The Pads are ON!
It's about time, too. The game isn't played in shorts and t-shirts, right?!? Every workout starting in April is a vital one for any organization, but putting the pads on is a whole different deal. Just putting the gear on every morning is an exciting moment for all players everywhere.
I'll admit I didn't get to see every rep of practice, going back and forth on the air this morning with Marc Vandermeer on Texans Radio, but I did see plenty. Here are my 24 observations from the first day in pads. Why 24? Johnathan Joseph Day, that's why. Duh.
1. Watching from afar, the defensive line worked on the 5-man sled early in practice. On one rep Jeoffrey Pagan struck the dummy but lost his helmet in the process. Instead of grabbing his lid, he just continued the drill then picked up his bonnet when he was done. Loved it.
2. The team's motto of "more you can do" isn't just for the players and coaching staff. I noted that general manager Rick Smith lined up at X receiver during an OLB coverage walkthrough on Sunday. Well, today, I looked down to the DL section of the practice field and saw a football ops intern/employee standing still as a statue as D-linemen charged at him, working on a QB strip drill. Rick just had to run a few routes. Today's poor lad was getting pummeled with clubs and strips by 300 pound large men for eight straight minutes.
3. It was ex-NFL linebacker day at camp as former Texas A&M and Dallas Cowboy star Dat Nguyen and former New England Patriot Ted Johnson shared notes on the sideline. Teddy J could still play; that guy is jacked! Nothing better than sharing some notes with Dat on this team's linebackers and overall defense. Dat will be here all week, doing his afternoon radio show on ESPN San Antonio from the practice bubble, while you can hear Teddy J each afternoon on the Triple Threat (2 PM - 7 PM) on the Texans flagship station Sports Radio 610.
4. Jerrell Powe is one of the most powerful men I've seen at nose tackle. Just so we're clear.
5. Speaking of power: on a pass rush rep against Chris Myers, Powe took Myers and placed him in the QB's lap. But Myers is crafty, smart and competitive so he adapted instantly. He "quick set" Powe on the next rep and completely stoned him.
6. The first practice in pads really doesn't start until the first 9-on-7 inside run drill.
7. Just prior to the 9-on-7 drill, as the defense waited for the offense the line of scrimmage, I thought I heard one of the defenders yell "STARTING DEFENSE, PLACE AT THE TABLE!!". Then, I realized that was just my inner voice, channeling Lattimer from "The Program".
8. On the first play of 9-on-7, ILB Justin Tuggle shot the A gap (between the center and guard) and nearly met the ball in the backfield. An impressive start for sure. But on the second play, the offense rode the front seven on past the hole and Andre Brown cut up his run over the center and galloped for a big gain untouched. That seemed to be a theme in today's practice: one rep for the defense, one for the offense.
9. It was the first opportunity for the Houston public to see Jadeveon Clowney up close. He didn't disappoint. On his first rep during 9-on-7, he drove TE Ryan Griffin back into the ball closing down an open hole. On the second, he ran down the RB from behind. On the third, he was so fast off the ball that he nearly created another 2013 Outback Bowl moment, although he pulled off on the hit on RB Dennis Johnson (luckily) at the last minute. The burst off the ball is what we've all wanted to see and we didn't have to wait long to see it.
10. Pass rush 1-on-1s are my go-to during practice. It's primal and in some cases telling. But one thing that stood out was the back and forth and the adjustment from one snap to the next. A great example of that was my Powe-Myers story above. It was that way throughout. James Ferentz locked up NT David Hunter on the first rep and just stoned him on the spot. On the next rep, Hunter slid to a shade, burst upfield and beat Ferentz. Same went for T Will Yeatman and DE Keith Browner. The DE won the first rep but the OT won the second.
11. Two guys that seemingly have much to prove in this training camp are Jared Crick and Derek Newton. Those two went at each other during pass rush 1-on-1s as well. Crick's power overwhelmed Newton on the first rep, but Newton beat Crick on the second rep.
