Buffalo in 2014 - almost the same exact play. Wonderful effort.
Mills went deep down the far left sideline on the next play looking for WR Brandin Cooks but DB Isaac Yiadom made a heck of a play, knocking the ball away and nearly intercepting it.
TE Brevin Jordan then took a LB and a DB to school on his next route and was wide open for a touchdown. QB Kyle Allen didn't miss Jordan wide open and gave him an easy ball to catch and walk into the end zone.
A few plays later, rookie DB Jacobi Francis got him a pick in the end zone. He's gotten my attention for sure while in coverage. I'm excited to see him in the upcoming three preseason games to see how he reacts in game situations.
The last minute situation at the end of practice was definitely not one to remember. In fact, the offense could've handled things a bit better all the way throughout, so flush it and move on. And, we will too. Day 6 is in the books and I'll have Day 7 observations after tomorrow's workout. Let's GO!!