Here are my observations from the combined Texans/Patriots practice on Tuesday, in no particular order.
Scrimmage time, baby! The best thing about scrimmages, and this is a universal law, is that players from both teams will privately claim victory. It’s the participation ribbon of practice formats.
The crowd: By number and enthusiasm, I would characterize Monday’s crowd as “Public library that lacks internet access.” Today’s crowd would be “Neil Diamond pop-up concert in Boston Common.” There were a ton of Pats fans by rural West Virginia standards, but not nearly as many as a traditional open training camp practice. I will say that they were all annoyingly polite. I have a lot of envy for these people and their sports success. The least they could do is act boorish to confirm my distaste for them. But it was not to be. A couple of them actually shushed their children when they worried that they might be disrupting our radio broadcast. Bastards.
Judging by the blank stares I get when I bring this up, I think I’m the only person who cares that Deshaun Watson is absorbing at least this one thing from Tom Brady film: Just like Brady, there are times when he stands completely motionless in the pocket. I’m not just saying that he looks comfortable in the pocket, although that is true. I’m saying his legs are planted in the ground like he’s hiding from a T-Rex. There are stretches where it looks like something has gone wrong, or that kid from Clockstoppers has put the freeze on him. If Deshaun Watson never accomplishes anything else in the NFL, I will forever applaud his mimicry of Tom Brady in this one facet of his game. On my deathbed, I will grab my grandson by the collar, pull him close to me, and whisper, ”Go watch the film. Tell the world. His feet never moved.” The kid is poised.
Other than that, Watson just looks like he belongs. He has more command at the line of scrimmage than many veterans we’ve seen in Bill O’Brien offenses. I know it’s just practice, but I’m saying that some of those dudes looked like dullards in practice.
Having said that, I’d say both Watson and Savage were a little slow to get rid of the ball today. I’ll throw a positive spin on that, which is that neither of them seemed to be under particular duress from the Patriots pass rush, so they didn’t particularly need to get rid of the ball quickly. The offensive line was potentially passable in pass protection. Potentially passable!
I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted anything in life as much as Tom Brady wants to have good practices. To watch him operate on August 15, six months removed from winning his fifth Super Bowl, you’d think that he’s on the brink of losing his job every time a ball drops to the ground. After one set of plays that seemed relatively acceptable, he excoriated anybody within earshot, then fumed on the sidelines for at least 5 minutes until the period ended.
I also felt that the starting offensive line had a solid day run blocking. Impossible to tell with certainty, given that it wasn’t a full contact practice, but there were numerous instances of running backs having wide open paths on inside runs. Much of this is clearly due to the work of center Nick Martin.
I arrived to camp encouraged by the Nick Martin reports but wanted to see it for myself. To quote the internet, “I seent it”, and it was good. He’s plenty mobile and physical, but he also has an awareness about him that most good centers have. He picks up twists and stunts well and senses where and how his guards need help. Much of being a good center is knowing how to feed defenders to your guards, and Martin does a good job of this. He also is appropriately passive at times. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but some centers are too aggressive in helping their guards in pass protection, leaving them vulnerable to other stunts and twists.
I’m increasingly intrigued by offensive tackle Julie’n Davenport. There’s something there, but it’s very raw at this point. He’s stronger than I thought he would be, but shows his youth at times when he gets caught in poor positions. Or doesn’t read twists quickly enough. Right now his trajectory is good, but he needs to be consistent enough to replace a veteran if he wants a crack at being the swing tackle (please come back, Duane Brown).
I’m very frustrated by the absence of starting wide receivers out there. I don’t want to seem like I’m cutting the QB’s a break here, but CUT THESE QB’S A BREAK, DAMN IT!. They’re going against an imposing defensive backfield, trying to complete passes to a bevy of guys who have been on the team for 45 minutes. There are times when Watson scrambles and the receivers aren’t savvy enough to work back towards the line of scrimmage. Savage and Watson both made some great touch throws to the sideline that simply weren’t reigned in by receivers. Again, frustrating.
Watson ran a two-minute drill with a simulated score of 21 to 20. He made a couple clutch plays on the drive, both running for a first down and passing to put them in field goal position. Novak hit the field goal. Texans win! Texans win! (I’m practicing in case they ever do beat the Pats)
Deshaun Watson does have a great rapport with Riley McCarron, but I can’t bring myself to fall in love with yet another rookie slot receiver. Not until these Travis Labhart wounds heal.
Tyler Ervin was doing all those things we used to dream about Tyler Ervin doing. He’s got slippery athleticism and the hands to be a true receiving threat. Kid showed up a bunch today.
I spent an hour on the radio Tuesday morning telling Mike Meltser and Paul Gallant that they were foolish for being so confident in Jimmy Garoppolo. I saw him for 10 minutes and it was my confidence that was tested. Touch on his deep ball, quick release. Tiny, but that seems to be all the rage these days. Buncha bird framed millennials out there.
I also chatted with Peter King about Garopollo. He was one of the first to predict that the Patriots would not trade him, and it’s clear to me now that Belichick is not simply trying to prop up his trade value.
My biggest takeaway from watching Garappolo in person, aside from his impressive physical skill set, is that he reads coverages very quickly and has a good feel for where to go with the ball. He may have already made the jump from being a guy who methodically goes through his progressions to being a guy who simply knows where the hole in the coverage will be.
Despite glowing reviews from Boston media about the Texans defense, it’s hard for me to say that they “won” versus the Patriots number one offense–there were a few too many big plays, and the lapses in safety responsibilities annoyed me–but it was clear that they frustrated Tom Brady. Between the pass rush and some impressive corner play, they kept the Patriots from looking exactly like the well-oiled machine that they typically are.
It also looked like the Texans hemmed up the Pats rushing attack pretty well. There was no tackling, but at times Pats running backs were simply running into a wall of humanity at the line of scrimmage.
Early in practice I was a little nervous about communication issues on defense, to the point where Rob Gronkowski was left alone, wide open in the middle of the defense. Not ideal, and safeties will be a question mark until they prove otherwise.
D.J. Reader is a better pass rusher than most people expected a year ago. We saw flashes of this last year, and he has continued his work. His hands are kung fu quick. Tom Brady connected on a few beautiful, deep passes today, but at least one of them likely would have been a wobbler if Reader had been allowed to continue his rush after he quickly discarded an interior offensive lineman.
Nobody’s supposed to tackle today, but Watt and Mercilus put Brady on the ground at least once by driving a mass off offensive linemen into him. It was a good day of pass rushing, even without Clowney practicing.
The drill that was the most fun to watch was one-on-one punt return blocking, where a punt defender lines up against a punt protector and tries to keep him on the line, then follows him down the field to block. It’s basically a running wrestling match, with no officials in sight. I’m amazed that there aren’t more fights, because there is a s*** ton of holding.