by: Matt Hammond (@MattHammondShow)
Here’s what jumped out to me on Day 2 of Houston Texans OTAs:
Chill. First things first: these are OTAs. Not playoff games, regular season games, preseason games – even padded practices at training camp. So ifever you were going to caveat the stuff you see on the field, you’d do it for OTAs. Especially for only one day. So yeah. Breathe.
Robert Nelson. One of the ways I’ve always covered Texans workouts – training camp, OTAs, whatever – I don’t get print outs of the roster. Or talk to any other media or PR staffers to figure out who’s who. At least not at first. To start, I just sit back, watch, and see who pops, without any preconceived notions or confirmation bias. The first “pop guy” of 2017 is, for me, Nelson, an undrafted free agent in 2014 who signed with the Texans practice squad in 2015 and replaced Charles James on the 53 man roster last season. The way I would describe his performance today: remember that game he had last season against the Indianapolis Colts? Imagine that, but without any of the penalties, bad beats and other lapses. Working against DeAndre Hopkins with the first-team defense, and donning departed free agent AJ Bouye’s No. 21, Nelson looked the part. He’s got length, agility, instincts and hands, and was able to put it all together for a couple of nice pass breakups. The biggest knock I’ve heard on Nelson (#journalish) is that he can at times get lost inside his own head, beat himself up for mistakes and have too long of a memory. But you didn’t see any of that on the field today. I’m not saying “he’s making a first-team All-Pro,” but I’m also not saying “he’s not making a first-team All-Pro.” (Kidding, obviously. Actually, I don’t know if it’s obvious, because, Twitter. So let me make it clear, I’m kidding). In the end, there’s a real chance this guy provides some help in the back end, gives the Texans defense a chance to be great, and makes Rick Smith look brilliant for letting Bouye walk.
Brandon Weeden. Since people in 2017 seem to be allergic to opinions, especially in sports, let me reiterate what I said at the top of this post: it’s May. These are OTAs. This observation came from one OTA. Not even OTAs, plural. OTA, singular. So, caveats apply. That being said, the best QB on the Texans roster, today, isn’t Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson, it’s Weeden. He threw the best ball, with the most arm strength, the most ball placement and had the best touch of any of the quarterbacks on the field today. Even with the nuances and subtleties of the position, Weeden looked comfortable and confident. Though Savage has been branded as “guy who’s got the most time in the system,” it’s worth noting that Weeden, who was picked up off waivers in 2015, only has one fewer year in the system than Savage. And when you consider how much time Savage has been on the shelf with injuries, Weeden’s probably actually been able to work in this offense longer. Now, before you start to freak out, it should be noted, Savage and Watson didn’t look bad, per se. Weeden just looked good. That’s good news. Because while there’s zero chance the Texans allow him to win the starting QB job, however good he looks, there’s a real chance that Savage suffers another injury and/or Watson simply isn’t ready. In that case, the Texans are going to need a QB who doesn’t stop the defense from carrying this team to a deep playoff run and, maybe, a Super Bowl. Weeden absolutely looks like he could be that guy.
Deshaun Watson. For all the talk about how Watson isn’t pro-ready, and came from a jenky college offense, Watson looked pretty sharp today. He made quick decisions, with confidence, and hit his spots on most of his throws. He did throw an interception, and had a few bad misses, but so did Savage, who’s only ever played in pro-style systems and was given the Texans starting QB job moments after Watson was drafted. This is literally the first time Watson has competed against NFL players on an NFL practice field. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, per the Texans media policy, in terms of specific play calls and formations, but let me put it this way – it seems like the coaching staff is doing everything they can to get him cozy with pro concepts, and are even changing some of what they do to fit what he’s most comfortable with already. In the end, as a back and forth with a Twitter follower made me think of today, whatever we and the staff see from Watson in practice, it’s probably not going to be as good as what he does in games. That is, after all, the main selling point on Watson. His performance when it matters. It’s what he did in his 38 starts at Clemson, two straight National Championship games against Nick Saban and Alabama, and that masterful game-winning drive and TD pass to Hunter Renfrow in the latest one. So even if Watson looks awful in for the rest of the offseason, until he’s consistently bad on the field, in meaningful games, with the first-team offense, he’s given us no reason to think he won’t be the player he was the last few years for the Tigers: a future franchise QB.
Tom Savage. Savage just seemed off today. He missed on a number of throws, and saw his deep ball die multiple times on a day where there wasn’t much wind. For a guy who at times looked like best QB in camp the last two seasons, he simply wasn’t that guy today. That’s fine. Everybody has off days. Even LeBron, apparently. But considering the dynamic – the Texans just drafted his presumed replacement in the first round, and gave up another first round pick to do it – it’ll be interesting to see how Savage handles the QB competition. You’d think this is something he’s used to at this point, having to transfer from Rutgers after losing his job to injury, then getting to start only one year at Pitt due to injuries, then losing chances at the starting job in each of his last three seasons with the Texans due to injuries. But that could also make it harder. Only once in my career have I ever said that an athlete choked: Brian Hoyer, who gagged in both the 2015 regular season opener and AFC Wild Card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Why? To me, because for Hoyer, that was his last real chance at an NFL starting QB job. He was never going to get it with the New England Patriots or Arizona Cardinals – or even with the Cleveland Browns. But with the Texans, and Bill O’Brien? Maybe. Looking back, it stands to reason that he pressed. Tried too hard. Wanted it too bad. And, ultimately, folded. I’m not saying that’s happening with Savage, who it’s worth noting dipped not one but two questions today about Watson: first, about how he’s handling helping him learn the offense, second, what he thought of his performance. But if he keeps looking like this, and unlike the guy we’ve seen for three years prior, I probably will.
