Texans Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.

  • Defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan, one of the Texans' three sixth-round picks this year, has appeared to catch on pretty well after missing the entire spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. His position coach, though, is not ready to assess Pagan's progress. "He's been out [here] for less than a week," Bill Kollar said. "Right now I really don't have an opinion one way or another. He's getting a little bit better technique-wise, but again, like everybody else he has a long way to go right now." What does a rookie fall the most behind on when he misses practices? "You fall behind on everything. Conditioning, technique, everything. Football is a sport, it has got to be hands on. You can watch all the film you want and stuff, but you have to be out there actually playing the technique to improve."
  • Two new players were at Texans camp on Tuesday: offensive lineman Mike Farrell, a Penn State alumnus, and running back Tim Cornett . Cornett went to UNLV but attended high school in the Houston area. The rookie running back made his presence felt during a team drill in which he bulldozed a defensive back. The Texans also released Ricky Sapp, according to the league's transaction list.
  • Once the pads came on, fullback Jay Prosch's blocking ability really began to stand out. He'll be a boon in the running game.
  • I've really liked watching running back Alfred Blue. He's very talented as a runner, a hard worker and coachable. The aspect of the game that young running backs struggle with the most is pass protection. It'll be interesting to see his ability there.
  • Head coach Bill O'Brien said offensive guard Brandon Brooks is close to returning. Earlier in the week he declined to share what had landed Brooks on the active/non-football injury list. Safety Lonnie Ballentine was not practicing with an injury he suffered during camp. On Ballentine, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, O'Brien used the same line: "I don't think it's life threatening."
  • And since I mentioned the offense struggling in an earlier post, I should also mention this. The receivers continued looking terrific. EZ Nwachukwu is making a serious case for himself.
During a drill late in practice, a series of plays must have infuriated Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien.

First, running back Andre Brown fumbled. A few plays later safety D.J. Swearinger picked off quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, looking back at the intended receiver as he raced in the other direction. Soon afterward, Dennis Johnson committed a false start and then the quarterback-center exchange was botched.

Later, noise arose from the defense when two offensive players were called for a false start. Linebacker Justin Tuggle jumped in place motioning with his hands for them to run a lap. The offensive players involved in the play had to run to the sideline and back.

"I’d say the defense had the upper hand today," O'Brien said.

Today's practice, the second padded practice the Texans have had, was more complex. But to O'Brien there's no reason that should have led to sloppiness on the field.

"Third down, different blitzes, different protections, it’s all part of the installation process," O'Brien said. "But still like I said, we have a high standard here. We talk to each other. Not the coaches to the players, each other. We’re all in it together. We expect to go out there and perform well and not make mistakes, and when we do, we’ve got to correct them and make sure we don’t make the same mistake twice."
Duane Brown, a Pro Bowl left tackle for the past two seasons, came into the Houston Texans' 2014 training camp about 20 pounds heavier than he did the prior year.

"While I liked the way I looked, it wasn’t as effective as I think it could have been," Brown said. "I feel a lot more effective and I feel stronger, but I haven’t sacrificed my athleticism at all. I’m looking forward to it.”

He's about 322 pounds this season, and that's not easy to keep up. Brown said he can lose 10 to 12 pounds in a single practice, a lot of it water weight he has to be sure to replace.

The extra weight on his body helps him anchor better against pass rushers.

"I’ve been blessed with athleticism, I really work on my quickness, but I really have to work a lot to keep my weight on," Brown said. "And it helps me to anchor a bit. A lot of those guys that I’m going against on the edge, they’re quick but they’re strong as well so I always feel like I’m able to mirror them pretty well. But being able to anchor and create that pocket is always good and it also helps in the run game getting the extra drive and pushing off the ball."
While saying he wasn't worried about it, Andre Johnson said on Monday the most important thing for him going forward was to take care of the hamstring that tightened up when he made a diving catch during practice.

