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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Houston's offense once again obliterated Baltimore in Wednesday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Owners of a nine-game winning streak, the Astros tried to keep the train rolling to make it double digits and complete the three-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. Not only would they get the win, but they also did it by dominating on both sides of the ball again in a one-sided shutout.

Final Score: Astros 13, Orioles 0

Astros' Record: 46-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (6-3)

Losing Pitcher: Thomas Eshelman (0-1)

Houston keeps mashing

Unlike Tuesday's game which ended 3-1 in a much closer affair, the finale on Wednesday was once again a lopsided affair like Monda's opener, favoring the Astros. Houston once again put up double-digit runs in an offensive explosion. It started right off the bat, with three runs scoring in the top of the first on a two-RBI double by Carlos Correa and an RBI single by Kyle Tucker to grab a 3-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel extended it to 4-0 with a two-out RBI single in the second, then Jose Altuve made it a six-run game with a two-run blast in the top of the fourth. Michael Brantley joined in with an RBI single in the top of the sixth, then Yordan Alvarez led off a four-run seventh with a solo bomb before a three-run homer by Abraham Toro made it 11-0.

Urquidy cruises through seven scoreless

Jose Urquidy was cruising all the while, allowing just three baserunners over that span, a double to start his night, which he erased, then a one-out walk in the second and leadoff single in the sixth. He returned at the bottom of the seventh with a manageable pitch count, where he'd erase a one-out single to keep Baltimore scoreless. With the insurmountable lead, he'd be given the rest of the night off. His final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 84 P.

Astros complete the sweep and grab tenth straight win

Chas McCormick, who came off the bench defensively in the bottom of the seventh, made it a twelve-run lead with a one-out solo homer in the top of the eighth, then later Abraham Toro notched his fourth RBI with a run-scoring single to make it 13-0. Brandon Bielak took over for Urquidy in the bottom of the eighth, and after loading the bases with no outs, was able to escape with a strikeout and double play.

Ralph Garza Jr. was Houston's third pitcher, wrapping things up at the bottom of the ninth. He erased a one-out walk and a single with a double play to end the game, giving Houston the three-game sweep and extending their winning streak to ten games as they continue to look like baseball's best team.

Up Next: The next stop on this road trip for Houston is Detroit, where they will kick off a four-game set with the Tigers on Thursday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup for the opener will be Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.82 ERA) for Houston and Jose Urena (2-7, 5.79 ERA) for Detroit.

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