ROOKIE REPORT

Expectations for each player in the Texans 2020 draft class with the season approaching

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Texans

The first time Bill O'Brien and John Reid crossed paths took place in 2013. The then-head coach of Penn State, O'Brien recruited the junior high schooler to become a member of the Nittany Lions when it was time to begin his collegiate career. Two years later — while draped in blue and white — Reid suited up for Penn State in his first college football game against the Temple Owls. The Nittany Lions fell 27-10 to the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.

In addition to the loss, Reid's debut looked considerably different from what he envisioned two years earlier. Instead of receiving play calls from the person responsible for his recruitment, Reid played under head coach James Franklin. O'Brien was in the middle of his second tenure as head coach of the Houston Texans during Reid's freshman season in 2015.

Seven years after their first encounter, O'Brien will finally have the opportunity to relish at the talents of Reid. The Texans drafted the 5-foot-8 defensive back in the fourth round (141st) of the 2020 NFL Draft, and Reid has been far from a disappointment.

The 24-year-old cornerback has been one of a few rookie standouts from the Texans training camp — receiving praise from his coaches and teammates. Veteran safety Michael Thomas described Reid to be a "young DB coming in and trying to learn NFL football." New Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver says Reid has put the work in every day with the mindset of earning a spot on Houston's 53-man roster.

With the start of the 2020 season less than 10-days away, Reid should have his roster spot secured. But playing time will be tough to come by for the New Jersey DB. Barring any severe injuries to Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves, Lonnie Johnson Jr, or Bradley Roby, Reid could be buried at the end of the Texans' depth chart.

There is a chance Reid will become a rotational player on special teams, but 2020 will be a year the former Nittany Lion will learn the NFL from afar.

"He's a smart player...he's got a lot to learn...but relative to the rookie class he's done a good job," O'Brien said. "He's learning. He plays hard. He's competitive. He's a very smart guy. He can do some different things. He can help on special teams. He can potentially help us on defense. I think he's a guy that's mature. He's been through a lot, injury wise. He's had to overcome things when he was at Penn State and so, yeah, I think he's doing a good job."

The potential is there. And perhaps Reid will play an important role for the Texans secondary within the next year or so. The same can be said for Ross Blacklock, but the Houston native is entering his first season with the most responsibility among all rookies.

A prosperous training camp has given both O'Brien and Weaver lofty expectations in their top draft pick. The aspirations in Blacklock's contribution could lead to a situation where the 22-year-old defensive tackle will have his number called quite often — despite not being a starter right out the gates.

Last season, the Texans struggled heavily at stopping the run. They placed in the 24th percentile for allowing the most rushing yards — giving up a total of 1,937 yardages allowed in 2019. The offseason departure of D.J. Reader to Cincinnati could leave Houston's front seven more vulnerable this coming season, but Blacklock could be the solution to help fill in the void.

A versatile and dynamic playmaker. The NFL Draft Network said Blacklock has the upside to become a building block for an NFL defense. And he is in a great situation to succeed. Not only will Blacklock receive valuable time during his rookie season, but he has the opportunity to do so while learning from his football idol, J.J. Watt — Houston's incumbent defensive building block.

"He's [Watt] a workhorse," Blacklock said. "Just being able to play next to him and play with him, it's an honor. I'm trying to learn as much as I can while I'm here and while he's here. One day hopefully I can be in that status, but that's down the road."

Similar to Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard's upside forecasts a bright future in his pro career. But it may take a year or two for the Florida Alumni to start peeking — parallel to Reid.

Prior to a leg injury that has caused him to miss a handful of practices, Greenard's talent as an edge rusher left Weaver stating "the sky is the limit for that kid." However, veteran Whitney Mercilus says the rookie outside linebacker must improve on his fundamentals.

"I think he's great — he's just got to clean up a few things," Mercilus said. "His learning curve is just fine as far as picking up the defense and doing the correct things. Just like all of us, we've got to be able to pick up our stamina just a little bit in practice and all that, just because it's a unique time, and just clean up the fundamental technique things."

Both Isaiah Coutler and Charlie Heck are in the same situation in terms of rookies receiving little to no snaps in 2020. Not because of their talents, but Coutler (WR) and Heck (OT) play two of the Texans' most well-establish positions and have spent the majority of training camp learning from the older veterans. No preseason to showcase their on-field production may result in Coulter and Heck landing on the Texans' practice squad.

With Keke Coutee sidelined with a minor stress fracture in his foot, Coulter could find his way on Houston's 53-man roster making contributions on special teams given his speed. Even then, that might be a long shot after Coulter missed a couple of practices dealing with his own injury.

"The head coach [O'Brien] has said it multiple times, 'this is a tough year for rookies,' and it absolutely is. There's a bunch of cumulative reps that they've missed out on whether it was in the spring or in preseason games, but at some point in the season because of their work ethic, they're all going to contribute and help us here throughout this year." — Weaver.

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Houston gets another victory in Anaheim

Astros overpower Angels again as magic number dwindles

Kyle Tucker had 3 of Houston's RBI on Tuesday night, including a two-run homer. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

After a beatdown of the Angels on Monday in the opener, the Astros entered Tuesday's game looking to replicate that success. Though Los Angeles would put up more of a fight, Houston still used their potent offense to keep the game out of reach.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 90-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (8-3)

Losing Pitcher: Packy Naughton (0-3)

Houston's bats keep connecting to back up Urquidy

The Astros picked up on Tuesday's game where they left off on Monday, launching homers to take and extend a lead. A leadoff walk by Carlos Correa in the top of the second set up Kyle Tucker, who drove a two-run shot. Aledmys Diaz was next, making it back-to-back jacks to push the new lead to 3-0.

That gave Jose Urquidy a lead to work with, which came in handy as former Astro Jack Mayfield cut the lead to two runs with a leadoff solo homer in the bottom of the second. Other than that, Urquidy did well through five innings, allowing just two other hits over that span. LA got to him in the sixth, getting two singles to set up a three-run homer to end his night. His final line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 79 P.

The runs keep coming

He would still leave in line for the win, though, as before that bottom of the sixth, the Astros had put up seven more runs across the fifth and sixth. A leadoff walk in the top of the fifth was followed by a two-run homer by Jose Altuve, then later in the frame, an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz made it 7-1. They pushed that to double digits in the sixth, with a leadoff solo shot by Martin Maldonado, a sac fly by Carlos Correa, and an RBI groundout by Kyle Tucker, putting them up 10-1 before the homer allowed by Urquidy cut that to 10-4.

Astros win to reduce magic number again

In the sixth, Cristian Javier took over for Urquidy, finished that inning, and returned for a scoreless seventh. He ran into Shohei Ohtani to lead off the bottom of the eighth and left a fastball in the zone, which Ohtani turned around 445 feet to make it a five-run game. Javier still got through the inning, leaving just the ninth for Houston's second reliever of the night, Josh James. James would get through a scoreless inning, erasing a leadoff walk as the lopsided win paired with an A's loss reduces Houston's magic number to 4.

Up Next: The third of this four-game series will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Wednesday. Janson Junk (0-1, 2.25 ERA) will make his third career start for the Angels, while Luis Garcia (11-7, 3.37 ERA) will have the ball for the Astros.

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