 Today, that meant one more day without Johnson on the field. Running back Arian Foster also missed practice, which marks two-and-a half consecutive morning practices he's missed. Foster missed the final hour of Sunday's morning training camp practice and then missed Monday's altogether.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien has termed both injuries as minor and said he isn't worried about the two stars falling behind because of their experience.

Tuesday marked the Texans' second day of practice in full pads, and it's probably wise to be careful with both of those guys. That's especially true for Foster, who dealt with three different injuries last season, and running backs get beat up enough as it is. For Johnson, it's because he spent the entire spring away from football. He worked out consistently and worked hard, but it's difficult to simulate being at practice.
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

The very intelligent Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com thinks the Houston Texans will be better than you think in 2014. He cites statistics that indicate more than a little bad luck was involved in last season's collapse. In each of the past two seasons, the team that finished with the worst record in the league, made the playoffs the following year. I found this particularly interesting: "Four teams (the 2004 Chargers, 2008 Dolphins, 2012 Colts, and 2013 Chiefs) have accomplished the feat in the last 10 years, but before them, the last franchise to make its way from dead last into the playoffs was the 1982 strike-season Patriots."

The Texans are looking to solve their biggest problem from the 2014 season with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, writes Kristie Rieken of The Associated Press. "This is completely new," Fitzpatrick said. "We're not even thinking or talking about last year ... I think everyone has seen that it is really a year-to-year league. Just in terms of whatever happened the year before, it doesn't matter. If you think about it too much then maybe it affects you in a negative way."

Backup running back Andre Brown is getting more work with Arian Foster sitting out, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Brown is focusing on taking care of his body more than ever these days. "Doing the extra stuff," he said. "Being young, you didn't really know how to take care of your body. When I started looking at the older vets, they're in that training room stretching. They're in the cold tub after practice every day making sure they get their legs back. This year, that's my approach to it. Making sure I eat right, keep my weight down and stay healthy. You have to mature. You're not 21 anymore. You can't just go out there and touch your toes and be ready to practice all day. I have to make sure I'm here an extra hour early to make sure my body is ready to go."

Alfred Blue is also benefiting from this, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. “I’d say it’s very beneficial for more practice,” Blue, a rookie from LSU, said. “Practice makes perfect, so I think it’s a big opportunity and I just got to make the most of it.”

Texans Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
HOUSTON -- A review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • The Texans were in full pads on Monday for the first time since training camp started. Per NFL rules, Monday, or the third day of practice, was the first time they were allowed to have a padded practice. "I think the acclimation period really helps," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "You kind of ramp it up from shells to pads, from conditioning to shells to pads. I think that helps. These guys went out there and competed. I’m not saying everything was the prettiest brand of football in the world, but I thought these guys got better today."
  • It's often difficult to see the defensive and offensive linemen work because of this year's practice setup, but they worked close to the area of the field where media were allowed Monday and I saw a cool little scene from it. Defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, a sixth-round pick who missed spring workouts because of shoulder surgery, worked against J.J. Watt on one drill. When the drill finished, Watt stopped Pagan to give him a few tips on hand placement. Watt talked earlier this week about the newness of his being in that veteran role. But he's embracing it.
  • The offensive and defensive lines went one-on-one against each other. There were a few times the defensive player got past the offensive player, only to fall as he passed. Defensive line coach Bill Kollar reminded them they couldn't do much good on the ground like that.
  • Brooks Reed spent all of spring working at inside linebacker. It's a skill he has honed for the past few offseasons. Now that he's in training camp, though, Reed has taken a lot more reps at outside linebacker. "Brooks, you can be rest assured, that he’s going to get a good day's work in," linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said. "He’s going to bring his hard hat and his lunch-pail out and he's going to work for two hours, three hours, however long we're out here, he's going to work and he's going to go back in and study. I appreciate that about him. It's a great example to our whole unit."
  • In addition to Arian Foster, rookie safety Lonnie Ballentine and linebacker Akeem Dent, the veteran the Texans acquired for T.J. Yates, did not practice either. Both suffered some sort of injury during Sunday's practice.
HOUSTON -- The two of them walked off the field together, teammates who were separated for one season.

