W2W4: Houston Texans

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
DENVER -- The Houston Texans (1-1) and Denver Broncos (2-0) face each other in their third preseason game Saturday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Here's what to watch for:

1. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: He recovered in a big way from his uninspiring debut this preseason. Two scoring drives showed a marked improvement last weekend compared to his performance in the Texans' preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. The Fitzpatrick who appeared against the Falcons is much closer to the quarterback I've seen in practices lately than the one who could barely stay on the field in Arizona. His improvement needs to be a trend, though. Fitzpatrick needs to be more consistent, especially outside of two-minute drills.

2. The slot receivers: The position is a competitive these days. Mike Thomas was the early leader, and he has still looked excellent in practices, but don't count out Keshawn Martin. This week's game will be important for both. Thomas sat out last weekend against Atlanta after getting knocked in his helmet during the week of practices against the Falcons. Martin and undrafted rookie Travis Labhart really took advantage of his absence.

3. The secondary: The Texans' depth at defensive back grew before our eyes from Week 1 to Week 2. I don't expect starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph to play tonight, which means another serious look at those guys against the best passing game in the NFL. We'll couch this by saying preseason games involve a pared down playbook and little game-planning. But the Texans will still learn a lot by watching cornerbacks such as A.J. Bouye, Elbert Mack and Andre Hal, who have all had promising moments this preseason. Mack, especially, had a strong week against the Broncos in practice. He could fight his way onto the roster in the next two weeks.
DENVER -- Admittedly, I can't watch every single drill every Houston Texans' player completes during practices, as I am only one person. But when I've watched Travis Labhart, the undrafted rookie receiver out of Texas A&M, he's caught everything sent his way.

"Coaches hopefully just are beginning to trust me and players alike," Labhart said. "That begins with the quarterbacks as well, because you don’t want to trick the quarterback. Then they’re not going to look your way if they can’t count on you."

Most of Labhart's reps come with backup quarterback Case Keenum and the two have connected on some excellent throws. They are certainly gaining confidence in each other as the preseason progresses.

Labhart's progression as a receiver has been tremendous, given that he was a college walk-on not too long ago and a practice player for the A&M women's basketball team.

He's perfectly aware of just how much he's learned.

"The coaching is just phenomenal," Labhart said. "I’ve learned so much. ... In the NFL, it’s a whole new ballgame. It has opened my eyes to a whole lot of new things. I’m just learning more about the game and I think the coaching has been outstanding. Also, the veteran leadership with Andre Johnson, Mike Thomas and all those guys have been really helpful to me gaining confidence and getting better as a player."

Making the Texans' 53-man roster won't be easy for Labhart. The Texans' receiver room is crowded and he's not the only member of it who has improved in the past several months. With his play, though, he's giving himself a chance.

Fitzpatrick on the QB bond

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
DENVER -- Around the NFL, you hear a lot that quarterbacks root for each other.

 They like to see each other succeed. They like to help each other when they can. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, especially, has been known to do that.

On Thursday, we talked about how special it was for Texans' rookie Tom Savage that Manning checked in on him this week.

Texans starter Ryan Fitzpatrick first met Manning as a college quarterback back when he was at Harvard. He attended Manning's Passing Academy (and didn't expect that Manning would remember that).

"I was a college counselor, but I didn’t think at that point that the NFL was in my future," Fitzpatrick said. "Looking back on it, it was just a really neat experience for me to go against some of the other college guys and kind of size myself up and meet the Manning family."

Position groups in the NFL tend to bond, even crossing team lines. But it seems to be a much more active bond with quarterbacks. There are fewer of them, they can often feel isolated in the glare of the spotlight that comes with their roles, and more is expected of quarterbacks than just about anywhere else on the field.

"I think quarterbacks in the NFL, it’s a brotherhood," Fitzpatrick said. "We’ve all got our bond and we all go through similar ups and downs and all the same things. Some of us more than others, obviously, but it’s a nice thing that we share."
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Several teams have new elements to their passing game, including the Houston Texans, writes Barry Wilner of the Associated Press. Wilner says: "Fitzpatrick has plenty of starting experience, and he's never had a pass-catch partner as skilled as Johnson. But he's also maddeningly inconsistent, and Houston has no proven wideout to complement Johnson." They might not have a wideout proven during the regular season, but if second-year DeAndre Hopkins plays like he has in practice, he'll be a strong complement to Johnson.

