Today’s practice format was an unexpected gift for an overwhelmed observer. There was much less of a 3 ring circus atmosphere, as the teams trotted just one unit out at a time to compete against each other. There was a whole lot of full team work–1’s vs 1’s, 2’s vs 2’s, back and forth. The players seemed to enjoy it, too. They were able to watch their peers compete, as well as rest a bit more than usual. The skill players especially took joy in trash talking opponents as they rolled out of bounds. All good natured fun, of course, as it has been in these combined practices, which have not been marred by any serious scuffles. It was a fitting end to the Texans’ three weeks or practice in White Sulphur Springs. The weather helped. Sunny but breezy, with most of the hard work done before noon.
My thoughts and observations, in no particular order:
Random thought I need to get out of the way: Brandon Weeden throws a damn impressive football. Y’all laughed when Jerry Jones said it a couple years back, but the old man was right. Is there more to playing quarterback than throwing a pretty ball? Oh God, yes. But just let me enjoy watching Brandon Weeden passes for what they are—works of art rivaling Da Vinci’s early work, and let’s not worry about where they land.
We can’t reasonably predict that the Texans will have a stout offense. It is reasonable to predict that they will have a stout defense. What’s really important if you’d like a team like that to win football games? Turnovers! Bad news–there were some frustrating turnovers today. The super frustrating part was that they came after running backs had made some nice receptions. During the red zone period, D’Onta Foreman did some damage with a reception. Then Tyler Ervin caught a ball in the flat, but promptly had it poked out by a Pats defender. Whichever dude recovered it looked fast enough to take the clear path to the end zone in front of him.
Before it sounds like I’m down on Ervin, let me tell you how not down I am on Ervin. He caught a touchdown today off of a Watson scramble, and it’s just one of many plays he made versus the Pats. Does he have the grip strength of my farmer relatives? No, but those guys are grip strength freaks. My Uncle George is like 100 years old and he can still squeeze a pint of blood out of my right hand when I try to say hello.
In the very next series, D’Onta Foreman fumbled after a reception. This play was more bang-bang, but it was definitely a reception. I know you’re not supposed to call it a reception until the film is reviewed at the league office, then sent off to a military tribunal before being subjected to Presidential veto, but it was a reception.
Speaking of D’Onta, I have enjoyed watching him return kicks. He’s not nearly the speediest or the shiftiest of the potential returners, but he doesn’t dick around. He picks his route and he gets to gettin’. Since I spend most of my Sundays screaming for a Texans returner to do just that, I’d like to see him get a shot at the job.
In the two minute drill, Tom Savage placed the ball perfectly to Jalen Strong over a well positioned Malcolm Butler. It was a hell of a throw. If you had told me it was a Brady pass, I wouldn’t have argued. (Please feel free to misinterpret that statement and run with it)
Watson connected with Riley McCarron because that’s what these two were born to do, but Riley uncharacteristically lost the ball as he turned to run. This wasn’t like a Wes Welker drop, so save your comparison. This was a not-quite-enough-time-to-make-a-football-move drop. The Wes Welker drops were typically more of the damn-it-Brady-you’re-throwing-a-football-not-shooting-aliens-slow-the-eff-down variety.
Watson threw a long and high, arching pass to Justin Hardee in the corner of the end zone. It looked to be well placed, but Hardee couldn’t come down with it. My concerns about Watson’s arm strength and deep ball accuracy are rapidly dissipating, like the crowd around a singer at a coffee shop who starts in with the political rants.
Julien Davenport took some reps with the first team offense today. Sometimes it looked great, sometimes it looked passable, and sometimes it looked like Duane Brown needs a new contract. Davenport is way stronger than I thought he’d be, but he gets caught off balance like most rookies do. There’s still time for him to develop, but I’m skeptical that he’ll get there by Week 1. Definitely making the team, though. Much upside.
Watson also laced a beautiful, high pass to Ryan Griffin in the end zone that had to pass through a pretty tight window to get there. Watson was under duress when he threw it, but the pass had just the right combination of velocity and loft. I’m trying really hard skeptical asshole about this kid….but mercy.
Rookie defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu had two good pass rushes in a row during a team period. He’s put together well, simultaneously stocky and lean. The defensive line has emerged as a very competitive position, and I think at least two of the eventual roster cuts will go on to be signed by other teams. The one thing I noticed about the group as a whole is that almost every one of them, save Clowney, looks capable of playing nose tackle or end. (Yes, I know that Clowney lines up over the center at times. That’s not the same thing as playing nose tackle) This is interesting, because they haven’t looked like an old school 3-4 defense in alignments, etc., for quite some time, nor do I anticipate that they will this year. I do know that they like guys to be versatile, and every guy that they keep in this group will be very versatile.
