On Saturday morning, we got two things that we hadn't seen thus far at Houston Texans training camp. One was a completely unwelcome scourge, and the other was fully welcome anytime. Unwelcome was the scorching heat, after two days of unseasonably hot-but-not-surface-of-the-sun-hot temps, Saturday was a scorcher. Fortunately, the Texans were playing in pads, which is roughly ten to 15 times more entertaining than seeing them work in shells.
So you celebrate the return of padded practice, and take the good with the bad. That's what you do!
After watching actual hitting going on for a couple of hours, here are four of my main takeaways as the Texans' roster begins the infancy stage of taking shape for the regular season:
4. The Texans may be all right at running back.
With Lamar Miller and D'Onta Foreman as the only backs who'd taken a carry with the Texans on the roster throughout the offseason, this position was screaming for a veteran pickup in free agency. (Honestly, if the Texans' five-headed GM wanted to pick up the phone and call Theo Riddick, third down back who was just released by the Lions, I wouldn't complain.) However, with Miller expected to be solid, if unspectacular, and Foreman appearing to be in outstanding shape, the Texans may be okay. For what it's worth, undrafted rookie Karan Higdon had some pep in his step in the 11-on-11 position of practice. Here's Bill O'Brien on Foreman:
“It’s great. I have high expectations for him. I think that he’s a talented guy. He’s from this area. I know he wants to do well. I just think that he’s got a chance to be a really good football player. I think if he’s healthy and consistent and showing up day to day and putting the work in, he’s got the chance to be good. So, I have high expectations for him.”
3. Prediction: Tytus Howard will be a starter somewhere on the left side of the line in Week 1.
Because of media reporting policies from practice, I had to be a little nebulous in talking about how the team was using the rookie first round pick out of Alabama State late last week. However, it's out there now — Howard has been rotating between left tackle and left guard with the top offensive line units on the team. He absolutely looks the part, and maybe, just maybe, he can make the ultimate Texan skeptics forget that their team didn't move up to take tackle Andre Dillard with the 22nd overall pick. Here's Bill O'Brien on Howard:
“Yeah, absolutely. He’s another guy, relative to his size and where he is in his career – he came back in shape and did a nice job in the conditioning test so he was able to hit the ground running there in early training camp, get his feet up underneath him. We’re moving him around a little bit. Most of the time he’s inside, but he played some tackle today. So, I think, for a rookie – again, having not played in a game, the next test will be tomorrow and then eventually it’ll be Green Bay. We’ll go up to Green Bay for a few days and see how that goes, but so far so good.”
2. Lonnie Johnson looks closer to ready than I thought he would be.
Meanwhile, in the second round, with one of their two picks in that round, former GM Brian Gaine and O'Brien decided to fill another glaring need, and take CB Lonnie Johnson out of Kentucky, and they took him over more accomplished college corners (Julian Love, anyone?) out of sheer lust for Johnson's measurables (height, weight, speed). Thus, it was thought that Johnson may be a bit of a rough-around-the-edges project. However, he's looked solid more often than not throughout camp, getting a pick during one-on-one drills on Thursday, and not looking completely overwhelmed against DeAndre Hopkins on Saturday. Here's Bill O'Brien on Johnson:
“I think for a rookie, for him he kept back in shape, so he did a nice job in the conditioning tests, which obviously in this type of weather he’s able to go out there and concentrate and finish practice. I think he’s really working to get better. I think there’s been improvement. Now look, for any rookie, I mean look guys, very few rookies play. Really, if you go back in the history of, let’s just say the last 10 to 15 years of the league, there’s really not a lot of rookies that actually play a lot their rookie year. A few. There’s quarterbacks, maybe some corners, so we’ll see how he does. He’s doing better on special teams but he’s definitely made a lot of improvement.”
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Now, Johnson did leave Sunday's padded practice with an ice pack on his leg, so we will see in the short term how healthy he is, but when healthy, he was looking the part.
1. Will Fuller is fully activated.
As Houstonians, we all have a lot to worry about these days. It's summertime, so the humidity makes it hard to focus sometimes. For most adults out there, you have your family, work, and extracurricular activities to worry about. As a sports fan, you have the MLB trade deadline, the dawning of the Harden-Westbrook Era, and a myriad of Texans issues to worry about. So it's nice when you can cross something off of your "worry list," and just put your mind at ease about SOMETHING.
Well, good news — Will Fuller entering 2019 looking like he did right before he got hurt in 2018 is something you don't have to sweat about. Fuller looks ready to make "the leap" in Year 4 of his career. His speed is still there, and was on display multiple times on Saturday. So rest easy, Houston sports fan, you'll have your Will Fuller for 2019. Just pray for his health.... and for the 1,000 other things that you're worried about.