The middle part of OTA work got under way for the team

11 observations from Texans OTAs

The Texans got to work after a break on their next phase of OTAs. Here's what you need to know.

Vyncint Smith has improved

He looks like a totally different wide receiver than last year. Everything looks to be a little bit faster from the processing maybe even to his speed. It was expected last year would be a rude awakening for him coming from Limestone college but he surprised and made the team then stayed on the team.

This year he isn't just a go route guy. He is fluid and smooth over the middle and has better mastery of NFL routes. He will need to continue to improve consistency but there is absolutely a space for Smith on the team. Only DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee are locks. Smith fits the mold of an outside receiver the Texans could use as depth behind Hopkins and Fuller. He has plenty of competition though as Bill O'Brien made sure to note the wideouts play a position that right now is "very very competitive."

Jordan Thomas

Jordan Thomas looks comfortable at tight end now. He also has changed his body a little and seems to be much more fluid. He will be a key contributor for the team and has a chance to be the first tight end on the field for the Texans. He is just so big he becomes a tough cover for linebackers.

O'Brien said it is good and bad he got to play as a rookie but noted he did some good things for the team in 2018. He also mentioned Thomas had a long way to go getting to where he wanted to be and where the team needed to be. He is well on his way though.

Kahale Warring still working

Texans tight end Kahale Warring

Cody Stoots/SportsMap

It was an up and down day for the Texans new tight end. He got a lot of work at all facets of the tight end position throughout the day. He will have to improve his blocking, not necessarily from a physical point. He said he relished the opportunity, but from a technique and awareness standpoint.

He said "all the tight ends at my position are helping" him get acclimated at the position and even Deshaun Watson is "in my ear" helping him on the field. The potential is there as he's physically gifted and has a great athlete background mentioning his basketball helping him on the field. Towards the end of the workout he hauled in a nice catch despite having shown a little fatigue earlier.

Joseph still young

Johnathan Joseph is the elder statesmen in the secondary and he's embracing his role as the leader and veteran. He also wants to show he has plenty left in the tank too as he knocked down a couple of balls and was a little angry at himself at for missing a near interception.

He praised the work ethic of the secondary and the rookie draft picks, Lonnie Johnson and Xavier Crawford, who are trying to fit in. He mentioned Johnson had a lot of talents when it came to height, weight, and speed and praised Crawford's speed.

Joseph will have to play and he will have to be solid for the Texans to succeed early. He looks good now and the injury bug actually hit him for just the first time last season. It will be interesting to see how he works against the Packers and Lions in the joint practices as well as his work against Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller.

Growth with the slot specialist

Deshaun Watson and Keke Coutee are going to frustrate opposing offenses with the speed at which they work together. Watching them is like watching two players who have far more time together than you would expect. Coutee, of course, missed a ton of time his rookie year with his hamstring injury. The relationship is strong between he and Watson.

Coutee mentioned he took a ton of time this offseason working on making sure his body is where he can stay on the field. He said stretching and a lot of work on his soft tissues is where he spent a lot of the time.

Play of the day goes to the fullback

Cullen Gillaspia had the play of the day when he skied for a pass and snatched it out of the air. My goodness it was impressive. He is extremely athletic and it shows on the football field. It doesn't sneak up on you. It is ever-present.

He is the team's fullback but he is certainly a more modern fullback than say Jay Prosch was for the Texans two seasons ago. Kyle Juszczyk of the 49ers and how they use him is the eventual goal I would guess for Gillaspia. He has to have an impact on special teams as the team works him into the position he just started playing last year at Texas A&M.

New McKinney, Same Results

Benardrick McKinney looks a bit more svelt than previous years. I would be concerned about it considering he plays such a psychically demanding position but he has shown the same level of athleticism we are used to seeing and his coverage ability is as solid as ever.

With these types of practices with no pads guys like McKinney, thumpers in the run game, have to work on other things. He has always been athletic but it will be interesting to see how much this slight tweak to his frame impacts his work.

Reid and Gip

No, it isn't the hot new buddy cop show coming to CBS this fall but it is apparent Justin Reid and new safety Tashaun Gipson are becoming fast friends. Gipson and Reid communicate a lot before and after plays often time with the veteran instructing the second-year safety.

Johnathan Joseph said the defense likes the idea of interchangeable safeties, something Reid mentioned last week. If Gipson and Reid can get to the level of being able to do each other's jobs before the season starts the Texans will have a nice matchup weapon.

"Basically a rookie"

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That was the comment Bill O'Brien made about second-year cornerback Jermaine Kelly. Kelly missed all of last season with an injury and has quite a bit of catching up to do. He looks the part of what the Texans are heading towards in their secondary though. He is a physical marvel easily over 200 pounds and solid. He has some length to his game too.

Making the team will not be easy for Kelly but there will be opportunities. If he can shine on special teams and make plays in the secondary there is a route for him to stick around. This is his first taste of real NFL action and he is worth paying attention to going forward.

Foreman's motivation

D'Onta Foreman said he feels like this is the best he has ever felt heading into a football season. He looks like it too. He also said he feels like the coaching staff is excited about him and what he can do. You can tell they are too because they didn't add a significant running back to the roster.

The important thing for Foreman is catching up. He hasn't been fully healthy playing football since 2017 so getting back to where he was and then building from that point is a key for him.

Coach Cushing

It still doesn't feel right to see Brian Cushing running around in workout gear and not a Texans uniform but such is the life of coach Cushing. He isn't helping just in the weight room either. He was assisting the linebackers with a couple of drills. His impact may not be immediately quantifiable, and who knows if he will stick around, but it doesn't hurt to have him as well as former Texans linebacker Akeem Dent around a linebacker corps who is fairly young overall.

Cushing not having to do football workouts has led to a slightly more muscular version of the linebacker we once knew. He still can move a little though simulating a player in one of the drills.

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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