I haven’t had the occasion to compliment defensive lineman draftee Carlos Watkins, so I’ll do it here. It’s hard to watch the interior defensive line from the sideline, and oftimes we only notice the guys who make splash plays. It’s not all about making splash plays at that position, of course, so sometimes guys like Carlos are overlooked. What I’ve noticed so far is that he seems to be part of some stout efforts against the run, and multiple times during these two practices Patriots running backs have been unable to make it past the line of scrimmage, despite the prohibition against tackling in these drills. Carlos et al are part of this. It has been a good couple days for the run defense.
Having said all that, the second team defense didn’t get a great pass rush overall. The downside to having dudes that look like old-school 3-4 defensive linemen is that those guys aren’t typically great pass rushers.
Brandin Cooks caught a TD in the endzone with Kevin Johnson defending. I thought Johnson had him covered pretty well, but he got Tom Brady-ed. I know that’s not an excuse….Aw hell, who are we kidding? It’s an excuse. The son of a bitch is unstoppable. I won’t cut these DB’s a break in the regular season, but there are times out there at practice where you just have to take in Brady’s greatness like a depression era Okie seeing an airplane for the very first time. Slack jawed and full of awe, but also really hungry because I forgot to pack a lunch.
The Patriots were pushing this Cooks agenda pretty hard today. Do you remember when the Patriots were pushing really hard for Brandon Lloyd to become their deep threat in 2012? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, because they abandoned the notion after a few games. The Cooks threat seems a bit more likely and a bit more real.
One of the best defensive plays of the day was when Whitney Mercilus had a clean pass rush for a virtual sack, but of course he had to run past Brady in this scrimmage environment. Play continued, but there was simply nobody open downfield. Eventually, Belichick just blew the play dead.
Corey Moore had a couple impressive pass break ups today, including a three-way collision between him, Marcus Roberson, and Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Moore likely would have had a pick, but he had to compete with Roberson. No fault of either guy, and a solid play for both of them.
On one play, Benardrick McKinney was charged with covering tight end James O’Shaughnessy. McKinney found O’Shaughnessy, he ran with O’Shaugnessy, he played incredibly tight coverage on O’Shaughnessy! He didn’t turn to look for the ball on O’Shaughnessy. Please, Benardrick, learn from this so I don’t have to type “O’Shaughnessy” again in week 3. It’s quite cumbersome.
Texans fans will not be happy to hear that the Patriots quarterbacks connected with the running backs quite regularly today. We’ve seen this movie before, but at least it looked a little better this time. The Texans linebackers actually covered the Pats backs better than we’ve seen in the past and made some nice plays at times, but Brady and Garoppollo were just too accurate for them. I’m actually encouraged, though, by some of the coverage I saw. It was like watching a bunch of Star Wars Stormtroopers improve from shooting zero rebels to hitting at least several of them.
One question I found myself asking several times this morning was, “Who the hell is #40?” Turns out #40 is the newly acquired safety, Marcus Gilchrist. Gilchrist showed up with a few impressive pass break ups, and I noticed him filling fast and hard against the run. We were wondering just where he was health-wise, having had surgery last year. He looked pretty healthy today, and is the only true vet at the safety position. Veteran knowledge might go a long way towards earning a starting job at safety, since several of the big plays this week have been due to busted coverages and poor reads. Gilchrist and Pleasant are the only safeties with more than four years experience.
As most greater-Houston-area-ns know, Bill O’Brien plays music during practice. During the red zone period, Tom Savage took the field just as Journey’s Only the Young started playing. For those of us Generation X’ers who were also high school wrestlers, this could only be interpreted as a good omen for Tom Savage. Let me explain: Only the Young is part of one of the best soundtracks to one of the best sports movies of all time–Vision Quest. It’s the story of a wrestler from Spokane named Louden Swain. He spends the entire movie trying to achieve two goals: 1. Beat Shute, the reigning state champ 2. Bed the sultry Linda Fiorentino. This movie was watched at least a dozen times by every high school wrestler who Was raised in the 80’s.
The happily married Tom Savage won’t be bedding Linda Fiorentino, but let’s not pretend he couldn’t if he set his mind to it. He will, however, be trying to beat the metaphorical Shute. (FWIW, the character Shute wouldn’t know what a metaphor is. He just wants to slay high school wrestlers and make out with chicks from Oregon)
Here’s a Venn diagram to explain what happened to a certain segment of Texans fans when Savage took the field to Only the Young.
We interviewed Andre Hal after practice. He said he read a bunch of books this offseason to help him improve his game. I asked him which one he would recommend to young defensive backs, and he suggested The Art of Mental Training, by DC Gonzalez.
Also after practice, Tom Brady went to the sideline furthest away from the fans with an assistant coach. He ran about 10 sprints with the coach resisting him from behind via a bungee cord attached to Brady’s waist. It was a pretty grueling workout, and he did it while the vast majority of players were already inside. Despite the super model wife, the Ugg boots, and the $200 haircuts, I don’t know if there’s a way to explain just how blue collar this guy remains.