Sat, 18 Sep 2021

Three Days In | Harris' Hits

Houston Texans
02 Aug 2021, 04:02 GMT+10

John Harris

Day three on the field at the Houston Methodist Training Center is in the books and the grind has certainly set in. The play on the field showed a little bit of that in the 90+ degree heat out on the practice field, but there was plenty of great stuff to observe too. So, LET'S GO...my Harris Hits, Volume 3 for Training Camp 2021.

Best on best is THE best show in town, so when receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive back Bradley Roby slide to the front of the line for one-on-ones, they have my full, rapt attention. They matched up on the first rep of one-on-ones and it was as competitive as expected. Roby was able to get a hand on the ball as he and Cooks tussled for position in order to catch the rock.

I mentioned defensive back Keion Crossen yesterday and noted his rep against receiver Keke Coutee at the end of the one-on-one drill. Two plays after Cooks v. Roby noted above, Crossen lined up against receiver Chris Conley and the veteran receiver caught a deep ball for a touchdown. I knew Keion would want to face Conley again later in the drill and, unsurprisingly, the very next time Conley stepped up to the line of scrimmage, Crossen was there. This time, Crossen got in Conley's hip pocket and helped force a difficult throw into an incompletion.

Conley, though...wow, he's really impressive in so many ways. We loved talking with him on radio a few days ago as he's fantastically funny, open and honest. On the field, he's all business and he's got a completely different gear, speed-wise. I mean, he can just get up and go when he opens it up down the field. I'm really intrigued to see what he can do this year 100% healthy.

Recently acquired receiver Anthony Miller continues to impress with his ability to get in and out of cuts, but also the way that he attacks the ball in the air. He will attack the ball with his hands, snatching the ball out of the air, regardless of the drill. I was writing furiously during one-on-ones so I have written down "17, completion, GREAT route." Funny thing was as I scanned the rest of that particular page of notes, I had nearly the exact same thing written down again a little later.

The catch of the day, though, belonged to receiver Chris Moore. He was matched up with defensive back Terrence Mitchell during one-on-ones. The two were tangled up a bit on the sideline as the quarterback launched the ball down the near sideline. As the ball descended on the pair, Moore reached out with his outside (left) arm and reeled in a one-handed catch that drew plenty of 'ooohs' and 'ahhs'from the assembled players, coaches and staff. The more that I think about it, I may have understated this catch when I started this observation - it was THE Catch of Training Camp through the first three days.

Receiver Keke Coutee has remained an issue for Texans defensive backs throughout the first three days. He ran a beautiful route to get open down the field for a stretched out catch on the far sideline during one-on-ones and that wasn't the only time he got free to make a big play during the workout. I'm not sure I've really seen him contained consistently throughout competitive situations during these three days.

Same goes for Alex Erickson. I wrote in my notes "he's just straight catching everything".

It's been great to see tight end Kahale Warring healthy through the start of training camp and he's made a few impressive catches thus far. He's also flashing the speed and athleticism that intrigued the Texans (and many other teams) prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. He made a catch on a crossing route, speeding across the field that was just a bit over his head. However, he never missed a beat, snatching the slightly high throw for a completion as he beat the defensive back. A little flash here, a little flash there and there's hope that all those flashes turn into significant production for this 2021 Texans offense.

The first play of a drill. It can be a tone setter, especially when it's 11-on-11. The first two days, defensive back Justin Reid made a significant play to start drills and the result of those drills leaned the way of the defense. As such, when the units aligned on the field for the first play of 11-on-11 today, I had my eyes on Reid. This first play was a simple inside run, but Reid, doing his job, filling the alley, punched the ball out for the first team takeaway of the day.

That was a theme for the defense today and it will be for a while - the takeaways. The loudest it has been throughout practice on all three days has been when the defense found a way to take the ball away. Reid's forced fumble and recovery was just the start on Friday. There will be more, just hang on.

Right after that fumble, quarterback Tyrod Taylor found receiver Brandin Cooks to settle the offense right back down. Pitch and catch to get it started.

I made a pitcher analogy yesterday when talking about receivers getting open. Today, I'll use a baseball analogy as it pertains to quarterbacks. We've seen this with Matt Stafford, Kyler Murray and many others that have some baseball in their background - the arm slot change. Patrick Mahomes is the king of this; there are times when Mahomes et al. will change his traditional over-the-top release, dropping his arm slot to flip one sidearm to avoid the pass rush or blitzer. I'm pretty sure that I saw Tyrod Taylor do that during that team drill to find tight end Jordan Akins for a completion on what amounted to a third down play. Quarterbacks don't get to sit back and deliver the same way every play and Taylor found a way to get it done a non-traditional way by dropping that arm slot.

Remember that takeaway from Justin Reid earlier and I mentioned there were more? Well, about five or six plays after Reid's punch out, linebacker Christian Kirksey slid under a receiver in coverage for a pick. Just a wonderful play.

Then, I looked to the other side of the field, and as I did, I heard the defense cheering and yelling. So, as I scanned to see where the ball was, rookie defensive lineman Roy Lopez Jr. was sprinting in the opposite direction with the pigskin under his arm. He was moving too. Oh, stick around for a Lopez Jr. nugget later in these observations.

