Vandermeer’s View: OTAs are where much of the magic happens

I could start this off by saying this time of year is critical for an NFL team. But it seems like every day of the year is critical for an NFL team. That’s why we love this sport. There’s always something of great importance going on.

OTAs probably don’t get their due as being as, if not more, important than any other time of the year leading into the opener. This is where so much of the work gets done to bring a team together on the field and off.

Bill O’Brien talks about getting everyone working together on the field for the first time. He talks about getting the rookies up to speed as much as possible. He’s always called this more of a ‘passing camp’ than anything because of the lack of contact. But there’s plenty of teaching going on in all phases.

This is the first time since 2016 that the team has its franchise starter at quarterback taking first team reps in OTAs. Last year, Deshaun Watson was a bit limited as he returned from the knee injury. Two years ago, as a rookie, he was the third-team QB in OTAs.

I’ll bet you lunch that O’Brien has used that last sentence in front of the rookies. What better way to show the young men that this is a process and they’ll have to earn their playing time. They even have to earn a locker. It’s an O’Brien tradition to have the rookies use temporary, movable lockers until they officially earn a spot. Yes, even Watson had one.

Practice is high energy and loud. And not because of piped-in music. It feels like every year there’s more verbal communication among the players and of course the coaches never stop, shall we say, assertively counseling.

The defense is supposed to be ahead of the offense at this time of year, so to have Watson out there, full-time is a huge plus. When he looks across the line of scrimmage he’s seeing a lot of new faces in the secondary including free agent safeties Tashaun Gipson and Jahleel Addae. New corners have been mixed in too. It’s fun to watch them operate.

The receivers have a lot of interesting prospects in an already diverse group. We all know health took a toll last year, so it’s necessary to find viable options. We’ve talked a lot about the tight ends on Texans All Access (weeknights 6-7 p.m. on Sports Radio 610) and Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins catching the rock as vets going into Year 2 is a welcome sight. Rookie Kahale Warring will be interesting to watch get in the flow. And veteran Darren Fells can certainly help in the blocking department but can also be used as a receiver.

Everyone wants to know about the offensive line. I get it. But there’s no real contact here. O’Brien talked about finding out “the way they learn.” He’s trying different combinations. One thing is clear, Brian Gaine’s description of wanting to get the players bigger, longer and stronger is evident when you look at the line. They’re athletic and huge. We’ll have to wait until training camp for the one-on-ones and the serious run blocking to get cranked up.

The seeds planted during the next four weeks are crucial in building the 2019 Texans. They need to start camp with a healthy dose of momentum, teamwork and proficiency they develop now so they can navigate through the preseason on their way to one of the toughest schedules they’ve ever had.

Check out some of the best shots from Week 1 of Texans OTAs.

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