2020 Training Camp Harris Hits:
The sun was unrelenting as Thursday morning bled into early afternoon, but the Texans were still able to get a ton of work done at the Houston Methodist Training center. Here are my Harris Hits from a full day of scrimmage and situational work in Thursday's practice.
Tight end Jordan Akins is having a strong camp, which is par for the course for this tight end group. He's continued to make one big play after another. On the first drive of the day, quarterback Deshaun Watson lasered one to Akins across the field for a big first down catch. There wasn't a ton of room to accurately place that football and the hands in front of Akins definitely shielded his vision. But, Watson stuck it through the chaos and Akins displayed the concentration needed to make a catch on that kind of throw.
A little later, during a red zone drill, Watson faced third and goal from the six yard line. He went looking for his third year tight end again. Facing safety A.J. Moore, Akins worked himself free, not by much, and Watson put a ball up high in the back of the end zone. Akins climbed the ladder and snatched the pass for a touchdown...and of course, gave it the traditional Akins Power Spike to celebrate. Moore would get his, uh, revenge later.
There's one play that stuck with me, for some reason, more than any other from the 2019 season. It happened in London against the Jaguars. Deshaun Watson went back to pass and Steven Mitchell Jr. was wide open down the near sideline but he stopped his route, not knowing Watson had eyes for him. The pass fell incomplete and Mitchell knew he had missed a great opportunity for an opening drive touchdown. At the time, I remember thinking that he'll never let that happen again, especially on that exact play. Lo and behold, first play on a red zone situational drive, similar play to that one in London. Same quarterback. Same receiver. This time, Mitchell kept flying up the sideline and Watson hit him right in stride for a 19 yard gain. That was good to see for sure.
Dude Play alert - I started mentioning Dude Plays in my college scouting reports this past draft. A Dude Play is one in which a player does something extraordinary to the point that very few, if any, other players could do something of that magnitude. Well, there were a few candidates today but one, in particular, stood out. Rookie Ross Blacklock had one of those Dude Plays on a run play. Talk about blowing something up, Blacklock did just that. He ran through two different blockers, knocking them backwards into the running back, three yards deep in the backfield. I know it's a Dude Play when the first word out of my mouth is "DUDE…" That was certainly one of those plays.
On that first drive of practice, Deshaun Watson lasered two passes into the chest of Kenny Stills for first downs. Really happy to see Kenny back at practice and it's clear how much Watson trusts him when he's on the field.
One play that I wish I could see again on replay was a catch by rookie Isaiah Coulter early in practice. I think he slipped on his route across the middle but quarterback AJ McCarron had already started his throwing motion. He released the ball and somehow Coulter was able to make the catch from his wallet while on the ground. It was one of those that I know what I saw, but I would've liked to have seen it again to be 100000% sure. Coulter's progress is certainly evident throughout his first NFL training camp.
Running back Karan Higdon had all of 16 receptions in his career at Michigan and didn't catch a touchdown pass in his four years. But, today, he had a touchdown catch that might have been the best of the day, if not for Akins back of the end zone grab mentioned earlier. Higdon ran toward the sideline and when AJ McCarron scrambled to his right, Higdon ran toward the end zone. With an inside linebacker in coverage, Higdon had a step on said defender and McCarron let fly for the end zone. Higdon timed his jump right and cradled the ball in his arms for a touchdown. The offense went nuts celebrating as Higdon's bright smile lit up the sideline.
McCarron made a couple of solid connections throughout the day. He found Coulter a couple of times and he lasered one to DeAndre Carter on the deep out on the sideline to keep a scrimmage series drive going.
The defense had some really excellent stands during 11-on-11 scrimmages and during the situational work at the end of practice. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver and the defense kept the Texans quarterbacks on their toes throughout the practice, which will be highly beneficial when the Texans prepare to start this season's schedule.
Linebacker Peter Kalambayi had a pass breakup down the seam against tight end Darren Fells during a red zone drill. Deshaun Watson spread the field with pass catchers, examined the matchups and seemed to really like his matchup with Fells and Kalambayi. Fells had maybe half a step on the former Stanford star down the seam, but when the ball arrived, Kalambayi timed the throw perfectly and knocked the ball away. Before that play, just looking at the alignment and such, I knew Watson wanted Fells, so that's what made it that much more exciting that Kalambayi knocked that pass away. He was the mark and rose to the occasion to stop that play.
So, one of the more chaotic plays in the practice happened on the succeeding drive. As AJ McCarron went back to pass, the offense missed an assignment and let rookie Jon Greenard arrive untouched on McCarron. Defensive players started yelling for a sack but McCarron saw Greenard nearly immediately, moved to his right to avoid him and threw as quickly as possible to Coulter crossing the formation. Safety A.J. Moore was in Coulter's hip pocket and tipped the pass in the air. Safety Michael Thomas was closing on the play and as he arrived, the ball fell into his lap and he took off with the interception.
Moore had his own interception later in practice as Deshaun Watson looked to air one out down the middle of the field to one of his tight ends. Moore was step-for-step with the Texans tight end and reacted to the ball in flight at the exact right moment. He then snatched the pick for his second really big play of the day. He wasn't done either. He had another pass breakup during a situational drill later in practice, covering a tight end down the seam.
During our Texas Training Camp Live show with Drew Dougherty and Deepi Sidhu, one of them asked what the team could learn, or gain, in doing more scrimmage-like activities and situational work. The first thing that popped into my head was that a scrimmage would allow the players to simulate all aspects of the game, minus taking a ball carrier to the ground. Then, I thought about one thing that I always see in preseason games around the league in the second half of games, mainly, when rookies are on the field. In college, a ball carrier is down when he goes to the ground. A slip. A trip. A fall out in the open. Down on the spot. So, rookies have the hardest time adjusting to that one rule in particular. So, I mentioned that during our live show that this scrimmage work was helpful for that reason. As expected, Exhibit A happened and it wasn't even rookies on the defense, if I remember properly. Tight end Jordan Akins laid out for a catch on a deep throw from Deshaun Watson and as he made the catch, he hit the ground nearly immediately. The three defenders in the area froze for a split second, forgetting that he wasn't down yet. Akins quickly scrambled to his feet and scored. I immediately heard the players on the sideline screaming "NEVER TOUCHED HIM DOWN...NEVER TOUCHED HIM DOWN!!!" They were right and the offense scored a touchdown as a result of Akins hustle and awareness.
Alright, that's going to do it for an intriguing Thursday workout. We'll be back with more Harris Hits tomorrow. See ya then, everyone!