IT'S ALL ABOUT DISCIPLINE

Texans take major precaution at the start of training camp during COVID-19

Texans make major changes to keep everyone safe. Photo by Getty Images

What does normalcy look like in 2020 for the Houston Texans? It's walking into your team's facility using face recognition to avoid touching door handles. It's giving your teammates air high-fives to avoid unnecessary physical contact. And it's witnessing your weight room getting sanitize half a dozen times on a daily basis.

In an ordinary year, the Texans would have been preparing to start the first of four preseason games — originally scheduled to take place on August 14, against the Minnesota Vikings. Instead, Houston's head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien finds himself thankful to have no players test positive for COVID-19 with the season set to begin in a little over a month.

"So far, it's been good," O'Brien told reporters on Friday. "I know it's really early. We feel really good about where we are at. We have zero positive tests. I think that's a good sign."

The Texans began training camp on July 25 facing the same unenviable challenge the remaining 31 teams around the league and the rest of the sports world have encounter since mid-March — adjusting to the effects of the coronavirus.

But even before the start of training camp, teams around the league have already dealt with the effects of COVID-19. The NFL has provided an option to give players the opportunity to opt-out who do not feel comfortable taking the field in 2020. It's an option almost 40 players around the league have taken advantage of, including Texans' defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. Despite the risk, some players felt the award is worth the gamble.

"At first it was just, of course, a lot of different stories coming out about the protocol and things like that," Houston's quarterback Deshawn Watson said. I feel like safety and health is always first. We all want to play football. We all want to do the right things, but at the same time, we have to make sure because we're going home to our families and people that might have a health condition or might have some type of problem."

"For us, to be able to come in and take the precautions and do the right things is very important. I know that this organization from when I came in have changed everything and put in the right safety precautions – the sanitizing to the locker room to the way we manage things. The first couple days of camp have been great and what we've seen has been a big change. We're going in the right direction, especially for this organization."

The Texans have taken extreme measures to keep their players and team personnel safe, in particular, by providing a wrist sensor that will alert an individual when they are standing less than six feet apart. O'Brien, who has endured 20 COVID-19 test, says all players are obligated to wear a mask when they are in the building, and does not understand the political uproar among citizens who choose the latter.

"I don't understand why it has been as politicized as much as it has been," he said. "Mask wearing has been scientifically proven to reduce your chances of getting the coronavirus."

With no players testing positive for the virus, the most significant hurdle for Houston right now is getting their rookies accustomed to the NFL level. As they prepare for their first season, O'Brien says this year's class has a tough road ahead of them after a late start to training camp and no preseason games. How will they adapt? The team is making preparations to hold two intrasquad scrimmages while O'Brien stressed the importance of his rookies leaning on their veterans i.e. Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Justin Reid.

"I told somebody the other day that this is the cleanest building in Houston. You could eat off the floor in here... I think the most disciplined team away from the building will have the best chance to win." — Bill O'Brien

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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