Sat, 18 Sep 2021

Defense Impresses on Day 4 | Harris' Hits

Houston Texans
02 Aug 2021, 04:02 GMT+10

John Harris

The day before an off day can be a tricky one early in camp, especially one that features 90+ degrees on the grass for two hours plus. As such, it wasn't a day that the offense will want to remember but the defense had a number of players stepping up to make sure that we don't forget their names. We'll get to them and plenty more in version 4.0 of the Harris Hits, Training Camp 2021.

I saw this Twitter thread last weekend that caught my eye...and my ire. Essentially, some media jamoke put on Twitter that he could probably score two points in an NBA game or score a touchdown in an NFL game. Trust me, there are people that believe that they can and they are foolish. I hope it's not you, reader, but just know, you couldn't. Anyhow, after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I laughed uproariously out loud. Let me tell you where I'm going with this. I was standing near the field watching practice just as it was about to start. Pre-practice stuff had finished and guys were chatting and waiting for the horn to start. I looked over and saw Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil just playing catch. He proceeded to fire multiple throws about 45-50 yards and dropped each one right on the receiver. Then, from that same distance away, he caught the return throw as easy as can be. You know how athletic you have to be to do that? And, of course, we all know what Laremy's job is and it's not throwing dimes from 45-50 yards. Those are the types of athletes that "Tweeter on the couch" thinks he can compete with, if only for a second. Uh, no. Okay, semi-rant over.

The offense didn't have veterans Tyrod Taylor and Andre Roberts today and it showed. These were planned absences for the two vets. As such, much of the quarterback work today fell on the shoulders of two guys that got here in May - rookie Davis Mills and veteran Jeff Driskel, who signed right at the start of OTAs. That inexperience showed during the red zone team drills. Furthermore, receiver Brandin Cooks didn't get a ton of time during practice either, so there were a few reasons that contributed to a less than clean and successful day.

(As an aside, not really an observation but a thought...look, there hasn't been a rookie or a veteran that I haven't seen struggle at some point in camp in their careers. It. Happens. I've seen it all in 15 years out at Texans training camp, whether here, the Greenbrier or in some joint practice location in that time. There have been days I've wanted to just give a guy a hug after a tough one. It happens, learn from it and move on.)

One of my favorite offensive plays of the day, though, was during one-on-ones down in the red zone. Receiver Keke Coutee was working up the field on a defensive back (didn't write down who, sorry). Anyhow, the defender had really great coverage as Keke pushed up the field. As Keke neared the back of the end zone, he bent his route to the back pylon, but the DB did an excellent job of cutting his route off so to speak. So, there wasn't a ton of room for quarterback Jeff Driskel to loft it to the corner or even zip it to him along the back of the end zone. So, Driskel fired it to Coutee's backshoulder, which was the perfect spot, but it's not typically where that throw goes on that route. Coutee was able to get his hands on it, ripping it into his body so as to hang on for the touchdown.

One play earlier on the other side of the drill, rookie Davis Mills dropped one beautiful fade route on receiver Anthony Miller for a touchdown.

A few plays later, Mills floated one to the back corner which rookie Nico Collins snatched for a tuddy. Defensive back Keion Crossen was in the absolute perfect spot, but the 6-4 Collins' height was a bit much for Crossen (or anyone, really) to handle in that situation.

I noted earlier that there were a handful of defensive players that really caught my attention on Saturday. One of my favorite stories on this team is defensive back Shyheim Carter. He graduated following the 2019 season from Alabama, then COVID hit during his draft preparation and he went undrafted. He eventually signed with the Jets as a UDFA (undrafted free agent). After the 2020 season, he went back to Alabama to become a graduate assistant in the spring. But, after spring practice, he got a call to come tryout with the Texans which he then turned into a spot on the 90-man roster. I love that story and he's made a few solid plays, including a great job covering receiver Alex Erickson during that red zone/goal line one-on-one drill.

(Another aside...Interesting as I looked at the Alabama coaching staff for 2021. Former Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is OC/QB coach. Former Texans inside linebacker Max Bullough is a graduate assistant. Former Texans tight end coach Will Lawing is an analyst as is former Texans safety Shiloh Keo. A ton of Texans flavor in T-Town in 2021)

The four veteran running backs in Houston have gotten a ton of publicity, especially given their backgrounds and history. But, Dontrell Hilliard and Scottie Phillips haven't budged an inch. Both guys made plays that got my attention today. Hilliard absolutely torched a linebacker on an angle route for a touchdown catch. Phillips looked like he was shot out of a cannon on an inside run for a touchdown during team drills later in the day.

Two 2018 Texans draft picks find each other a lot during each day and that's Justin and Jordan. Reid and Akins. Those two are competitive as all get out and during one-on-ones at all times. On one rep, Akins was able to take a fairly solid shot to the back from Reid and hang on for a catch.

Tight end Kahale Warring was able to sky above a safety for a catch in the back corner of the end zone too. Tremendous catch by the third year tight end looking to make a significant impact in 2021.

A couple of linebackers made plays during the one-on-ones with the running backs. Former Jet/Dolphin Neville Hewitt is well known for his ability to make tackles (134 of them in 2020 to lead the Jets). But, his ability to cover showed up against running back David Johnson that caused an incompletion.

The second linebacker that got my attention was Joe Thomas who was faced with covering Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield, which the former Packer/Cowboy did wonderfully, forcing an incompletion.

