For the first time since 2016, the Houston Texans opened training camp on Thursday right here in Houston. There was no road trip to West Virginia this year, but there was unseasonably cooler weather on Thursday, and by unseasonably cooler, I mean "below 95 degrees, and not really humid at all." We will take it!
The quest for a Super Bowl, or at least a run into and through the playoffs toward something significant, is underway. I was out at practice on Thursday morning, and have some observations of both the action on the field, and the general behavior of the players and coaches. Here are five things that jumped out at me:
J.J. Watt had the shortest stint on the PUP list EVER
For the first time since 2015, J.J. Watt had a relatively healthy offseason, getting to focus on actual football preparation instead of rehabbing whatever the previous year's season ending injury was. That said, he still began training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. The strange thing is that he found out he was on the PUP list by looking at FOX 26's Mark Barman's Twitter feed:
"I found out I was on PUP when you tweeted it. I didn't know – I've been planning on practicing the first day the whole time. So, I just think it was a precautionary thing. I don't know. This morning I guess."
Well, his sting on the PUP list was the shortest that I can ever remember. Watt was on the field for the start of drills, and looked spry, knocking down a couple passes and being generally disruptive. In fact, good health was a theme of the day on Thursday....
Will Fuller looks fully healthy
When the announcement of Watt and DeAndre Hopkins on the PUP list was released on Sunday, there wasn't major concern. In fact, I was happy reading that email because Will Fuller (returning from a torn ACL that ended his 2018 season) was NOT on the list. Fuller was back at practice on Thursday, and he doesn't look like he's missed a beat. Like Watson coming back from a 2017 ACL tear last year, Fuller looks like his rehab has gone super smoothly. O'Brien had great things to say about Fuller after practice:
"Yes. He's had a really good offseason relative to the things that he had to do to get himself back on the field. He was here every day, really put a lot of time into it, just did an excellent job. It's great to have him back out there."
It's worth mentioning that Deshaun Watson's passer rating while targeting Fuller was 147.2 in 2018, the second best combination in the league, behind only Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett in Seattle. A healthy Fuller opens up everything for the Texans on offense.
Tytus Howard is firmly in the mix to start on the offensive line
Media covering training camp are subject to a number of rules pertaining to what we can and cannot report. One of the no-no's is reporting specific position groups and depth chart combinations, so I can't tell you which players were part of the first team offensive line, nor can I tell you the various permutations of players used. I can say that there was a ton of shuffling around, with some players playing multiple position with different iterations of the offensive line. I CAN tell you this — after watching all of the permutations trotted out there, I am very confident that first round pick Tytus Howard will be starting SOMEWHERE along the offensive line, at either tackle or guard. That's not a report, its an educated prediction.
Bill O'Brien appears to have mastered some delegation skills
We know that Bill O'Brien, in addition to his head coaching duties (which includes, for now, calling plays on game day), has also picked up a fraction of the general manager duties for the Houston Texans, with the team opting not to replace the fired Brian Gaine, after swinging and missing on Nick Caserio. Just form observing the 11-on-11 drills, along with watching O'Brien himself, it appears as though he is delegating a little bit more this season than in years past. For example, offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was managing the offensive unit during those drills, calling plays and organizing the huddle and substitutions. O'Brien fully trusting Kelly this early would be a good sign going forward.
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Wherefore art thou, Clowney?
O'Brien was asked about holdout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney after practice, and despite reports during the offseason that O'Brien was the driving force behind Clowney NOT getting a long term extension, O'Brien was very complimentary of the sixth year former first overall pick in the draft:
"I can tell you unequivocally that we want Jadeveon Clowney here. He's a part of this team. We want him here. There's always a difference when you’re talking about money relative to wanting him on the team. That's something that the agent and our organization are working on, but relative to the player and the history that he and I have together, we would love to have him here. He's a really talented football player that's made a lot of good plays for us in the past, and like I said, the sooner the better. I'd love to have him here."
The Clowney topic, which raged like a wildfire at times this off-season, is likely squelched until he gets here in late August or early September.