Now EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart are after the same goal: making an NFL roster, or at least a practice squad, with the Houston Texans.

Labhart signed as an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M this season, while Nwachukwu did the same last season. Nwachukwu was on the Texans practice squad for all of the 2013 season. Meanwhile, Labhart, once a walk-on in College Station, played in 12 games for the Aggies last season, starting in his final five. By that time Labhart had earned a scholarship, and in his senior season he caught 51 passes for eight touchdowns and 626 yards.

"This opportunity comes around once in a lifetime," Labhart said. "As being a rookie, you learn from veterans. You see Andre (Johnson)... catching Jugs after practice. You just have to wait your turn. For me, I want to make the most of this opportunity. If it means sticking around 30 extra minutes catching passes and trying to figure out what I need to work on. If it’s not catching passes, maybe it is working on routes or timing with quarterbacks."

The receivers are generally the last players to leave the field. Labhart and Nwachukwu have been among the group that has stayed after each of the Texans' morning training camp practices to work with the Jugs machines.

They've been impressive during team drills as well, fighting for catches, avoiding drops and running crisp routes.

"I mean, you know, rookie year I think things are going 1,000 miles per hour," Nwachukwu said. "Having a year under your belt and being able to know what to look for and know how to study film, you can think less and play more."

Nwachukwu believes his route-running is the area that has improved the most since his rookie season. He's paid more attention to being aware of the field, rather than simply running a route without that awareness. In college, on his way to 19 career touchdowns, which tied him for third in Texas A&M history, Nwachukwu could often get away with that.

"Coming from A&M, on some plays you can just go out there and use your athletic ability," Nwachukwu said. "You can win routes. But out here, you know, you’ve got guys like J-Jo (Johnathan Joseph) and K-Jack (Kareem Jackson), and if you do that you’re probably going to be in the sand somewhere. You definitely have to stay on your details and make sure your technique is right."

Making the team won't be easy for either player. The Texans have five receivers with game experience, all of whom have been focused and precise during training camp, ahead of Labhart and Nwachukwu. But one refrain around professional athletes is that they control only what they can. From that standpoint, Labhart and Nwachukwu have looked like they belong.
HOUSTON -- Toward the end of practice, Andre Johnson sat on a trainer's table with a towel draped over his head. Beside him was Houston Texans' running back Arian Foster, wearing the sweats he'd worn all practice. Together they watched a team to which their health is paramount go through a training camp practice.

Foster and Johnson are dealing with what Texans' coach Bill O'Brien termed as minor injuries. Nobody seems very concerned with either player's injury, which should be good news for the Texans.

"I just got a little tight," Johnson said. "Just a precaution. I'm going to go in and see what's what. ...It's nothing bad. I'm not worried about it."

Johnson injured his right hamstring while making a diving catch from Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a beautiful pass (which isn't always the case with Fitzpatrick's deep balls) and catch while Aloe Blacc's "The Man" blasted from the speakers. Once Johnson hit the ground, cornerback Brandon Harris backed away from him with his arms up in the air. He's not allowed to knock Johnson around and was hilariously trying to show he didn't. Harris was even reluctant to touch him to make him down by contact.

Johnson said afterward that he isn't worried about the injury, but having played football a long time, he's going to make sure to take care of it. He was on his way into the facility to get it looked at just before talking to reporters.

The good news about Johnson is that his on-field rapport with Fitzpatrick seems to be getting better each day -- and that play was a good example of it.

"I definitely felt more comfortable today than I did the past two days," Johnson said. "Hopefully things will get better and better."

Foster did not practice at all on Monday, after only going through half of Sunday's practice. During Sunday's practice, which was open to the public, Foster spent some time having his left hamstring stretched. He then went back into a drill before concluding all activities about an hour before practice ended.

