2020 Training Camp Harris Hits:
On what had to be the coolest day, temperature-wise, that I can ever remember in August at the Houston Methodist Training Center, the Texans donned the pads for the third time in four days. Here are my Harris Hits from Monday morning's practice.
When The Voice of the Texans Marc Vandermeer and I arrived on the field for our Texans Training Camp Live radio show at 8 am, we were blown away at the temperature. It was 73 degrees. On August 17. In Houston. That sounds like a joke, but it really was beautiful. Marc actually went back to his car to get a long sleeve pull over sweatshirt. The happiest people, though, were the players. One of the consistent themes in our time at The Greenbrier in 2017/2018 was that players always had some juice left at the end of practice, which allowed them to focus more on technique, etc...Whereas in Houston, the last 20-25 minutes, at a minimum, of any outdoor practice are about survival, honestly. Of course, it'll go back to 90+ degrees tomorrow, but for one day, it was a much needed respite from the 100 degree heat we suffered through the past few weeks.
The first main drill of the day was team 11-on-11 work to wake up the pads, so to speak. Quarterback Deshaun Watson dissected the defense throughout the entire drill. He threw a bomb to Steven Mitchell Jr. for what would've been a touchdown - an absolute dime. Then, on the final play of the drill, he whipped one nearly sidearm into receiver Kenny Stills' chest as Stills sprinted for another first down. As soon as he completed that ball to Stills, Watson nearly ran off the field as if that throw was his 'mic drop' moment to start practice. He was in an absolute groove to start the workout.
The defense did get a measure of revenge, if you will, later in practice on the offense in a team drill. Watson went back to throw and got a little bit of heat off the edge. So, he had to get rid of the ball quicker than he wanted. He launched deep as tight end Jordan Akins was running down the middle of the field. Safety A.J. Moore ran right with Akins down the field, leapt in the air and SNATCHED the ball out of the air for an interception. Of course, that set the defensive sideline OFF as they celebrated the pick as if it happened in a game against the Colts.
I can't wait to see the progress that right tackle Tytus Howard makes in his second year as a starter at right tackle. He appears to be much more comfortable, having played the position last year. Watching him in 1-on-1 pass protection drills against the edge rushers, he seems to be moving fluidly and easily to squelch momentum up the field and into the backfield. He just engulfed a rusher with his 1-on-1 rep during that period.
Another second year player that the Texans need to step up in 2020 is defensive lineman Charles Omenihu. On one pass rush rep, he showed just how far he's come in the past year. He rushed from the inside and his initial move was stopped, but he didn't even miss a beat. He countered back, immediately, with another move and drove the guard right into the quarterback. That pass rush sequence got the attention of his coaches and teammates that cheered loudly for him once that rep was complete. Brick by brick, it can all come together and Omenihu is showing how.
One thing that made its way back into practice today...Situational work. I've said before, I love situations more than anything else that the Texans do in training camp practice. End of game. End of half. Two minute situations. Four minute situations. You name it, they've done it over the years. Standing near the sideline, it was interesting to hear the coaches/players on both sides of the ball talking through the strategy of each situation that Head coach Bill O'Brien crafted for each unit. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has seemingly seen it all in his first three years, so he just went to work and seemed to thrive in those situations. What I loved, though, was how he treated that situational drill like it was the last 20 seconds of a playoff game, not a training camp practice in mid-August.
One of my favorite plays of the day was from running back David Johnson and it was a play that more than likely nobody even noticed. He took an inside handoff and headed into the line of scrimmage from his normal running back position. As he moved toward the line, one of the Texans inside linebackers stepped forward to fill the gap where Johnson was headed to make the tackle. Without missing a beat, Johnson slid to his left, kept his shoulders square and hit the gas up the field leaving that linebacker with nothing but air. Seeing a big back with that agility is quite impressive, to say the least.
Another defensive back who made a key play today was Cornell Armstrong who came up with a pick during an 11-on-11 drill.
There comes a time in nearly every practice that one player will make a play that just, well, I'll be honest, it makes me chuckle at the absurdity of what I just saw. Here's what I mean...quarterback AJ McCarron threw a short, quick route to receiver Keke Coutee, who was looking to get a block and sprint up field for a long catch-and-run gain. Before Coutee could take two steps, the long arm of rookie Ross Blacklock reached out to slow down the Texans receiver. Then, Blacklock just snatched him with one hand by the back of the jersey and kept Coutee from moving another inch up the field. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of a man Blacklock's size, moving that quickly to get to Coutee, then displaying the strength to completely halt said receiver's progress. I mean, yeah, wow.
It was good to see rookie Isaiah Coulter out on the field today. He made a nice sliding catch on the sideline on a rollout from quarterback Alex McGough during a team period in practice.
I do have to make amends for a miss I had on Saturday. Linebacker Tyrell Adams made one of the best plays of that day. Running back Karan Higdon caught a pass during one-on-ones out in the flat and as he turned up the field, Adams came out of nowhere to punch the ball out and recover. It was one of the best plays of the entire day and I totally forgot to give it kudos as I should have.
Adams is a really interesting player, in my opinion, and one that becomes ultra-important in a season like this one. He started last year against Tampa when Benardrick McKinney was banged up and couldn't travel to Florida. He finished that game with five tackles playing next to Zach Cunningham. In 2018, he had a massively important punt block against the Buffalo Bills. He just always seems to know where the ball is going and always makes an impression on special teams.
Each of the tight ends made an impactful play during today's practice. Rookie Dylan Stapleton made an excellent catch during a passing period, plucking one off the top of a linebacker's head, while Jordan Thomas continued his strong training camp, roasting a linebacker on a route down the field for a big catch.
Man, I could actually watch outside linebacker Jacob Martin rush the quarterback all day long. I just know that he's going to make something happen every time he puts his hand in the dirt and the ball is snapped. During one-on-ones, he absolutely scorched a poor tackle that tried to slow his pass rush down. No chance.
That'll do it for today, but I'll be back with more tomorrow after another practice here at the Houston Methodist Training Center. I don't think it'll be 73 degrees, unfortunately. Who cares, though? It's ball season. Let's GO!!
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Check out some photos from Day 2 of Texans Training Camp!