Melts and I got into town last night, then showed up to the Greenbrier at 6:00 am local time this morning to get ourselves situated. A red-headed 18ish-year-old named Ethan was responsible for setting up the equipment, so Mike watched and assisted him while I re-watched some of the Texans pre-season game. There was a hairy moment when one of the pieces of equipment was discovered to be damaged. I wasn’t in the AV club like Mike and Ethan, so I offered to go find a tool they needed at Wal-Mart. I was in my car and on the way there when Mike texted that Ethan had fixed the problem with a ball point pen. He’s a modern day MacGyver, this Ethan, unlike the actual modern day MacGyver, who is a disgrace. If we need to perform an emergency tracheotomy in West Virginia, Ethan’s my guy (I think that’s actually a M.A.S.H. episode, but suffice it to say that Ethan is a better man than me).
We pounded out a two-hour show before the guys from Texans Radio took over, then I hopped on over to the area between the two practice fields to provide commentary on the now famous defensive line four-square game. Space doesn’t permit me to explain the rules of four-square, which is perfect because don’t have a clue how four-square works. I just know that there are four squares, a red rubber ball, and a rotating group of defensive linemen and coaches who compete to keep the ball out of their individual square.
Like many a television analyst, ignorance didn’t prevent me from providing color commentary with Deepi Sidhu while HoustonTexans.com streamed the game. Here are my general impressions from this morning’s four square:
1. J.J. Watt’s hair is in 2011 form. High and tight, no attempt at artistry, completely without pretense. Back to basics for J.J. This has got to be a good sign, right? If he weren’t J.J. Watt, I’d think he was just some farm kid from Wisconsin with an outside shot of making the team–until I saw the artistry of his four square game. Magnificent.
2. Former defensive lineman and current D-line coach Anthony Weaver has slimmed down, and it has benefited his four-square game.
3. Rookies Rickey Hatley and Matthew Godin have numbers in the 60’s. That’s a tough look to shake for a d-lineman if you look anything at all like an offensive lineman. Evaluators can’t help but imagine you plodding along like an oafish offensive lineman, even if you’re kinda fast. Jared Allen got away with it, but he was really good and he was wearing #69 as an adolescent joke. A joke which WILL NEVER STOP BEING FUNNY.
4. This seems like the kind of game that is intended to be strictly for fun, but some over zealous scout can’t help but use to draw a conclusion. Those old school baseball scouts from Moneyball would definitely do that. “I don’t know about this kid. He was no good in clutch four-square moments, and he’s got a weak chin.”
5. Mike Vrabel and J.J. Watt were the loudest smack talkers.
6. Brandon Dunn became frustrated at one point and comically Lechlered a red rubber ball damn near fifty yards. I heard one of the defensive linemen say, “He Dunn him wrong.” I chuckled. Must have been the delivery.
7. Off to the side, tight end, Evan Bayless was warming up on his own and I hadn’t noticed this before, but he’s got both arms full of tattoos. If he makes the team, he could take over John Simon’s role as ‘Impressively Tatted White Dude.’ If he doesn’t make the team that title falls to C.J. Fiedorowicz who I would typically just call a ‘Decently Tatted White Dude.’
8. Clowney wasn’t playing, but of course, he’s an outside linebacker, except for when he’s a defensive end, which is only when he isn’t playing nose tackle or inside linebacker.
9. When the horn blew to start practice, Rickey Hadley was in the King’s Square (not sure if that’s supposed to be capitalized, but I don’t want to anger the King), which meant that he was the winner. It also meant….
Practice begins. It was a drizzly day, and the players weren’t in pads, so there weren’t a whole lotta fireworks. There was some good work, though, as well a couple new receivers working their way into the rotation. Here’s a rundown of the things I noticed today.
1. I can’t tell you how excited I get when I watch Watson run the bootleg. Not only is he capable of pulling the ball down and running for easy yardage when it’s there, but it sets up the zone running scheme perfectly. Regardless of what Watson does in the passing game, I can predict with confidence that he will make Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foremen better runners by complementing them with the boot game.
2. Drizzly days don’t do wonders for crispness in the passing game, with a plethora of well thrown balls careening off of fancy gloves. I felt Deshaun Watson was the biggest victim here. He was actually placing the ball very well to running backs today, but the running backs seemed dead set against catching the ball.
3. For a short while this morning, I thought that receiver Deandrew White had made a sudden recovery from his injury and was having an active day catching the ball. Then I was told that it was actually new signee Bruce Ellington, who had taken White’s number 12. Ellington has been with three teams in the past couple weeks, but he was moving very quickly and fluidly, and seemed to have a surprisingly good grasp of the offense for somebody who has only been with the Texans since Friday.
4. People have noted that RB Tyler Ervin took a bunch of snaps in the preseason game aligned as a receiver and none in the backfield. While I would urge caution into reading too much into a pre-season game, I would say that he certainly seems athletic enough to pull off the dual role.
5. As great as it was to see cancer survivor David Quessenberry participate in OTA’s, it’s doubly great to see him in person for training camp. He’s capable of playing both center and guard, and the competition for a roster spot on the interior line is fierce right now. It’s ironic, given that the guard position has been a point of contention in recent years. Despite the question marks surrounding the quality of the starters, the position group as a whole is deep with at least backup calibre level players.
6. One underrated positive for Watson: At times I completely forget that playing under center was foreign to him until several months ago. He looks completely comfortable in the mechanical aspects of taking a snap, handing the ball off, executing play action, etc.
7. Watson took snaps with the first team during team period. I’m trying not to read too much into it, since Strong was the only starting receiver on the field today. The offensive line, tight ends, and backs were starters, though, and getting some work with the 1’s is part of the natural progression of a first round pick, regardless of what it may or may not mean for his status in week 1.
8. I watched rookie OT Julie’n Davenport a good amount today. I think he’s gaining a grasp of the mental side of the position. He did a nice job sorting out twists and stunts, albeit in no-pads, but still a nice job. He needs to fill out his frame a bit, but there’s a whole lot of frame to fill.
9. Anthony Weaver keeps it loose as a defensive line coach, while still getting a whole lot done. I’ve been extremely impressed with how well the young d-lineman have progressed in using their hands, and that’s usually a sign of good coaching. Anthony’s laid back demeanor is in stark contrast to 100% of defensive line coaches I’ve had. Special teams coaches get all the publicity for being whacky, but d-line coaches are out there too, man. I think it’s because they have to deal with the most chemically imbalanced position group on the team. We’re a volatile bunch on average, but quite loveable in our own special way.
10. The Texans have a diverse group of skill sets in the running back group, but D’Onta Foreman is the one most likely to make you say, “Yep, that dude looks like a running back.” Despite his positive performance the other night, I think you’ve yet to see him really unleash his power and athleticism. It shows up in practice, and now he just needs to get comfortable in the game setting.
11. Savage threw at least two beautiful deep balls today, connecting with Stephen Anderson and Wendall Williams in the endzone.
12. I’ve been impressed with outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett’s play making ability, but he’s had a tendency to lose his contain responsibilities on both the run and the pass. He did it again with Watson today on a pass play. One of the coaches reminded him of just how important it is to keep a guy like that contained. Watson ended up throwing the ball away, but the DB’s had to cover an extra three seconds because Scarlett blew contain. I like his aggression, but if he wants to earn serious play time, he’s going to have to clean this up.
13. I met a dude wearing Clemson gear who was taking a bunch of pictures. He wasn’t a blogger or anything–just an amped up local Clemson fans who knows that the Texans have stockpiled two decades worth of Clemson alumni. I lose track of how many Clemson players are on the squad, but I believe that the signing of Germone Hopper put the number at 6. Please don’t bother correcting me on that, because I’m sure they’ll add two more by the time this posts. I didn’t see enough of Hopper to comment, but he was out there working.
14. I noticed at least a few times that Watson and his receivers on the second team weren’t on the same page. Whether it was a ball that landed nowhere in the vicinity of a receiver, or a couple well thrown passes on out routes when the receiver couldn’t locate the ball, it’s easy to see how a quarterback can only grow so much while working with backups. He got some work in with the first team today, and the entire operation seemed smoother for him when he was working with the starters.
15. Dres Anderson continues to show up. He caught a ball over the middle and turned the jets on quick to streak for a chunk of extra yardage.
16. You can tell Watson has been watching a lot of Brady film when you see him standing completely motionless in the pocket, legs deader than my soul. It’s almost eery looking, like something has gone wrong, but we’ve seen Brady do it for years and he’s kinda good.
17. Robert Nelson looked fine to me. I don’t know what the hell happened to him in that pre-season game. Maybe he tweaked something and didn’t want to come out. Man, I hope so.
18. Jerry West was at practice. He was dressed in basketball warmups instead of the logo short shorts, but I fought through the disappointment.
19. The governor of West Virginia flew in in a helicopter. I thought it was wicked cool, but everybody around here acts like it’s no big deal to see a helicopter. They all act like they’re personal friends with the man in the yellow hat and they can see helicopters whenever they want. Screw ‘em.