"Those guys have played a lot of football," O'Brien said. "We'll make sure we do a good job of managing them through the season."
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans ...

J.J. Watt joked Sunday that he feels like an old man now, with the younger players asking him for advice. The 25-year-old defensive end has become a veteran leader on the Texans defensive line, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com. His 48 games played are more than all but one of his defensive line teammates.

The Texans' secondary hasn't been talked about much yet this offseason, but they have one of the most dependable players on the field, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. That would be cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Joseph is working through a plan that will eventually get him back to 100 percent participation, but he says he's feeling fine.

David Quessenberry took part in a relay for life event Saturday, writes Mark Berman of Fox 26. The Texans' offensive line has supported him throughout and they said they will dedicate the season to Quessenberry, who is undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin T Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. "We're constantly in contact with him just to tell him how much he's in our hearts and our minds," left tackle Duane Brown said. "It just puts things in perspective. We're out here battling. He's in the ultimate battle right now."
Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

Fitzpatrick is the starter, and got back the man who will be his favorite target for training camp. He and Andre Johnson spent extra time together Friday night, on the eve of their first practice. Savage isn't ready to start yet, but they didn't draft him expecting that. Keenum is the only quarterback on this roster who was not brought in by new coach Bill O'Brien, but I think he keeps him. Having three quarterbacks prevents you from being forced to start an unprepared rookie in case of injuries. Savage's development is paramount.


Blue, a sixth-round pick, and Brown, a free-agent pickup, will battle during camp to be Foster's backup. That's an important role, given the questions about Foster's health. He's healthy now, but that's always a moving target with running backs, especially those in their late 20s. Prosch, another draft pick, blocked well during the offseason. He'll stick around as the only fullback on the roster.


I had second-year player Alan Bonner on the list, but Bonner left camp with an injury on the first day. Tough break for a guy who spent last season on injured reserve. Martin, on the other hand, has played really well in the first few days of camp and is getting a large share of the punt return reps. The receivers as a whole have looked great.


The Texans kept only three tight ends for most of last season, but they'll need more for this offense.


The only remaining battle on the offensive line is between Jones and Su'a-Filo at left guard. Drafted with the first pick of the second round, Su'a-Filo has starting-level talent, but he missed most of the offseason. Now he'll have to play catch-up; Jones has a head start. Elsewhere: left tackle Brown, center Myers, right guard Brooks and right tackle Newton. Brooks is on the team's active/non-football injury list, which usually means his injury isn't something that should keep him out long. Clabo is a veteran who was signed just before camp and is now focused on making the team.


This is assuming Pagan, a sixth-round pick, recovers from his injury and does enough to remain on the roster. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Pagan had shoulder surgery after college. Powe's speed and size were really impressive during OTAs, as was Crick's athleticism. And, of course, there's Watt.


The Texans added two outside linebackers -- Quentin Groves and Lawrence Sidbury -- after Day 1 of training camp. They could wind up on the next version of the projected roster, but for now I'll wait to see more of them. This will be a much talked-about position because of the addition of Clowney, the first overall draft pick. The Texans get versatility from Reed and Tuggle, who can play both inside and outside, and return Cushing, the heart of this defense who hasn't finished the past two seasons. He's confident he'll stay healthy this season. Bullough could make the team as an undrafted rookie, the only one I have on the list this year. Reed raved about him on Friday.


Jackson suddenly found himself the elder statesman this offseason, with Joseph working to the side as he recovers from offseason surgery. Joseph came back for training camp and is on a program set by trainers for how long. Hal is tentatively on this list, but the seventh-round pick could be usurped during training camp. Bouye was a promising undrafted rookie last season and has drawn compliments from O'Brien. Slot corner is another question mark for the Texans. Jackson has played there some.


Lewis, who has played in Romeo Crennel's defense before, started next to Swearinger during the offseason and should be competing against Clemons during training camp to be the team's starting free safety.


Bullock's kicking and confidence improved at the end of last season. He's competing with undrafted rookie Chris Boswell to be the Texans' kicker and we'll get a better feel for how he does as training camp progresses.

Texans Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • The Texans suffered two significant injuries on their first day of training camp, then signed two outside linebackers after it was over. Offensive lineman Cody White suffered a torn Achilles while receiver Alan Bonner, a second-year player who has showed some promise at times, suffered a broken foot. Both players were waived/injured, which means if nobody claims them off waivers, they'll be placed on injured reserve. One option for the team is to reach an injury settlement with the players, which would then release them completely. It's really a shame for Bonner, who also spent last season on injured reserve. Replacing their roster spots were a pair of outside linebacker, Quentin Groves and Lawrence Sidbury.
  • Fewer heat issues today as the Texans, at least the ones who weren't used to it prior, acclimated. Coach Bill O'Brien brushed off the issue of heat. "I mean, it is Texas. It is hot, whatever. These guys are doing fine. We’re not expecting an Alaskan cold front to come in wiping through here."
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick had a nice day, especially when doing the things he does best -- short and intermediate routes. His deep balls were more of a mixed bag, though he had some nice throws there, too. It was difficult to see all of practice because of the way the media is quarantined now, but I saw two interceptions, one to rookie cornerback Andre Hal and one to veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
  • The backup quarterback battle is one the Texans are going to take their time resolving. Right now, Case Keenum holds the spot. He got significantly more reps than rookie Tom Savage today, but Keenum had a bit of a rough day. He struggled with accuracy on several passes.
  • It wasn't all bad for running back Dennis Johnson, but he was visibly furious with himself after dropping two passes thrown his way. One of them popped up and safety Eddie Pleasant intercepted it.
  • The Texans' afternoon walkthroughs are closed to the public and media, but O'Brien said today that he uses them to go over mistakes from the morning with the team. Coaches watch film of practice between the sessions. "We correct some things that have to be fixed," O'Brien said. "We talk a lot about fixing problem within a game. You’ve got to fix problems in the game. You can’t wait until halftime or Monday to fix something that came up in the game. We’ve got to fix those problems either on the practice field or in the walkthrough, and then move on to the next practice."
HOUSTON -- The plan began early in practice. I wanted to count drops as a measure of how focused the Houston Texans receivers were today.

The plan ended early. They weren't dropping anything. (By the end of practice there were one or two drops, but the tally remained very low.)

Today, the second day of training camp, was a great day for the Texans' receivers. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also a good day for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was the best I've seen him since he came to Houston.

In an early drill where receivers ran routes against air, the only ball that hit the ground was an overthrow by rookie quarterback Tom Savage. Later, with one-on-one matchups against defensive backs, it took great coverage for the two passes that did to fall incomplete.

One one such play, with Josh Victorian covering him, undrafted rookie Travis Labhart made a leaping grab after running what looked like a very well-executed route. Later, Fitzpatrick completed a perfectly placed ball deep to Keshawn Martin on a post route.

Mike Thomas caught everything that I saw go his way, grabbing one low throw just before it hit the ground.

EZ Nwachukwu is a guy I haven't seen make mistakes at all. Lacoltan Bester had a great day catching passes mostly from current third-string quarterback Savage.

And I can't leave a post about receivers without praising the (two days of) camp second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins has had. Amid his nice day, Hopkins made an excellent catch up an invisible ladder with Brandon Harris covering him during a 7-on-7 drill.

Really the only player who looked a bit rusty was Andre Johnson, which is probably a result of these being the first days Johnson has caught passes from Fitzpatrick.

Texans Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.

