MINI-CAMP REPORT

Cody Stoots: 11 observations from Day 1 of Texans minicamp

Cody Stoots: 11 observations from Day 1 of Texans minicamp
Deshaun Watson looked as healthy and effective as he was last season. Getty Images

 

The Texans began minicamp Tuesday in the afternoon. Here are 11 observations from the first of three scheduled practices: 

1. The Texans hosted the Santa Fe High School football team on Tuesday. Coaches and players met the team after practice and took pictures and received autographs. Bill O'Brien announced the team would be donating $100,000 to the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund. 

2. Deshaun Watson didn't wear a brace or anything on his knee at the workout. He moved the same way he did last year before his season-ending ACL surgery and did plenty of dynamic drilling having to use his mobility. O'Brien joked after he didn't notice Watson wasn't wearing anything on his knee. 

3. Watson missed almost no throws. Minicamp possesses a pass-heavy setup so there was plenty of work for Watson. Some of the drills saw Waston hold the ball a little long but when he made his decision the passes were among the best Texans fans have seen. He had one miss in a simulated 7-on-7 drive that saw the offense complete a touchdown pass to end a seven play drive. The ability to quickly get the ball out will be key as Watson learns more about defenses and sees new schemes as his second year in the league rolls on. 

4. DeAndre Hopkins is effortless in almost every movement on the football field. He eliminated Kevin Johnson with ease in one practice rep securing a bullet from Watson. Johnson would get some very physical payback later in the practice on Hopkins. 

5. Keke Coutee wears number 16 which is one of the most unique numbers for a pass catcher in recent memory. Also unique to him is his ability to create separation against NFL talent. There were only a handful of drills where he faced press coverage and even then he got into his route. When there wasn't press coverage, he was open. Quarterback Stephen Morris missed Coutee on what would have been a huge play in a team simulation drill. Coutee against new cornerback Aaron Colvin was a joy to watch.

6. Braxton Miller looks more like a wide receiver than ever before. He had an amazing over the shoulder catch from Watson that looked like the two have practiced it for years. He won his share of matchups with corners and safeties in the drills. 

7. Rookie tight ends Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins each has some nice plays. It became apparent Akins can be a size mismatch against corners and safeties in a lot of situations. Thomas, who spent time as a wide receiver at Mississippi State, is fluid on the field and runs well for his size. Linebackers had issues against him. 

8. Andre Hal is absent from the workouts due to his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Bill O'Brien noted the team would be with him every step of the way as Hal attempts to beat cancer. His absence opens the door for rookie S Justin Reid to play right away. Reid will be challenged for playing time by Kurtis Drummond, in his fourth year with the team, and former cornerback turned safety Treston Decoud. 

9. O'Brien praised Justin Reid's smarts after practice. Reid said he felt like the transition to the NFL was about the speed of the game primarily but felt like after the few weeks he has been in the NFL he feels more in tune with the duties and responsibilities of his position. In a red zone situation, Reid easily covered Will Fuller for a pass breakup. The safeties had a good day. 

10. Justin Reid has the line of the day when asked about playing against DeAndre Hopkins. "What is it J. Cole says? 'Long live the idols — may they never be your rivals" said Reid. He said it is great to watch players like Hopkins and now get to compete with them. He said a lot of the wide receivers work with him on how they attack defensive backs with certain routes and how he should counter those routes. 

11. Julién Davenport has altered his body quite a bit. He looks a lot closer to what you would expect from a regular offensive lineman. He is listed with the same height and weight as veteran Seantrell Henderson. They both are listed at 6'7" and 320 pounds. Davenport doesn't look far from Henderson or Kendall Laam. He said after the workout he feels like his body is getting to where he wants to be after a full year with the Texans. He mentioned "good weight" is a term he hears a lot and once he adds weight wants to convert it to muscle and drop his body fat percentage. 

Other notes

Rookie tackle Martinas Rankin is out of the workouts with an injury. Fox 26 reported it is a broken foot suffered in rookie minicamp.

Joe Webb worked as a quarterback joining Brandon Weeden and Stephen Morris as the quarterbacks competing for backup reps. 

Benardrick McKinney is likely in the best shape of his career according to O'Brien. McKinney said he is trying to increase his on-field game to better take advantage of the mental side of the game as it has slowed down for him.

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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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