“Today, I don’t know if I was surprised by it, but it felt like the first time you got to put the pads on as a rookie in the NFL.” Defensive End J.J. Watt
The Houston Texans debuted their first padded practice to the media on Friday at the Houston Methodist Training Center. After an offseason cut short by COVID-19 and a completely different re-entry into training camp complete with masks, social distancing and daily testing, football is finally back.
"You put the pads on and things are different," Watt said. "It's football. It's real football. All of that stuff kind of melted away for a couple of hours out there."
-Head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien addressed the media via Zoom before Friday's indoor practice. Before taking questions, O'Brien prefaced his press conference by discussing the the team's "ramp-up" approach to camp.
"We didn't have the offseason program, so when everybody came back, we did a lot of sports performance testing," O'Brien said. "We did a lot of different things that gave us metrics relative to where each player was at. So, every player, from the 12-year veteran to the rookie is on a little bit of a different plan."
-What does this mean? It means players might not be a full-go in all drills, but that's part of a plan, not necessarily due to injury.
-David Johnson made his Texans debut in camp and impressed with his size and speed.
"Yeah, he's got good vision," O'Brien said. "He's got good feet in the hole, especially for a guy his size, a big guy. He can run the ball downhill. He can run it to the edge and he's really good in the passing game."
-In their first padded practices, rookies are working their way up to NFL speed after not having any on-field work in the offseason.
"(Ross) Blacklock looks like he's picking it up," O'Brien said. "(Jonathan) Greenard had a couple of good plays today. John Reid's a smart guy. But some of them – the speed of the game, it's how fast it moves, plus all of the assignments you have to know, how important special teams is. Some of them are working hard, but they're a little bit behind."
-Deshaun Watson was leading the offense at practice. Even without his core receivers, he orchestrated a touchdown drive with surgical accuracy late in practice.
'I think Deshaun is really focused," O'Brien said. "He's locked in at practice and as long as he keeps doing that, he will definitely take the next step and then the next step and like he always has, be a great player for our team."
-When asked what his favorite play was these days, Watson rattled off a few.
"Go routes to 15 (Will Fuller V), go routes to 12 (Kenny Stills), go routes to 13 (Brandin Cooks), crossing routes to 18 (Randall Cobb), 16 (Keke Coutee), the boys, the Johnson boys (Duke Johnson and David Johnson) coming out of the backfield and spreading the ball around," Watson said. "Being able to find the open man and take my game to another level and just spread the wealth."
-Over the years, J.J. Watt has worked on being able to teach younger players.
"It's something that I've had to physically work on to make sure that I can articulate the things that I want to say in the best way possible," Watt said "Because there are some things that on the field that I can do that some other guy that has a different skillset that he has to do a different way or there's something another guy can do that I can't do."
-This offseason, Watt said his wife learned the piano and he decided to delve into learning about finances and managing money. He also became a lawn aficionado.
"I cut the grass a lot when I was back in Wisconsin," Watt said. "I did become a very big fan. I have a lot of land back there, like 38 acres. I cut the grass and I would line the field, so I have a lot of respect for groundskeepers."
-O'Brien discussed the nuances of playcalling for both offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver. In camp, O'Brien calls out a situation and both coordinators call their substitutions and their plays. That will change with games, when both Kelly and Weaver will be calling plays from the sideline. All three will be on the sidelines for games, according to O'Brien.
"We will definitely have a couple of scrimmages where we'll work game-type operations," O'Brien said. "We'll have coaches up in the booth. Those guys will be on the sideline. Both guys will be on the sideline. I think it's important. They both have a really good presence and it's important for their players."