It's been a different past six months, that's for sure, but when the whistles signaled the start of practice today at the Houston Methodist Training Center, it felt oh so very good. And, honestly, normal. Friday was the first day that felt normal in a long time yet incredibly different than any other training camp opening ever. Regardless, it was great to see the 2020 Texans, in the flesh, for the first time. Here are some Harris Hits from Day number one.
They say in the radio industry to play the hits, so no pun intended, but I want to start with quarterback Deshaun Watson. I remember the first training camp for Watson in 2017 at the Greenbrier and it was crystal clear that he could do things no other player on that field could do. He was that good, but he was just starting out so he had plenty to learn in a hurry. Flash forward to today and it was like a different quarterback altogether. Not in a bad way, mind you. He's now been through the fire of three seasons, played in playoff games and led this offense. But, at this point, what's impressed me more than anything is the command he has of the offense. Every aspect of the offense. Reading defenses. Getting guys lined up. Shifting or moving them in to the proper position. You name it, he's on top of it for this entire group. Late in practice, he led the offense on a drive down the field just managing and conducting the entire operation. He threw first to Darren Fells for a six yard gain, got everyone ready and sprung running back David Johnson on a run for a big gain. After another Johnson run, Watson got pressured by Brennan Scarlett on a third down. He slid to his right, eyes downfield and found Keke Coutee in an open spot for a first down. On the next play, he threw an out to Steven Mitchell who sped up the sideline for a touchdown. That drive, man, that was so fun to watch, but mostly for me, it was the continued mastery of this offense and the maturation of DW4 that truly caught my attention.
Head coach Bill O'Brien noted on his pre-practice Zoom call with the media that the team was still ramping up in preparation for the 2020 opening game at Kansas City. So, there were still some players in that ramp up process that we didn't see much of today but we saw plenty that should have fans and followers excited.
It was a bit surreal on Friday morning walking down the hallway out to the radio tent for Texans Training Camp Live. As I walked down the corridor, I saw Randall Cobb walking right at me. I've seen him so many times in the Green Bay Packers green and gold and right next to Aaron Rodgers...now he was walking past me in Houston. Still, so surreal in some sense. Seeing him on the field, it's so clear how much experience Cobb has managing the land mines all over the place in the middle of the field. I really enjoyed watching him get separation on his routes and get clean on time for his quarterback Deshaun Watson to deliver the ball.
With the addition of Cobb, people often overlook Keke Coutee, but he showed some excellent burst and explosiveness in and out of his routes from the slot position as well. Marc Vandermeer warns me, and all of us, to not forget about certain players every year. His "Don't forget me" this year was Coutee and Keke looks determined to put 2019 behind him and make 2020 a strong season.
One of the veterans on the defensive side that caught my attention today was interior defensive lineman Brandon Dunn. He played off blocks a couple of times to make life tough on the running game. He's done that throughout his career, and done it well. It's definitely something he'll be asked to do more of in 2020.
Check out some photos from the first day of Texans Training Camp.
Perhaps the loudest pop of the day was delivered by linebacker Tyrell Adams on running back Karan Higdon. Adams came clean on a run play and just popped Higdon which got everyone on that defense dancing and excited.
Defensive lineman JJ Watt continues to ramp up to September 10th at Kansas City. He did do some pass rush 1-on-1s and I love to watch him work through those reps. He's always been an excellent technician while rushing the passer, yet he continues to refine that technique every day, limited reps or not.
For nearly the entirety of the 2019 season, safety Justin Reid was unable to do a ton of work in practice due to a shoulder injury he suffered early in the season. On Friday, it was hard to take my eyes off of him as he seemed to be everywhere, making plays in coverage, leading the secondary from the back end. Like Deshaun Watson for offense, Reid, now in his third year, plays the director role for the defense as well. He nearly had a diving interception during a team drill after making an explosive break on the throw. The ball hit him in the chest and he couldn't corral the rock. Regardless, J Reid was constantly on point and in charge for that secondary.
This was the first time that we've had a chance to see the rookie class up close and I can tell you that this was an impressive physically looking bunch of dudes. Defensive lineman Ross Blacklock walked past me on the sideline and I was floored. I saw him play dozens of times at TCU, but this was the first time up close. Man, wow, built like a tank. His defensive mate Jon Greenard is thick in all the good ways and it's clear that he's certainly not out of place on that field. I hate that they didn't have the normal ramp up time to training camp this season but they weren't alone. They just have to capitalize on what time they have now and impress, even without preseason games, to get some live reps before the season opener.
When we interviewed Coach O'Brien last week about running back David Johnson, I asked whether Johnson reminded him of anyone that he coached. He didn't want to compare DJ31 to any other backs, but the one thing that stood out to me was that he called him a three down running back. Translation? He can do a ton for this offense in 2020. His skill set is just so different for backs built like him. Most, if not all backs, that are 6-2, 231 lb. are tanks, running downhill on first and second down and pass protecting on third down. Yeah, not DJ. He runs routes like a receiver and doesn't resemble a tank in the slightest. It's all about staying healthy...and no one knows that more than he does.
Johnson's counterpart in the backfield Duke Johnson has always impressed me as a runner. Many throughout the league were so quick to pigeonhole him into a third down back/receiver type of role for the Texans when he arrived. What I found last year was that he's a dynamic inside runner with patience which I saw again from him today in inside run/team drills at practice. He's not willing to go east-west as a lot of quicker backs do. He's patient when he attacks a play and will let blocks open up to then burst through for chunk yards as he heads north and south up the field.
The tight end position is going to be one to watch, no doubt, during training camp 2020. The entire group did positive things throughout the day and Jordan Thomas made a number of catches, including one down the seam over the top of a defensive back. The third year tight end from Mississippi State has flashed talent from the day he got here and I'd love to see him find some of that form from his rookie campaign in 2020.
Okay, that'll do it for day one. See all of you tomorrow for another building block on the way to Kansas City on September 10. Let's GO!