  • As the Texans' offense got set before a play during 11-on-11 drills, coach Bill O'Brien stopped them and screamed that all the skill players had to sprint to the sideline and back. Their punishment for not knowing where to be more quickly. "I would say we were intense today and we were competitive, but we weren’t as sharp as we need to be," O'Brien said after practice.
  • Practice ended with a series of sprints for players. But before they did them, O'Brien had a message: "You want to know how to win? Listen to me." One coach actually participated in the sprints -- no surprise it was linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, who sometimes looks like he could still play if he wanted. Rookie Lonnie Ballentine, the last pick in the draft this May, had to re-run one sprint all by himself. While he did it, he had the support of fans in the bleachers who shouted his name as he did it.
  • Every Texans player who participated passed the team's conditioning test. This was pleasing but not surprising to O'Brien, who said the team is in much better shape now than they were April 7, when the team's offseason conditioning program began. He's happy with their conditioning, but says he still needs to get the players into playing shape. So far they haven't put full pads on. During the outdoor practice that lasted from 8 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m., the heat got to a few players who had to go into the training area in the Texans' practice bubble.
  • The music was loud and so was O'Brien. That's not unusual for practices, but Andre Johnson hasn't been through it before. Johnson loved it. In fact, he began his answers to consecutive questions about O'Brien's demeanor with, "I love it." Specifically on how loud O'Brien is, Johnson said this: "It’s great. I think it’s something that was needed around this place. I’m excited about it."
  • Two players left the field on a cart after being checked out on the sideline during practice. Receiver Alan Bonner, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, appeared to strain a hamstring. Cody White, a third-year guard, went down during an 11-on-11 drill. He needed help to get up and then hopped off the field, putting no pressure on his right leg.
Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph was finally able to rejoin his teammates during Saturday's first practice of training camp.

He missed all of organized team activities and the Texans' two minicamp as he rehabbed from foot surgery after the season.

"Just trying to get out there and just feel my way through it," Joseph said after practice today. "Stay on top of the technique and on top of the playbook and just catch up with the rest of the guys you know from what I missed in the spring."

His recovery process meant not much of an offseason. There were early sessions with the trainers at the facility nearly every day he was in Houston.

"I didn't really have much rust," Joseph said. "I spent a lot of time working here with the trainers working on my technique and the small things. It was good getting back with the guys and get a real feel for being out there with the team."

He didn't feel limited, but is on a rehab program so he isn't doing everything just yet.

"I've been taking care of myself, doing the right things," Joseph said. "Moving in the right direction. Preparing for this moment to get back out there with the guys. Today was a great step in the right direction. ... It's just taking it one day at a time. whenever I get the go from the trainers to let me go, that's when I can do what i want to do. As far as physically, I feel good."
All is forgiven between fans and Andre Johnson, if there ever was any animosity there for Johnson's offseason holdout.

The ones at training camp embraced Johnson's return as he sauntered onto the field this morning. It was Johnson's first time catching passes from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, his first time operating within the Texans' new offense under Bill O'Brien. The very first pass in 11-on-11 drills was a bullet from Fitzpatrick to Johnson, and again a roar arose from the crowd.

"So far, the first day install I picked up pretty well," Johnson said. "I went out there and wasn’t really thinking a lot. I got with Fitz after everything last night and me and him went over some stuff. Everybody has been very helpful with me picking up everything. It’s just fun to be back out here and be with my teammates and getting back to football."

That rapport between Johnson and Fitzpatrick will be especially important this season. They first met at J.J. Watt's charity softball game on May 2 and Johnson said he liked Fitzpatrick a lot personally.

"We have to be on the same page, especially in this offense," Johnson said. "There is a lot of communication and a lot of stuff that goes on."

Johnson is a weapon that will only benefit Fitzpatrick, who was named the Texans' starter during their mandatory minicamp.

"He’s a true pro," Fitzpatrick said of Johnson. "I think everybody here knows that and I’ve always admired him from afar. I’ve heard a lot about his work ethic and the way that he attacks everything. It was nice to sit back and throw to him a little bit today."