Bill O’Brien looked less than enthused.
After a shotgun snap slipped through starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands, crashing off his facemask and onto the turf during the first team session of Day 2 of training camp, the first-year Texans head coach motioned to an engineer.
Kill the music.
O’Brien then called a huddle, giving his first-team offense a minute to talk it over, quietly.
Another motion from O’Brien, and the tunes returned. Practice resumed, as he seems to like it.
Among the many ways O’Brien is trying to whitewash the memory of a 2-14 season and the culture that led to it is music. Blaring, deafening, disrupting music, played throughout various points of each practice session for the first time in team history.
In addition to creating a wrinkle that keeps training camp fresh for veterans, adding the element of noise helps O’Brien simulate the environment of tough game situations that are otherwise hard to prepare for. Big third downs. Two-minute drills. Fourth quarter finishes. When it matters most.
And when the crowd is loudest.
Players are still adjusting.
“My voice is a little bit raspy,” Fitzpatrick joked.
“I think I’m going to lose my voice the next few days from that.”
The feel of the songs on O’Brien’s playlist varies, ranging from Flogging Molly to Tom Petty to Rihanna. Each creates a different atmosphere and conjures a different reaction. Anxiety. Calm. Intensity.
All inroads to the same destination: chaos.
“It really forces communication, at an extreme level almost,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I don’t think it will do anything but help us.”
Eventually, probably. But so far, it’s been a struggle.
With O’Brien incorporating more music into today’s practice than at yesterday’s training camp opener, the NFL’s second-worst scoring offense last season seemed a bit thrown by it. Timing felt off. Throws sailed or sunk. All part of the learning process in Year 1 of O’Brien, his offense and his culture.
“It kind of gets you on edge a little bit,” backup quarterback Case Keenum said. “Everybody’s screaming at each other. It’s good.”
Thundering music at practice is nothing new for O’Brien, who picked up the idea in New England during his time as quarterback coach of the Patriots and deployed it throughout his tenure as Penn State’s head coach. Chip Kelly rather famously introduced the Philadelphia Eagles to a similar ambiance at camp last year, Kelly’s first in the NFL, after having done it regularly while the head coach at Oregon University.
It’s not even new for his Texans, who had their first taste of it during mandatory minicamp last month.
But it’s still taking some getting used to.
Even for the defense.
“I like the music,” J.J. Watt said. “It makes it loud, it makes communication a little bit tougher, which is good, because on game day communication is difficult. So it’s good to have a little music out here to make you think, to make you really focus in on the calls.
“And it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of a beat every now and then, you know?”
For now, maybe a little. But the hope is that, before long, music will be one of the things that keeps the Texans from the hurt of a season like the last one.
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