Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans Scrimmage Under the Lights — Four Winners, Four Losers

Keke Coutee and the wide receivers have picked up chemistry with QB Tyrod Taylor pretty quickly in camp.
Keke Coutee and the wide receivers have picked up chemistry with QB Tyrod Taylor pretty quickly in camp. Photo by Sean Pendergast
For the first time since 2015, the Houston Texans held a practice at night, under the lights, a one hour scrimmage for their loyal season ticket holders to get a look at what life might look like this season after the Deshaun Watson Era is officially over. (Make no mistake, it's UNOFFICIALLY over right now, for sure, as Watson has been absent from practice since this past Tuesday.)

Honestly, if Saturday night is any indicator, then life might not be as rock bottom as the oddsmakers seem to think. There were some encouraging things from both sides of the ball, and if you had to choose one player you'd prefer to be the best player on the field, you'd probably choose Tyrod Taylor, Watson's replacement.

Taylor was just that, he was scintillating. More on that in a minute, as we acknowledge the caveat that anything good happening on the practice field for the Texans is coming against, well, OTHER HOUSTON TEXANS. This Saturday's preseason game in Green Bay is going to be HIGHLY anticipated, as we will get our first REAL feel for where this team is and will be this season.

Now, for winners and losers from Saturday....

WINNERS

4. Jacob Martin
This is a big training camp for all of the edge defenders who were previously listed as outside linebackers, under the old regime. In Lovie Smith's defense, guys like Whitney Mercilus, Jon Greenard, and Jacob Martin will get  a chance to put their hand in the dirt and attack the quarterback. On Saturday, Martin did just that, getting a couple of sacks against the first team offensive line. Like practically everyone in camp, Martin is in a contract year and would like to put up some numbers heading into free agency.

3. Brandin Cooks
Cooks will likely always be thought of as the guy brought in to replace DeAndre Hopkins, given that Bill O'Brien and Jack Easterby traded Hopkins for a second round pick, and then three weeks later, traded a second round pick to the Rams for Cooks. It's probably unfair, but that's life. That said, Cooks has looked very sharp in camp, and he brought that same energy to Saturday's scrimmage, catching two deep balls, including a touchdown, and having another long catch and run for a touchdown called back on a penalty. Cooks looked like a viable number one wide receiver on Saturday night.

2. Roy Lopez
Overall, aside from David Mills' massive turnover issues in practice these first few weeks of camp, this five man rookie draft class has looked very solid. The most pleasant surprise, so far, as been the play of Roy Lopez, the sixth round pick out of Arizona. Lopez's size was probably what held him back in the draft — he is short for a defensive lineman — but his extensive wrestling background and competitive spirit have been evident on the practice field, and they've only been accentuated once the pads came on. On Saturday night, Lopez was running with and against most of the "well known" players on the roster. (Media reporting policies prevent us from saying which "string" players are running with, but read into my assessment what you will.)

1. Tyrod Taylor
As stated perviously, Taylor was absolutely sublime on Saturday night. He was in total control of the offense, regardless of the situation they were running — two minute, goal line, and regular "drive the field" offense. Taylor was throwing the ball accurately to all levels of the field, and when necessary, he showed some of the wiggle that's kept him employed for over a decade now. I'm not saying Taylor is going to be Watson, but if the performance from Saturday (and that was carryover from some very good practices last week, too) is the norm for Taylor, the Texans will surprise a few teams along the way in what will still likely be a challenging season.

LOSERS

4. Charlie Heck
Heck has been a minor revelation thus far in 2021, as he spent much of OTA's running with the first string, but that was with Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard, last season's starting tackles, taking practices off. Now, with everyone activated and healthy, Heck has been playing right tackle opposite Tunsil, with Howard bumped inside to guard. That's the good news for Heck. The bad news for last season's fourth round pick is that Saturday was rough, as he was on the business end of the two Martin sacks, and was the holding culprit on Cooks' touchdown catch and run. There will be better days ahead for Heck, but Saturday was a tough one.

3. Kahale Warring
One thing is very evident with Taylor at the controls — this team WILL use its tight ends in the passing game, perhaps more than any previous season. Taylor's strength in the passing game is more in the midrange than downfield, and that's what we saw on Saturday. The first two tight ends on the depth chart, Jordan Akins and Pharaoh Brown, each caught touchdowns and figured prominently in the long, successful drives Taylor engineered. On top of that, rookie Brevin Jordan has had a solid camp so far. This is all bad news for 2019 third round pick Kahale Warring, who is still struggling to "get it" three years in. Right now, the main thing keeping Warring's NFL career light on is his picturesque physique. He is chiseled like a Greek god. However, eventually, the ball gets kicked off, and that's when it gets dicey for Warring. He may not make the team.

2. David Culley's blood pressure
We all love David Culley, the man. He seems delightful in press conferences, and those performances are backed up by people in the building who say he is a breath of fresh air over the walking dark cloud that was Bill O'Brien. If you're concerned that perhaps David Culley is TOO nice to be a head coach, just know that when his offense was getting penalties dropped on them like Halloween candy early in the scrimmage, Culley got VERY salty and was pulling guys off the field for mental errors. I was very encouraged that Culley might have the APPROPRIATE amount of anger in his system, as opposed to O'Brien who had limitless anger in his system.

1. Jeff Driskel
As Driskel took the field with the backups for a drive, my SportsRadio 610 college Landry Locker turned to me and asked what odds I'd give him on Driskel, who'd been a turnover machine in practice, throwing a pick:
Jeff Driskel doesn't belong on an NFL roster. The end.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast