Throughout this round of Houston Texans training camp, one of the many storylines has been the presence of a seemingly kinder, gentler Bill O'Brien. Whether it's the relative good health of his team, or the fact that he now runs the show over there on Kirby, whatever the reason, O'Brien has been quite calm throughout this preseason.
Of course, as we learned from Frank Costanza, serenity now turns into insanity later, and on Tuesday, for whatever the reason, O'Brien was at his train camp saltiest in a barely two minute media session following practice. Frankly, the OLD version of Bill O'Brien had been a long time coming, and in a weird way, it was good to have him back. So, what set him off? Well, let's start there with some observations from Tuesday's practice...
Don't ask about Matt Kalil!
For the third straight practice (with a game in between this past Saturday), Matt Kalil was not practicing with his teammates, which is a major problem considering (a) Bill O'Brien still insists that he is the starting left tackle for Week 1 of the regular season, and (b) Kalil wasn't that good to begin with, even when he was practicing regularly, which if we are using the conventional definition of "regularly", was sometime back in 2017. After practice on Tuesday, O'Brien was asked, point blank, if Kalil was hurt. Here was his reply:
The follow up to this response was an inquiry about Kalil starting Week 1, and O'Brien confirms that he will be. Personally, I think the chances of Kalil starting against the Saints in Week 1 are dwindling, and become damn near remote, if not dead, if he doesn't play this Saturday in Dallas. We shall see. In the meantime.....
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Roderick Johnson continues to impress
O'Brien made it clear on Monday this week that, yes, Johnson has improved by leaps and bounds over last season. Actually, "light years" were his exact words for just how far Johnson has come since joining the Texans in 2018. All of a sudden, Johnson has gone from an afterthought to, perhaps, the most intriguing player in camp, and potentially one of the most important. He looks so much stronger and more skilled in every facet of playing tackle, from leverage to his hands. It was all on display yesterday during one particular rep, one on one with Whitney Mercilus (who himself has been great this camp), when Johnson stood him up. Here's hoping Johnson keeps things going on Saturday, and gives offensive line coach Mike Devlin a much needed success story.
Duke Johnson's first day on the job
On Tuesday, we got our first look at the Texans' newest acquisition, running back Duke Johnson. After sitting off to the side for his first week and a half as a Texan, Johnson got into some drills and was running with the first unit (along with Lamar Miller, who also got first team reps at running back). Johnson was able to show off his super power, catching the ball out of the backfield, a few times in 11-on-11 drills, and he looked good. The Texans haven't had a running back with this type of pass-catching skillset since Arian Foster was in his heyday from 2010 through 2012. I'm very anxious to see what O'Brien and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly come up with for the fifth year running back.
J.J. Watt ready for destruction
Because we haven't seen him in either of the first two preseason games, it's largely been word of mouth spreading the good news, and this is that, for the first time in four years, J.J. Watt looks as dominant as he did back when he was winning back to back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 2014 and 2015. There's nobody that could block him when the Lions came to town for practice, and there's certainly nobody on the Texans that's been blocking him. More importantly, other than missing a couple practices as a precaution after a groin tweak in Green Bay, he has been largely available and out at practice every day, which is good for him and great preparation for the offensive linemen who have to block him. The nation will see on Monday night, September 9, what we've been seeing locally all summer — J.J. Watt is back, and at 10/1 odds, he is great value for Defensive Player of the Year.