Texans' general manager Rick Smith wants to be successful, and learn from the mistakes he made with the 2013 draft, writes Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Rick Smith initially sat down with Brian Smith during the 2013 season, but cut the interview off, apparently. They picked back up this week, and the general manager chose his words carefully. "We're all going to make mistakes," Rick Smith said. "What do you do after you've done that? Can you look at a situation and learn from it? And then, moving forward, can you really implement what you learn? And that's growth. That's evolution and that's maturation. That's all those things that we're all trying to do in our lives."

John Harris of HoustonTexans.com provides a detailed review of Thursday's practices.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Houston Texans wrapped up their week of practices against the Denver Broncos with a spirited session on Thursday. In two days they'll play the Broncos in their third preseason game.

The practices against other teams, five total between the Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, have given the Texans many chances to see their players against opponents. Normally that chance in the preseason is limited to games. The Texans now have a little more leeway with who stays in the game for how long. The third preseason game is typically when teams give their starters the most playing time. But even then, the Texans might not give theirs much.

Some observations from today's practice:
  • Kicker Randy Bullock missed a field goal late in practice wide left and on the next play, rookie Chris Boswell just knocked his inside the left upright. Overall, though, Bullock's performances since the start of training camp have been better than Boswell's. Asked today who leads that battle, coach Bill O'Brien said Bullock, the Texans' incumbent kicker, does.
  • DeAndre Hopkins and DeVier Posey made the two best catches of the day. Hopkins made his after slipping on a route then recovering to get barely open for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Hopkins got his hands on the ball, but bobbled it as cornerback Chris Harris worked to catch it as well. Hopkins worked just a little bit harder and caught the ball with his feet inbounds.
  • Posey tip-toed his way to a touchdown on a nice pass from Case Keenum. "Case put the ball in a spot where only I could go get it or it was going to go out of bounds," Posey said. "I don’t know. I was just like ‘We’ll see what happens,’ and just try to tap my feet in and learn some stuff from 80."
  • Center Chris Myers, a former Denver Bronco, missed the entire week of practices. O'Brien insisted it had nothing to do with Myers' health.
  • Running back Arian Foster, receiver Andre Johnson and inside linebacker Brian Cushing all participated in practice today. The three have done a significant amount of team work during all three practices. O'Brien said he had not yet made the decision on if those players will play Saturday. That decision will rely on the thoughts of the Texans' training staff and also the players' own thoughts on their health.
  • Cornerback Johnathan Joseph participated in practice on a limited basis. Late during practice, Joseph ran sprints on an empty field. Texans' general manager Rick Smith joined him. Smith cheated, admittedly so. Joseph still caught him.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ask Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage which quarterback he looked up to growing up, and he'll tell you it's his brother, Bryan Savage.

This week though, Savage got to share a practice facility with another pretty good quarterback role model. He was working with some receivers when Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walked up to him unsolicited.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Jack DempseyHouston rookie Tom Savage got to meet -- and learn from -- Peyton Manning this week.
"I was like, 'Guys, you go. I'm going to talk to Peyton for a little bit,'" Savage said with a bit of a smile.

The reigning league MVP asked the rookie quarterback how he was mentally, how he was faring in his first NFL training camp.

"I'm not going to lie -- I got a little starstruck when I first saw him," Savage said. "It was pretty unique to go out there and watch one of the greatest play."

The positions in which the two came into the league are different. Manning was the first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, immediately expected to change a franchise. Savage was a fourth-round pick this May, a product of the Texans' patience at the position. He's not expected to start right away -- he's a project with size, arm strength, intelligence and a nomadic college football career that gave him little chance to develop. Savage is currently third on the Texans' depth chart after starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum.

Savage and Manning found common ground in how hard it is for a quarterback to come into the NFL.

"He kind of reassured me of the rookie grind and how it is for a rookie," Savage said. "It was good, it was good to hear. Just when you're not in, get as many mental reps as you can. Just keep grinding because he said it'll be a long year, but at the same time it's gonna be fun.

"... It's good to hear that he went through some moments, too, where he had to grind through it."

Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions in his rookie season in 1998. The Colts went 3-13 that year, but enjoyed a dominant run with Manning for the next decade.

"It is a process," Savage said. "Knowing that, obviously as a quarterback you don't want to lose games and throw a bunch of picks. You don't want to say it's OK because Peyton did it. You want to do the best you can do. But just take kind of his work ethic and put it on the field."

Savage watched that work ethic and its fruits this week. He saw Manning's command of his team, and how much his receivers respect him. He knew that didn't come easily.

Said Savage: "Everyone knows he's probably one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the history of the game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a bit of a target on Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt on Thursday as the Texans and Broncos went through their final practice together.

 And that's just fine with Watt.

"Yeah, I'll take it any chance I can get," Watt said. "You don't normally fight when you win the rep. I have no interest in fighting someone when I beat you. ... That's why I don't normally get into fights. When you hit me, I don't feel a need to hit back. You can turn on the film, see what happened."

