Some of my observations from the first day of workouts for the Texans
Texans want Clowney
Bill O'Brien didn't mince words when stating his desire to have his star player back. He made it clear they obviously have to work with Clowney and his agent to make it work for both sides.
Texans have Watt
J.J. Watt at Texans Training Camp 2019
A surprise for sure to see J.J. Watt out and practicing. There was some expectation he would miss a couple of days when he was announced to be on the physically unable to perform list. He missed nothing. Watt joked he found out Thursday morning. He also said his plan was always to practice day one.
He didn't look like he has missed a beat from last season either. He gets limited reps because when he is in the offense can't execute their plays in practice. It's light work the first couple of days but offensive linemen have to breathe a sigh of relief when Watt exits the field.
The first round pick
True to form with most of the Texans offensive linemen Tytus Howard gets work at plenty of positions. He is getting a lot of reps and it will be fun to watch him work when the pads come on. Howard handled Brennan Scarlett on one rep and kept hand fighting with the linebacker for a few moments after the drill was over. He also held his own against Whitney Mercilus in one rep as well.
The young lineman showed good feet and a solid base in some of the drills. Saturday, when the pads are on for the first time, will tell a lot more.
The former first round pick
Matt Kalil was out working with the Texans. The former Vikings and Panthers left tackle got plenty of work for the Texans which was nice since he was recovering from injury earlier in the year. Ideally a veteran presence like him would help should there be a first or second year player next to him at left guard. The experience may not matter if Kalil can't play. He wasn't tested much Thursday.
Is your refrigerator running routes?
I say this with the utmost respect: Jordan Thomas is the size of a refrigerator and he shouldn't move as well as he does. He showed some huge progress as a rookie last year and developed a solid relationship with Deshaun Watson. That has only gotten stronger. Watson and Thomas are always on the same page and I am not sure how teams are going to guard Thomas but I know they aren't going to have an easy time if this continues.
Will Fuller is back
One of the best surprises of training camp is the fact Will Fuller is practicing from day one of the workouts. He looked crisp and on the same page with the quarterbacks. There was a toe-tap back of the end zone catch he easily hauled in. He also snatched a ball out of the air with ease that was a rocket. His hands are worlds better than his last year at Notre Dame and first year in the NFL.
Kinda coach Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson's official title is special adviser to the head coach. Today, and most days, he was working with the wideouts. He coaches like you would expect Andre Johnson to coach. He is quiet and deliberate. Everyone is listening and watching when he shows something. Today he was delivering advice on footwork in a certain drill. Later he pulled second-year wideout Vyncint Smith aside to coach him up.
Lonnie Johnson learning
There were some teachable moments for Lonnie Johnson the team's second round pick this year. He was coached up on how much to use his hands and when to use them. He's a physical corner and when he lines up with any of the wideouts it is apparent what the Texans liked to see. He lost a rep earlier in a drill only to recover later and beat that same wideout to the ball for an interception. There's a ways to go but there is something there.
The free agent corner was a terror in drills. He is freaky athletic and played wideouts multiple ways to his success. Very impressive day for a guy the team is counting on.
Play of the day
Deshaun Watson is a wizard. The drills obviously aren't full contact and they don't even have pads on but there is still a pass rush. J.J. Watt looked to have blanketed Watson on one drill. It was moments away from being blown dead. Then the wizarding started. Watson, off balance, slipped one past Watt's massive mitts into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. It was incredible.
Quote of the day
"I've always been involved in personnel decisions since I've been here. It'll be no more or no less."
Said by Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien.
I'll guesstimate about 90% of you reading this have driven a vehicle before. Most of you have probably experienced a vehicle that isn't properly aligned. You're driving down the road, let go of the wheel, and it pulls to the right or left a bit. Or, you have to hold the wheel a little tilted one way or the other in order for the car to drive straight. Definite signs you need an alignment. Driving a vehicle that way will wear your tires faster and start to cause other issues.
In baseball terms, the vehicle has four wheels: owner, general manager, manager, scouting/front office. While some may say the GM and scouting/front office are technically one wheel, I'd argue that by pointing out the many times a scouting department and GM have differed on players. It happens in every sport. In order for an organization to truly move in lockstep, they must all be on the same page as far as a common goal and how to get there.
I've often felt the Astros have not always been fully aligned. Going all the way back to the Drayton McClane era, I'm trying to remember when all four tires of the Astros vehicle were perfectly aligned. Gerry Hunsicker was there for about 10 years before growing tired of Uncle Drayton's crap. McClane went through nine different managers and three GMs in his tenure as the owner from 1993-2011.
When Jim Crane bought the team after the 2011 season, he himself has already gone through six managers and three GMs so far. Now he's on the verge of hiring a seventh manager. Crane's original dream team of Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch would still be the GM and manager, respectively, had the sign stealing scandal not been blown out of proportion. He hired Luhnow to come in and reshape the franchise and they burned through a few managers while the team struggled. Hinch was brought in to finish the job. He and Luhnow did that by winning the 2017 World Series and starting a dynasty.
When Crane decided to fire them both after the scandal, it left a void. Crane wasn't always pleased with the way things were run, but he was happy with the results. Enter James Click and Dusty Baker. Why Crane thought an analytics guy like Click and an old school baseball guy like Dusty would work, I'm not sure. But it did. They brought Crane the 2022 World Series title. Click was not brought back because of his philosophical differences with Crane. Dusty came back for this past season and retired. Dana Brown was brought in to replace Click. Now he and Crane are looking for another manager.
Joe Espada seems to be the simplest choice. He was Dusty's right-hand man all these years and the players seem to love him. Brad Ausmus is another candidate, but he doesn't have the qualifications, as he hasn't won or done anything significant outside being a former Astro. Craig Counsel has been mentioned as well. His .531 winning percentage in Milwaukee doesn't strike me as someone who'll get the fans excited. Others mentioned have been Buck Showalter, Rodney Linares, Mark Kotsay, and Ron Washington.
No matter who they hire, he needs to be fully aligned with the other three wheels. Every one of the wheels needs to know their lanes and operate within them. Crane needs to be the one who ensures these guys are all on the same page. He also needs to be the one to allow them to do their jobs without his interference. Personally, I'd like to see Ron Washington hired. “Uncle Ron” may be 71 years old, a few years younger than Dusty, but he's a guy players love. If not him, Espada is the clear choice, according to Ken Hoffman.
Whenever you get a new tire, you need an alignment and to balance them. This helps ensure a smooth ride. The Astros have a window that'll remain open the next couple of years at least. I'd hate for them to spend those years veering one way or the other and unnecessarily wearing out the tires. I wonder if Crane will opt for the road hazard protection warranty when he buys the new tire? Hopefully, he has run-flats, just in case.