11 observations from Texans training camp Day 6

11 observations from Texans training camp Day 6
Chris Moore handled Bradley Roby with no problem. Photo by SportsMapStaff.
Texans' Bradley Roby discusses his biggest takeaway from decision to postpone college football

The Houston Texans had their first day of pads and saw a few players hit the practice field for the first time.

1. Texans Quarterback Deshaun Watson was absent from practice today. Watson was working with a trainer and looking at his foot yesterday, but no official reason was given for Watson missing his first practice. Texans head coach David Culley offered there was "nothing new" on Watson.

2. Defensive backs Lonnie Johnson and Cornell Armstrong returned to practice as did tight end Pharaoh Brown. Those three players, along with defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker, had all started camp on the active/non-football injury list.

3. Lonnie Johnson didn't practice the whole time as it seems the team is easing him back in, but he looked quick and athletic on the field. Johnson blitzed in a team rep and nearly got to quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor kept the play alive and hit rookie wide receiver Nico Collins in traffic.

4. It was the first day with pads for the team and veteran running back Mark Ingram made the defense pay with an early rush busting through defenders and barreling forward for a few yards. Ingram has looked young and spry, despite having been in the league for 10 years.

5. The defensive line is far from settled. A lot of different players get work along the defensive front and the team mixes and matches quite a bit. This is a highly competitive position.

6. It has been a good camp for big Vincent Taylor. Taylor blew up a play in the backfield on Tuesday and has been disruptive in darting between, and Tuesday, through defenders.

7. Shaq Lawson has yet to stand out for the Texans. After trading for Lawson in the offseason, there must be more from a player who was expected to fill a need in the pass rush.

8. Wide receiver Chris Moore is having a nice camp. The former Ravens pass catcher had a highlight-reel play earlier in camp, catching the ball with one hand falling out of bounds. His success continued Tuesday as he constantly found himself open. Moore handled Bradley Roby with no problem in two 1-on-1 reps.

9. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan looked lost early on Tuesday. He had a drop and ran some sloppy routes, but he bounced back in team drills.

10. Davis Mills threw two interceptions right to Vernon Hargreaves. The first one Mills locked onto a target and Hargreaves just stepped right in front of the intended target. The second one saw Mills toss it up in a situational drill and Hargreaves came down with the under-thrown pass.

11. Wide Receiver Anthony Miller had a tougher day than usual. Miller dropped a deep pass over the shoulder which would have been a score. Miller also bobbled a catch that during a live game would have seen him annihilated and not holding onto the ball.

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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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