TEXANS CAMP REPORT

Cody Stoots: 11 observations from Texans training camp for Mon., Aug. 20

Jadeveon Clowney returned to practice on Monday. Houston Texans/Facebook

1. Jadeveon Clowney made his return to a full practice for the Texans as they practiced in the bubble today and not outside. He had been working back after a knee had kept him from being a full participant. Bill O'Brien mentioned he had been working and ramping up to this point and thought he looked good. Clowney said he is 100 percent and hopes he gets to play in the preseason.

2. Clowney is a monster out there. His speed is just amazing for a man of his size and the Texans tackles didn't have a chance against him today. There was one play where he almost caught Deshaun Watson's pass in the backfield. Let me say that again, Clowney was behind the line of scrimmage and maybe could have made a play on a Watson pass before it left the quarterbacks hand. 

3. Martinas Rankin is off the physically unable to perform list and practicing for the Texans. The second third-round selection looked good in his camp debut and is headed towards factoring into the tackle situation. With him getting the late start, Rankin may not be able to crack the starting lineup. He just doesn't have the experience regardless of his success to supplant Seantrell Henderson at right tackle or Julién Davenport at left tackle. Rankin absolutely can end up as the swing tackle for the team though, and will be competing with Kendall Lamm for the swing tackle spot. 

4. Kevin Johnson did not practice today as he is still dealing with his concussion from Saturday's game. Bill O'Brien mentioned he watched a lot of the practice though. When asked if the team is exploring options O'Brien said that is something they look at for the team. The free agent pool isn't exactly deep at this point, and veterans looking for one last run will know Johnson isn't going to be out too long. A recognizable name could be tough to lure for the Texans.  

5. Sammie Coates also missed practice due to his concussion from Saturday's win over the 49ers. Coates was well on his way to making the roster, and depending on how long he is out, it could affect what his status with the team is when the 53-man roster gets set. If Coates gets healthy and they handle him with kid gloves, it could mean he is safe for the final roster. Chris Thompson and rookie Keke Coutee also remain out. 

6. Healthy players are available to play on Saturday against the Rams in Los Angeles according to Bill O'Brien. Though he was non-committal, that does include the possibility J.J. Watt and Clowney play against the Rams. O'Brien again referenced the number of reps from last week against the 49ers in joint practices when assessing Watt's camp so far, and he mentioned Watt was in for a lot of those reps. It seems unlikely, even with Watt saying he'd like to get some preseason game reps, the Texans would risk injury in a game with opening week drawing closer. 

7. Vyncint Smith carried over some momentum from his game-winning catch on Saturday snagging some great passes on Monday. Smith caught a laser in a bunch of traffic and withstood contact to hold onto the ball. He also displayed some toe-tapping technique in the end zone. He has an opportunity with Coates down to take advantage of some extra reps in practice. 

8. DeAndre Hopkins is ready for the regular season and has been ready for a while now. Despite being one of the best in the game there are still little tweaks has made to his game and he doesn't loaf or take reps off. He caught a sideline dart from Watson after a quick move beat the defender. He had a fun rep against Aaron Colvin where only Hopkins and maybe three other pass catchers could've made a play. Hopkins also caught a ball behind his back where he tracked where the ball was headed, and then turned away and caught the ball behind him. 

9. Justin Reid will need to get used to taking on tight ends. He struggled a little early last week against the 49ers but then won some reps in the second practice and game against the San Francisco pass catcher. Today he earned a matchup with Ryan Griffin and though he got the "win" in the rep defending Griffin. It was a questionable play that might have drawn a flag in today's NFL. Griffin didn't protest too much, but there were of course jeers from the offense and cheers from the defense at the end of the rep. No laundry on the field, no penalty. Rams tight end Gerald Everett and Reid is a matchup I hope we all get to watch Saturday. 

10. Tyrann Mathieu continues to impress. He ended up matched up on DeAndre Hopkins and despite the play going for a good amount of time, Mathieu earned a rare pass breakup on Hopkins. Later he matched up with rookie Jordan Akins and showed off his impressive hops challenging Akins for a high pass.  Mathieu is as athletic as you would hope him to be, and his anticipation and quick diagnosis are lethal to offenses. Jadveon Clowney pepped up and got more excited behind the microphone when he talked about how the secondary looked. 

11. Back to Jadveon Clowney as he returned to the field his status off the field lingers with the Texans. Clowney is in the option year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $12.3 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent. Fellow 2014 draft class members Jake Matthews, Mike Evans, Taylor Lewan, and Zach Martin all have big money extensions done with their team. Clowney said he doesn't pay attention to his contract, and said it is all about winning football games and winning the Super Bowl. When asked if he wanted to stay in Houston Clowney simply responded "Yeah, I do. I like Houston."

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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