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

11 observations from Texans OTAs

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

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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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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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