12. Speaking of Crick, I heard DL coach Bill Kollar holler out Crick's name a few times during practice. A couple good, a few bad but it stood out to me because this team must find "that guy", that DE opposite J.J. Watt. Kollar is pushing Crick to his limit and it's evident thus far.
13. Another guy that goes about his business is DE Tim Jamison. He's nearly 300 pounds and attacks upfield well. Can he hunker down and two gap? I think he can. He's awfully tough to block at the point of attack but is much quicker than most other DL (well, minus that No. 99 character, ya know).
14. A guy that quietly stands out and did again in nearly every facet of practice is NT/DE Ricardo Mathews. He's built low to the ground, is quick up the field but strong enough to 2-gap and hold the point of attack. Throughout the day, I thought he held up well in drills and team and has been consistent since he arrived this off-season.
15. Xavier Su'a Filo is raw but boy, he loves to hit. He has plenty of technique work to do and needs to maintain his blocks better but if you're near him, you'll get popped.
16. Brown and Alfred Blue got a ton of reps with Arian Foster out with a "minor" issue. Neither one of them is Foster, but then again, who is? Brown, though, can pound and after absorbing a few hits, Blue ran hard, especially down during the goal line drill. He stuck up into the line a couple of times, hard, only to run into a defensive brick wall. More on the goal line drill in a second.
17. I was, and still am, a big fan of Brown. I wanted the Texans to draft him when he was coming out of NC State and he's a lot like I remembered him. Nagging injuries throughout his career have slowed his development a bit but that wasn't evident one bit today. The vet ran the ball hard all day long and continued to catch it well too.
18. When the music went on and the Texans went to team, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a strike to Griffin who got laid out by DJ Swearinger. Griffin was chewed out earlier in practice by Bill O'Brien for jumping offsides, so it was great to see Griffin respond with a big play, take the hit and pop up for more.
19. Oh, speaking of Swearinger, I noticed during a nickel/sub-package period, he wasn't anywhere on the field. I panicked because I had been on the radio up to that point. I called over Chase Hernandez, a football ops intern, who said he was just changing his shoes. Whew! I figured, at that point, the Nikes he was wearing just weren't swag-worthy. Or Swagg-worthy and not even close to being Swaggg-worthy. There's a whole mathematical formula to the number of g's in swag but DJ's the only one who gets it.
20. During team, Andre Johnson ran a post route on Brandon Harris and laid out for a deep ball. I can just hear Marc yelling "HE MADE AN AMAZING CATCH", and Johnson did. It's something we've all seen Andre do a million times. But it hit me: here's a future Hall of Famer, 12-year veteran DIVING for a pass in the middle of a July training camp practice. THAT'S what makes him the player he is and the player he's always been. O'Brien ran downfield to congratulate him on the great play, all the while knowing Dre just gave these players a lesson in effort and work ethic on one play. Those young players could learn something from that one rep and OB will make sure they do.
21. In a later team period, the defense was in its nickel look and lined up for what looked like a blitz. Fitzpatrick changed the play, moved Blue back into the backfield and ran a quick hitting run play that beat the defense. It was not only great to see Fitzpatrick take charge and change the play but also that a rookie running back knew exactly what to do as well.
22. I didn't see much of the linebackers v. TE & RB in 1-on-1 passing but the one play that I saw, ILB Max Bullough stayed with Blue on a downfield route and made a pass breakup...with his helmet. Talk about using your head...thank you, thank you very much, I'll be here all week.
23. The new CBA helped eliminate "first in day pads" camp pleasers like the Oklahoma drill and Bull in the Ring (trust me, those were fun back in the day). But one of the best ways to get physical and some work done in the process is during a goal line drill. The defense won its share of battles, stuffing Blue on a couple of plays and forcing a handful of throwaways down deep as well.
24. Kicker Randy Bullock was under the spotlight to end practice. He bombed a few FG attempts from 40 yards out. He then moved to about 50-55 yards or so and hit the upright, about 3/4 of the way up the post. That kick was crushed; it sounded like a cannon shot. But Coach O'Brien didn't want to end on that note, so he asked for one more attempt. Bullock nailed the next one from the same distance right through the middle. Nothing like a little confidence for a much needed special teams weapon.