Cornerback Tremon Smith caught my eyes years ago. When he was playing at Central Arkansas in the Southland Conference, I was fortunate enough to cover a couple of his games on TV while he was a 1st Team All-Conference player. I saw him in the hallway one day and asked if he remembered me calling his games. I knew he wouldn't know, but when I told him, I had done so, he started laughing. No one was laughing today when he came up with a pick during practice. He can really fly and when that speed shows up, it's impressive.

Running back Rex Burkhead probably provided the biggest "WHOOOOA!!" moment for me today during those one-on-ones. He ran a circle/angle route about as well as I've seen anyone do it. He charged at the linebacker and then started out to the flat. As soon as the backer bit, Burkhead stopped on a dime and knifed back inside for the easy catch and touchdown.

During some red zone team drill work, the offense really struggled in the condensed area. Defensive back Justin Reid came up with a couple of interceptions that I saw and I wasn't watching 100% of the time (watched the big fellas a lot today).

Defensive back John Reid is such an interesting guy on and off the field. Last year was such a difficult one for any young player, but he's bouncing back in his second campaign. He did a great job on coverage in the back of the end zone on fellow 2020 Draft teammate Isaiah Coulter to help force an incompletion during a team drill.

Another defensive player that doesn't want anyone to sleep on him is defensive tackle Auzoyah Alufohai. BIG Z!! He's got to be the biggest guy in camp, but it's hard to tell with how he's built. On his first pass rush today, he burst off the ball and threw a Reggie White Hump move on one of the Texans poor offensive lineman. Now, if some of you don't remember Reggie White, he was an animal on the field and one of the strongest players that's ever played this game. He had a patented move where he would rush to the high side of a tackle and when he felt the tackle was off balance, he'd take his massive inside arm and use it like a club to swat the offensive lineman out of the way. Reggie White finally retired from the NFL in the early 2000s and no one has truly ever been able to replicate that move. Taking that all into account, when Big Z threw that move today, I knew it was more than just a really good pass rush move. We'd all like to see even more of that work from Big Z as it was highly, HIGHLY impressive.

Offensive lineman Rod Johnson was having his way with rushers for the most part during the day. One defensive end actually asked to face him again and Rod shut him down the second rep too.

One guy that has truly been robbed of an opportunity in this league is defensive end Derek Rivers. Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, I thought fairly highly of Rivers. Here's my scouting report on the former Youngstown State star.

"81. Derek Rivers, OLB, Youngstown State

Combine: Watching Youngstown State in 2016, I wondered why teams thought Rivers was more deserving of higher draft status than his teammate Avery Moss. Then, Rivers went to the Combine and showed me why. He set four top performance marks. He ran 4.61 in the 40-yard dash, while throwing up 30 reps of 225 lb. on the bench. He posted a 35-inch vertical jump and ran a 6.94 in the 3-cone drill. He definitely set himself apart with his performance in Indianapolis.

Overall: His numbers were extraordinary facing FCS competition, racking up 14 sacks, 17.5 tackles for a loss and 20 quarterback hurries. He teamed with former Nebraska star Avery Moss (another player's name that you might hear early on day three) to form one of the best edge rushing duos in the nation. Rivers flies off the football and can certainly bend the edge when rushing the quarterback. He's an athlete who can bend and play with strong hands. He's not as strong setting the edge in the run game as I'd like a complete edge player to be heading to the next level. But, the athleticism, redirect skills and ability to turn the corner are all present for the 3x First Team All-Missouri Valley Conference star."

The Patriots drafted him that year and when they came to the Greenbrier, I was pumped to see what Rivers could do. Unfortunately, he was injured during a special teams drill and it ended his season. He bounced back the next year with a sack in six games for New England, but he missed all of 2019 due another injury. When he signed with the Texans this offseason, I remember thinking that if he had anything left in the tank and could stay healthy, just maybe there's something there. Well, on the last rep of pass rush one-on-ones, he was aligned on the right side and as the ball was snapped, he completely bull rushed the tackle right into the quarterback. I mean, Rivers completely lifted the offensive tackle UP OFF THE GROUND and it looked easy, honestly. If anything caught my attention more than seeing Rivers on that particular rep, I don't know what it was.

A little while later in team drills, Rivers chased quarterback Jeff Driskel from the backside which helped force an incompletion.

Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor threw a sweet spin move on a center to get clean to the quarterback as well.

On the first rep of the day, offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt faced defensive lineman Charles Omenihu who's been a clear winner early in camp. Omenihu did a solid job winning the first rep, but when the two faced each other later in the drill, Froholdt did about as good a job as I've seen anyone do on Charles. I love seeing players make mistakes, accept good coaching, make an adjustment and have success the second time around. We'd ALL love to be perfect on the first rep, but it's just not going to happen all the time. So, fail, get up, learn and get back at it. Froholdt did that awesomely.

I actually wrote down that the offensive lineman, most of those reps were from the younger or less experienced guys, did a much better job the second and third time around against the full group of defensive linemen.

Speaking of defensive linemen, Jacob Martin blazed the edge to create a sack, well, a training camp sack. You know what I mean, he was in the exact spot he needed to finish the sack IF the defense could hit the quarterback.

The last play of the day was a good one for the offense to end on. Receiver Anthony Miller ran a little snag route just past the goal line. He was wearing linebacker Tae Davis who was draped all over him as the ball was thrown low where only Miller could make the catch. He went down to his shoe tops to reel in the catch for a touchdown.

Alright, it's time for everyone to take a day off tomorrow and we'll be right back at it on Monday. See ya' then and, as always, thanks for reading!!

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