What happened yesterday was Watt beating Broncos tackle Chris Clark in a one-on-one drill early in practice. Clark tore off Watt's helmet and then took a swing at him after the play ended. An official threw a flag as Watt grinned and suggested Clark not get mad at losing.

He takes it as a compliment, mostly.

"Everybody wants to pick on the big guy," Watt said. "That's fine. You guys saw what happened yesterday. You win on the field. You don't have to fight if you win on the field. You win the rep, people tend to get chippy."

There were a couple skirmishes between the Texans' defense and the Broncos offense today. Watt was right in the middle of one. The Texans had taken him out when the next one started.

"It's football," Watt said. "Boys will be boys. You know how that goes. Handle it like a man. I don't think there was a real major scuffle so that was a good thing. It's football. There's testosterone out here. People get excited. We practiced against each other for three days. We're professional athletes. Guys get a little antsy."

Broncos OL tested by Texans front

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Teams have various strengths, and one of the major benefits of practicing against a different team is the chance to test those strengths and learn from them, consequence free.

For the Texans' defense, that's come this week through facing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his wide array of weapons.

One of the biggest challenges for the Broncos' offensive line is dealing with the Texans' front.

“I like it for them because it’s a different animal for us," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "J.J. [Watt], [Jadeveon] Clowney. I mean, the rest of that crew is tough. ... It’s a great test for our guys to see where we are at and where we can adjust and improve.”

Watt has excelled this week against the Broncos' offensive line, even outside that now-famous one-on-one drill when tackle Chris Clark ripped off his helmet. Clowney has also had his moments against Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady. As much as the Broncos line is being tested, the talented rookie is learning a lot from those bouts.

“We struggled yesterday, and I think today with pads on, we were a little better," Gase said. "But still, when you see No. 99 flashing in there every once and a while and you see one of those hands go up you are just hoping he doesn’t get a piece of it. We were better today than yesterday and hopefully, when we get to the game Saturday, we will play better.”
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Demariyus Thomas and Andre Johnson are keeping the Broncos' and Texans' offenses in good hands, writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post. "No one in the Houston Texans' secondary can match up with Demaryius Thomas on the far field. And even if Aqib Talib and Chris Harris would beg to differ, nobody on the Broncos' defense can cover Andre Johnson on the field closest to the team's headquarters building."

One more from the Post -- Troy Renck's perspective on the chippiness of yesterday's practice. "[Peyton] Manning's 'we stunk' comments brought a predictable response as the Broncos scored on their first two passing plays of the padded practice. The reigning NFL MVP connected on mid-range strikes to Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas. Chatter became louder. At one point, Julius Thomas caught a touchdown pass during drills and blurted, 'This is too easy.'"

Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle reviews Wednesday's practice with the takeaway that the Texans are acquiring some swagger.

The extra point experiment has yielded eight missed PATs, writes Barry Wilner of the Associated Press. The success rate is about five percent lower than that of the traditional PATs, but kickers are still making 94.3 percent of their extra points. Of course, two of those eight misses came from Texans' kicker Chris Boswell, an undrafted rookie trying to make the Texans' roster.

Tania Ganguli discusses Jadeveon Clowney leaving practice early after colliding with Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme during a 9-on-7 drill.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- We continue a look at some highlights from today's practice between the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. Wednesday was the second of three joint practices before the teams face each other on Saturday night.

We've written a bit about the offense already today, so this post will be focus more on the defense.
  • Offensive line versus defensive line one-on-one drills are always great fun to watch. Today didn't disappoint. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt faced Broncos tackle Chris Clark. Watt destroyed Clark, much to Clark's chagrin. The offensive tackle respond by swiping Watt's helmet in frustration, revealing a grin. Watt then chastised him, saying he shouldn't get mad just because he got beat. I was also impressed with the push nose tackle Jerrell Powe got against his opponent.
  • During a red zone drill, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes. Watt might have sacked him on one of them if the drill was live, but Manning got the ball out just as Watt got to him, so maybe not. After those two touchdowns, the Texans defense got their hands on a few balls. Defensive end Jared Crick knocked down one pass. Then, cornerback Brandon Harris had a pass breakup.
  • The award for the funniest moment of practice goes to the aftermath of a pick-six by cornerback Elbert Mack. As Mack sprinted toward the end zone, safety D.J. Swearinger, cornerback Josh Victorian and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel sprinted with him in celebration. Then Swearinger and Mack did that same hand-slapping celebration that drew a flag against the Falcons. "Yes, we did get flagged for that," Swearinger said. "I don’t know why, but I guess we can’t do it in the game no more. We’ve got to come up with something else."
  • Swearinger had his own interception, picking off Manning late. And he figures the tensions that boiled between the teams at the end of practice started with his play.
  • Texans center Chris Myers did not practice for the second consecutive day. He also missed last weekend's game against the Falcons. Myers did leave a practice against the Falcons early, last week, but O'Brien said today that Myers isn't hurt. "Here's a guy that's played a lot of football in this league and we're making sure that he's ready to go on September 7."

