2020 Training Camp Harris Hits:
The clock is ticking closer to September 10th yet there's still plenty of work to do for the opener at the World Champions' house in Kansas City. The Texans had one of their longer practices of training camp, but with a little cloud cover it made for satisfactory viewing, to say the least. Here are my Harris Hits from Day #8 of training camp.
One of the Texans who seems to be making progress by the day is defensive back Lonnie Johnson. He appears to be ultra-comfortable with everything thrown his way. Thanks to Instagram, we all know that he's been working his tail off this offseason and that work is more than evident on the field in training camp. He caught a tipped pass interception in the end zone on Sunday. Today, he had a pass breakup on a speed out inside the ten yard line. The difficulty level on that sort of play is higher than it appears. Furthermore, that's just not an easy route for a perimeter cornerback to cover and his explosion to/through the receiver to knock down the pass was very, VERY impressive. Love to see it.
Watching defensive lineman Charles Omenihu rush during 1-on-1 periods, the work he did with Demarcus Ware, former All-Pro pass rusher, is evident. He also appears to understand how to use his length to his advantage, both in his rush and getting hands up to impact passes. He had a pass break up in one of the situational drills late in practice.
Edge rusher Jacob Martin can put an offensive tackle in complete disarray with his tool box full of pass rush maneuvers. He has such excellent get off and if the tackle doesn't get off on the snap on time and Martin does, oh man, look...OUT. He can always rely on speed and when he does use his speed rush, he drops that inside shoulder so low to the ground that offensive linemen have no answer for him or his rush.
One of the many things that I geek out on at practice is the drill work that the team does, in particular, position specific drills. I often see a drill and wonder out loud "man, I will totally use that drill when I go back to coach." One thing, though, that I love is when coaches take an age old drill and add something simple to get more impact out of said drill. For example, defensive backs have worked on press, man turn, sprint to find the ball and intercept the ball at its highest point since they all could run. That drill is about as old as football itself. Yet, today when I watched the defensive backs work on that drill they added one small wrinkle that made the drill that much more effective. Just by adding another person down the field, the defensive back had to really focus on that turn and explode out to that person down field before looking back for the ball. Subtle, sure, but the more I watched, the more effective I realized that it was.
When the offensive line and defensive line/pass rushers did some 2-on-2 work, it was interesting to see different groups of rushers use different techniques rushing the passer, depending on who worked with one another in the drill. I could've watched them run that drill for an hour straight.
Going into the 2020 offseason, I was significantly worried that cornerback Bradley Roby would find a new home in the NFL. So, when it was announced that he was re-signing with the Texans, I was thrilled. Today's practice was a great reason why. During the 1-on-1 drills, he was matched up with receiver Kenny Stills and it was a tremendous matchup. In this matchup, Roby got the W as he broke up the throw on the sideline. A little later in practice during a situational drill, Roby ended the drill with an excellent pick in the middle of the field. He matched the route of his receiver and then sprinted in front to make the pick - that was a DUDE Play for sure.
One guy who probably gets more reps than any other is receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. On Sunday, he had something like 15 straight reps and most of them were routes down the field. Suffice to say, he was a bit gassed, yet when the offensive staff started calling for a receiver, Mitchell Jr. put his helmet right back on and was ready to go. On Monday, he was brilliant. He finished the practice with a touchdown in the back of the end zone on a laser shot from quarterback Alex McGough. Earlier in practice during one-on-ones, he showed how much he's improved over his three years here. He was in a 1-on-1 situation and ran a go route, but he threw in a couple of quick hesitation moves to slow the defensive back that was covering him. That allowed him to break free wide open and he, then, made a wonderful over the shoulder catch for the touchdown.
One difficult guy to cover in one-on-ones is slot receiver DeAndre Carter, yet safety Justin Reid was able to match him step for step in coverage during one-on-ones. I know Reid can run but staying with a cat-quick guy like Carter was highly impressive.
Carter has been steady as it comes during practice and creates space nearly every route that he runs. One of his out routes during one-on-ones was just so good (I don't remember who was covering him) and he came out of it as open as he was all camp.
On the first play of team/11-on-11 drills, linebacker Benardrick McKinney made a tremendous read on a zone play and would've had a definite tackle for a loss, if allowed, of course. He sees things evolve from his linebacker spot as well as anyone I've ever covered and is so decisive when he knows where the run is going, where it's supposed to go and where it could possibly go. The collision that would've resulted between him and David Johnson in a game would've been heard on the other side of Kirby Drive.
A few plays later, quarterback Deshaun Watson took to the air and threw a seed to tight end Jordan Thomas for a big gain and first down. When DW4 reaches back for the velocity, he has no trouble finding it. Thomas didn't have to do much, other than look it into his hands, and keep running for some yards after the catch.
Another defensive back who made an impressive pass breakup was rookie John Reid. He seemed to come out of nowhere to break up an AJ McCarron pass intended for the aforementioned DeAndre Carter.
One of my favorite aspects of practice is the situational work that the team does each and every day. In the first situation (+35 yard line, no timeouts, 2nd and four, nine seconds left, down by two), quarterback Deshaun Watson got the defense to jump in the neutral zone and, immediately, EVERYONE on the offense reacted appropriately. Watson drilled a throw to Randall Cobb for a first down and Cobb got out of bounds as well. So, they didn't need the flag, but they all knew exactly what to do once the flag was tossed. On the next play, kicker Kaimi Fairbairn knocked home the "game winning" field goal to end that drill.
One of Deshaun Watson's best throws came in a team/11-on-11 situation near the end of practice. Receiver Chad Hansen had worked himself into an open spot between about three or four different defenders. I know there wasn't much space at all, but Watson saw enough light, and he saw #17, so he ripped one into Hansen's chest for a first down.
Rookie defensive tackle Ross Blacklock made his presence known on the final play of the drill as he rushed and moved Watson out of the pocket before Watson had to throw the ball away.
Okay, that'll do it for a Monday afternoon practice. Marc Vandermeer and I will break down the rest of practice tonight from 6-7 on Texans All-Access. We'll be back tomorrow with more from Texans training camp. See ya then, everyone!