One of my favorite offensive plays on the day was a Taylor to Chris Conley completion in the deep intermediate middle portion of the field. From snap to finish, it was pristine execution that took advantage of the coverage for a big first down. Loved it.

A few plays later, the defense came up with the perfect counter, locking up every receiver down the field. Eventually, when Taylor delivered the ball, defensive back Eric Murray came up with the pass break up. Through the first three days, Murray has made a number of different plays that have gotten my attention. I hope he can really continue this pace of play because he certainly has assets that can be utilized in this defensive backfield in 2021.

I'm always curious what an offense does to calm things down. When things start teetering on going in the wrong direction or when it coughs up the football, how can that unit get things back on track? Brandin Cooks typically comes to the rescue, but if it's not him, tight end Jordan Akins seems to be the guy earning the trust of his quarterbacks. There have been moments over the past four years when Akins has been that guy for this offense, but not 100% of the time. My unscientific theory through three days is that Akins is turning into that guy, the one that'll make the catch that settles things down for this offense.

I mentioned the takeaways a few times in these Harris Hits/Observations. Obviously, the defense doesn't always get a forced fumble or interception on every play, but the defense is coached to punch, hit and/or swipe every time the ball is near them. Its become an even stronger emphasis after such a rough year creating those takeaways in 2020. The unintended consequence, in a positive sense, is that the repeated action can result in pass breakups as it did for defensive back Jonathan Owens. I don't recall the receiver, but on one play during seven-on-seven, it appeared that a pass was going to be caught somewhere near Owens, but he punched at the ball just as the receiver was trying to tuck it away. As such, the ball squirted out for an incompletion. Sure, a turnover is better, no doubt, but if that's third down, a pass breakup is as good as a turnover in that situation. Owens made one heck of a play there just doing what he was supposed to on every play.

As the team moved into one of its team periods, the offense took a deep shot early in the script. Second play of the drill, I think. Anyhow, quarterback Tyrod Taylor looked up Brandin Cooks deep down the field. However, defensive back Justin Reid was never fooled and stayed on top of the route all the way. However, near the goal line, he and Cooks collided, but Reid steadied himself for seemingly another Reid takeaway. At the last second, fellow defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III jumped at the ball as well because he didn't take the bait earlier either and stayed deep on the coverage. Reid and Hargreaves III didn't see each other and bumped each other such that neither one could reel in the interception. Regardless,what stood out to me on that play was that both of them were back there to defend it. I couldn't help but think back to last year and the number of big passing plays this defense gave up when no one was in position to defend it. Today, there were two. Good sign.

Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu continued his strong camp performance with a bat down of a pass in team periods. I couldn't see too much through the throng of people in front of me for pass rush one-on-ones, but what I could see from afar was 94 flashing upfield, in between blockers, around this guy, through that guy. He seemed to be everywhere. As such, it looked like Charles was having similar success to yesterday, but I'll wait to REALLY gush about his performance until the pads go on.

Defensive lineman Jacob Martin had a bat down in the team period as well. I did think he might be able to pick it off, but it got to him pretty quickly. Regardless, it was a great sign to see Jacob making plays this early in camp.

Marc Vandermeer and I have talked about this plenty, but the entire linebacker crew is different from 2020 with one exception (Zach Cunningham). As such, I'm trying to get my eyes on those guys a bit more, especially in coverage. I mentioned Christian Kirksey's interception earlier in a team period, but that might have been the second bestcoverage play a linebacker made on Friday. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills eyed tight end Kahale Warring on an option route against zone coverage. Both offensive players seemed to read that play correctly but as Mills fired to Warring, out of nowhere, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill dove in front and knocked the pass away. Just a tremendous effort from Grugier-Hill.

The last play of training camp practice number three isn't going down in the annals of Texans History, but it stood out to me because of a rookie. Each of the five drafted rookies have done some really nice things in this camp. Receiver Nico Collins certainly looks the part and quarterback Davis Mills is taking strides every day. Linebacker Garret Wallow had a pass breakup to end a drill on day two, while tight end Brevin Jordan flashed at times over the first three days. The only lineman of the rookie class on either side of the ball is Roy Lopez Jr. I did note his fumble recovery earlier, but because the trench warriors haven't put on pads thus far, I haven't spent as much time watching as closely as I will next week. Regardless, on that last play of practice, Lopez Jr. was lined up at an interior tackle spot and the offense had a pass called. The rookie darted inside and then immediately crossed over the guard to get completely clean in the face of the quarterback. I saw it happen live and trust me when I say it happened VERY quickly. Thanks to the video boards at the north end of the practice field that replayed each and every play, I was able to see it even clearer on the replay. I hit Marc on the arm and said "hey, watch your guy, Big Roy." Remember, Marc picked Lopez in his VanderMock back in May, so I thought he'd appreciate the effort. Suffice to say, he turned to me and if his face was an emoji, it would have been the eyes watching emoji. It's a "last play of the practice" that I'll certainly remember and here's hoping there's more from the Arizona/New Mexico State product in due time.

That's going to be it for the day, but Saturday is a new day - see you then, everyone!

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