Ryan Fitzpatrick has a good day

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- He threw back-to-back touchdown passes during a red zone drill -- both perfectly placed to receiver Devier Posey and then to running back Arian Foster.

Just a few minutes later, Ryan Fitzpatrick launched a ball to the back of the end zone, high enough that only receiver Andre Johnson could catch it. Johnson tip-toed in-bounds in throwback Andre Johnson fashion, and was enveloped by his teammates.

"I thought Fitzy came out here and worked very well today," Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien said.

Fitzpatrick's play against the Atlanta Falcons was markedly improved from his play during Week 1 of the preseason. The Texans' offense was so stagnant that Fitzpatrick had to stay in the entire first half to get enough reps for his day to be finished. He threw two interceptions that day.

The improvement seen the next week was a positive sign. He played the way the Texans need him to this season.

What he's done this week is also encouraging, especially given that it's coming against an opponent, albeit a practice opponent so far.

"It's all about practice and getting it done and just understanding a guy's body language and his feel for the game and them knowing what I'm expecting from them," Fitzpatrick said. "We had some good connections today with some of that stuff."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since coming off the physically unable to perform list last week, the Houston Texans have eased inside linebacker Brian Cushing back into a full workload.

He's close to that now, having done a lot during team drills against the Denver Broncos during the two teams' two joint practices this week.

"I'm excited about where I am physically and mentally, but we all know the game is stepped up just a little bit more," Cushing said. "It's a little faster, a little more intense. I'm excited, but I'm excited for every practice and for every game. I'm looking forward to all of it."

Cushing's impact on the Texans' defense is major. That might be easy to forget because he's missed half of each of the past two seasons, but you won't forget it when he's out there. With Cushing, the Texans have three elite players in a front seven that also has defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.

He finished last season on injured reserve after suffering a broken leg and torn LCL on Oct. 20.

He hasn't played in either of the Texans' first two preseason games, and isn't sure if he will this week. It's entirely possible Texans' coach Bill O'Brien decides Cushing got enough reps against an opponent during the week that he doesn't need to play in the game.

Cushing said he would feel comfortable going into the first week of the regular season without having played in a preseason game.

"Football is football," he said. "But at the same time, you want to get out there. You want to get some game-time experience, especially against a very good football team."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hardly a passing play went by during the Houston Texans' and Denver Broncos' joint practice on Wednesday without a yellow flag flying out of an official's pocket.

They flew to the fury of defensive backs who insisted they did nothing wrong and to the amusement of some of those receivers who benefited from the calls that are part of the NFL's added emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

The practice was reminiscent of many preseason games this offseason -- and even to the receivers who benefit, that isn't always a good thing.

The excessive calls were a little annoying to Texans receiver Andre Johnson.

"It kind of makes the game longer," Johnson said. "It actually kind of makes you hate it a little bit.

"Every time you look around, there's a flag on the ground. It's football. It's a contact sport. Everything's not going to be perfect, you're going to get bumped around a little bit."

Johnson believes those calls won't be made so frequently once the regular season begins. One way or another, though, this is giving the Texans' defensive backs a chance to have a better understanding of what officials are looking for.

"We had a few flags today and we asked them what it was, what it was they threw the flag for," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They gave us some pointers on what to do and what not to do. It's just a part of the game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As practice ended, a large group of Houston Texans and an equally large group of Denver Broncos merged animatedly with each other. It wasn't so much a fight as a skirmish, an example of the intensity seen throughout the Texans' second of three practice sessions with the Denver Broncos.

"The offense going against their defense; it got a little chippy," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "It's all football. Everybody's competing. Every day it's just some people being mad. It's all football."

Said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris: "It's us against them every day. It's a battle every day."

When asked about the practice-ending scuffle, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said he wasn't sure what the question referenced. He talked about intensity and competition being good for the team.

It had the added effect of highlighting one theme O'Brien has instilled in the players: the team above all else.

"We’re a team; we’re going to stand up for our teammates," Texans linebacker Justin Tuggle said. "We’re not going to let anything happen. We’re not out here to fight ,but we’re not going to anyone take advantage of us."