JJ Watt. Not much to report here, which is great news. For a guy coming off of multiple back surgeries, and a lost season a year ago, “same old JJ” is the best kind of JJ. Again, it’s hard to evaluate line play on either side of the ball when no one’s wearing pads, but from the looks of it, JJ looked like JJ. Maybe the only analysis I can offer you is, He wore red gloves today, and red cleats. They were awful. Not because they didn’t fit the team’s color scheme – they did. Because, I don’t know. I apparently have an irrational hatred for red gloves and cleats. Sue me. But other than that, all good.
DeAndre Hopkins. Most notably, he was there today. Odell Beckham Jr. was not for the first day of OTAs for the New York Giants (we’re not sure why, and to be honest, I’m not even sure Beckham knows why, which is yet another reminder of the perks of being the team paying Hopkins), nor was Aaron Donald for the Los Angeles Rams (he’s seeking a new contract). For a guy who’s earned, and is likely getting, a new deal this summer, and held out for the first day of training camp last season to make sure the front office knew exactly how he felt about the subject, the fact that Hopkins showed up today is telling about the state of the negotiations.
Duane Brown. Speaking of contracts and attendance at OTAs: Brown didn’t show up today. Nor does he have to. These workouts, remember, are “voluntary.” Even if they’re the brand of “voluntary” that requires quotations, it’s worth noting, he’s not contractually obligated to be there. Given his age (31), wear (he’s entering his 10th season) and injury history (he suffered a season-ending quad injury in 2015), no-showing today doesn’t make him selfish, it makes him smart. All you need to know about the cost-benefit of this type of decision: Teddy Bridgewater went from “franchise QB” to “career in jeopardy” in one snap. In training camp. On a non-contact injury. When he was dropping back. If that doesn’t put things into perspective for you, nothing will. Any player can get hurt at any time, with potentially devastating results. (Not to mention, Derek Newton, who’s coming off of two torn patella tendons, itself a career-threatening injury, and reportedly had to agree to a restructuring of his contract, halving its overall value). Brown is under team control for two more years, at $9.65M and $9.75M, none of it guaranteed. So yeah, he’s doing the right thing, whether or not you like him, the practice, or even Brown’s anthem demonstration last season, which was arguably done as tactfully and thoughtfully as any of the anthem demonstrations we saw.
Will Fuller. First, no drops today from Fuller, who was drafted in the first round a year ago and may have been an honorable mention in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race of not for a bad case of the dropsies. He caught a few deep balls, and some others over the middle, and didn’t put any on the turf. Even better, he didn’t double clutch any passes the way that he often did last season, even on the ones he was able to pull in. I haven’t talked to Fuller, and so can’t tell you that he’s worked on it, but I’ll say this – it looks like he’s worked on it. Which is good news. Because if he can eliminate, or at least limit, his drops, you’re looking at DeSean Jackson, but taller (Fuller is 6’0, Jackson is only 5’10) and less of a knucklehead. That Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins – that would be fun.
Bill O’Brien. With George Godsey out as offensive coordinator, this was our first look at O’Brien taking over the offense. It’s been reported that O’Brien called plays in 2014, before ceding control to Godsey in 2015 and 2016. But however much control he had in the past, he also had an obligation: bringing along Godsey. Considering the way that Godsey progressed – to put it this way, after he was fired last season, the best looks Godsey got for another NFL job was as a quality control coach for the Detroit Lions… defense – it stands to reason that O’Brien was, in a lot of ways, held back by Godsey. He’s not anymore. Though you can’t see much of that on the field – #OTAProblems – it is a storyline that was evident today, and absolutely worth watching this offseason.
Bill O’Brien. Another Bill O’Brien observation from today: he had, as he’s always had since being hired as head coach in 2014, a towel wrapped around his neck, presumably to wipe away sweat. In other words, a fat towel. I’m not sure why I thought of this today, but isn’t O’Brien too skinny for a fat towel? Because I really feel like O’Brien is too skinny for a fat towel. Granted, part of the benefit of the towel may be protection from the sun, and considering the fact that my face looks like a lobster after being out there today, I’d be better served following suit and not making lame jokes on Twitter. But I feel like he’s about 10 BMI points away from needing a fat towel. So… yeah. That was rattling around in my head today.
Health. O’Brien was asked today about the state of the team, in terms of health. Not only were they relatively healthy, he said, but we didn’t see any injuries on the field today. That’s huge. Changes to the collective bargaining agreement have made all practice time – OTAs, training camp, even minicamps – infinitely more important. That makes guys being on the field, and staying on the field, infinitely more encouraging.
Matt hosts “Hear Me Out,” Saturdays from 1-4 pm on SportsRadio 610, and “The Matt Hammond Show,” weekdays at 11 am on Facebook Live, Twitter and Periscope. You can, and totally should, follow him on Twitter.com.