After rookie minicamp last week, which is essentially the NFL's version of freshman orientation, the sixth version of the Houston Texans under head coach Bill O'Brien got cracking in full force yesterday, with MOST of the veterans returning to the field for the first session of Organized Team Activities (OTAs, in football speak). There are no pads, just helmets, jerseys, and shorts, so it's tough to glean any really heavy, true-football themes or information.
That said, you don't walk away from an OTA session fully in the dark. There are reasons to be excited or concerned, so with that said, here are a few of my observations from attending Tuesday's OTA debut for the 2019 Houston Texans:
If there is an x-factor in the Texans offense this year, someone whose presence could wildly shift the productivity of the unit by his mere presence, the first choice is wide receiver Will Fuller (who was out there yesterday on the sidelines, but not participating because he is recovering from an ACL injury), but Foreman is second on my list. After a one game cameo in Week 16 last year in coming back from an Achilles tear in 2017, Foreman made a very pronounced (and highly scrutinized) commitment to conditioning this offseason, even adding boxing to his workout regimen. It shows. Foreman looked slim, trim, and spry, and the team is clearly counting on him to combo with Lamar Miller, because they've made virtually no moves to add depth at running back this offseason. Here was O'Brien, following practice, on Foreman:
“I’ve seen good progress. I think he's had a very good offseason. He's worked very hard. Sometimes it takes time, especially when you're injured your rookie year with a significant injury. You have something you're dealing with like he did with the Achilles. It takes a while to come back from that. Young player, getting used to pro football, then you have that. So, I think he's had a really good time away from us, when he wasn't with us, and that has parlayed into a good spring. I just talk to D'Onta every single day about being consistent, just like I try to preach that to the team every day. Stringing days together, being as consistent as you can every single day.”
All eyes were on the rookie first round pick out of Alabama State, and you can see from a physical stature standpoint why the Texans liked him so much, certainly more than a lot of the draft pundits did (not that they hated Howard, but many thought that the 23rd overall pick in the draft was a bit high for him). He moves very well, as you'd expect from a former quarterback and tight end, and without getting too specific (because media policy doesn't allow us to), let's just say that the Texans were moving him all over the place on the offensive line. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle gives Howard a 90 percent chance at starting at left tackle. Here's what O'Brien had to say about Howard:
“He's a rookie. These guys are young. They just got here. I know he's a very good kid, he works very hard, he's got good strength, good athleticism. He learns well. He's just getting acclimated to the speed of how we practice over the last two days. For every rookie, that's a big jump. But I think he's a guy that, if he continues to work the way he works, he'll get better every day.”
The "eyeball test" on Howard was really part of a big picture theme on Tuesday about body types. This 2019 Texans team, from the returning veterans to the newcomers, LOOKS like the team that Brian Gaine has been trying to construct, when he says in virtually every interview that they want to add "height, weight, speed" and get "longer, stronger, faster." Second round pick CB Lonnie Johnson, in particular, is like something the Texans have never had before at that position, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds.
Back to Howard, if If I have one concern about him, it's that he may not be ready for the heat wave that's about to hit him in training camp:
Um, it's MAY, young buck.
It's Year 2 of the Watson Era, which is very exciting, because the third year in the league is when you'd expect a quarterback of Watson's skillset and pedigree to ascend into those MVP-type conversations. (Certainly, Tytus Howard adapting to the NFL and the Texas heat, I suppose, will help that endeavor.) Early on during Tuesday's practice, Watson looked a little off, just missing on several throws to tight ends Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins, but he got better as the day went on. I think the biggest takeaway related to Watson is that you get the sense that this is truly HIS team in Year Number Three. It's his show, he's running things out there, and it reinforces how the Texans have never, ever had anybody like this before under center. I don't know what the Texans' record is going to be this season, but I think Watson is going to put up big numbers, and he will need to with the quarterbacks on their schedule. Here's what O'Brien had to say about Watson:
“I would say that he's worked very hard this spring on – he has improved a great deal just in his mastery of our offense. How our offense operates, the communication of our offense. He's done an excellent job. He's a very bright guy and he works very hard. All he wants to do is what's best for the team. All he wants to do is win, help the team win. I think the other area that he's improved – out on the field against our defense, you have to be ready for all of the defensive looks you're going to get, and he's done a good job of that, understanding coverage better, understanding blitz schemes better. Really has good command of what's going on right now during this time of the year. So, he's really done a good job this spring.”
Finally, a big topic among the assembled media yesterday was the Tampa Bay Buccaners release of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. McCoy is one year into his career, a six time Pro Bowler, who averaged over seven sacks a season in Tampa, while playing, on average, 15 games a year. O'Brien was asked about the Texans' looking at McCoy, and he was predictably cryptic:
“We talk about the waiver wire, we talk about the roster every day. So, every decision that could possibly be made out there is – whether it's our own roster or something that's out there. There's a lot of players on the waiver wire. We talk about those every single day.”
Look, not many guys hit the market at this stage of the offseason that are this good a fit for what the Texans need, but beyond offensive line and cornerback, an inside pass rusher was the best biggest offseason need for this team. McCoy is one of the best. Tampa didn't let him go because he can't play, they let him go because they needed salary cap room to sign their rookies. McCoy is a great locker room guy, and he would make life easier for everybody on defense, drawing blocker attention that can help J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, and providing a push on the pocket that can aid the secondary. Make it happen, Gaine!