Day 1 of Spotlighting Unheralded Players from Training Camp

Hidden gems at Texans Camp

Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The first day of the Houston Texans 2019 Training camp is in the books. The players aren't yet in pads, so we'll save the heavy-hitting for a later date. As we roll through camp, I'll take a closer look at some players that caught my eye that day or in days prior.

I'll be zeroing in on players that don't come with the hype of being an early draft selection or big name free agent signing. Most of these players were day three selections in their respective draft class or went undrafted, altogether.

For today, my attention kept drifting towards a possible weapon for the Texans' franchise signal-caller, Deshaun Watson. We all know DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee and even Vyncint Smith and DeAndre Carter to a lesser extent.

Due to the injuries of Fuller and Coutee in the past, the Texans have to be proactive in acquiring talent that could step up when needed, like Smith did with a 35-yard touchdown catch in a close loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018. Much like with the undrafted Smith, the Texans usually have to wait until after the draft to try and find these diamonds-in-the-rough.

Behind the three receivers, whose roster's spots are chiseled into place; Smith and Carter are the favorites to gain the fourth and possible fifth spot among receivers on the final 53, but there's a lot of football to be played over the rest of July and into August, that could shuffle in some surprises.

Among the core attempting to race from the back of the pack for a chance to gain one of those highly coveted spots as insurance to Hopkins, Fuller and Coutee, are the likes of Johnnie Dixon, Isaac Whitney, Stephen Louis, Steven Mitchell Jr., Floyd Allen and Jester Weah. But after one day, it was Tyron Johnson that caught my eye.

Tyron Johnson

6'1 --- 193 pounds

4.34 (Pro Day 40-time)

I noticed Johnson cutting on a dime today at a break-neck pace. After making a few notes, I decided to study a few of his games from his last season at Oklahoma State.

Positives:

  • In and Out of routes quickly
  • Can change pace in route to create separation and lull a defensive back in
  • Sharp cuts and stops
  • Works to open spot on extended plays
  • Explosive on the line
  • Hesi-step (Will hesitate in break or off the line to setup the defensive back)
  • Ability to win over the top
  • Return man ability in space (hitches / tunnels / screens / soft spot in zone / drags)
  • Locates the ball well
  • Willing blocker (but needs to add bulk for running game and as a possible gunner on STs)
Negatives:
  • Needs to work back to the ball
  • Lacks physicality through contact, shies away
  • Doesn't fully trust his hands
  • Goes too wide on press
  • Out route is a crap shoot for QBs to throw to with him
  • Occasional bad drop
  • Needs route work and consistency

Johnson should have returned for his senior season. In the games I watched, he took about 90% of the reps on the left side of the formation. He felt comfortable from this side running "Go" routes, along with skinny posts, deep posts, tunnels and hitches. When he was feeling it, he'd setup defensive backs with hesitation or jab steps.

I believe the Texans benefited from the New Orleans' kid leaving school early, as they got a young man with NFL potential on the undrafted market. He's in the right spot to assist with his strengths and develop his weaknesses.

I've often said that Bill O'Brien blew me away his first season as the Texans' Head Coach, when I watched him working with All-Pro, veteran receiver, Andre Johnson. O'Brien was/is meticulous in route-running and one of the best teachers in this aspect. Johnson should develop his abilities into an NFL player, if given time and sufficient reps.

2019 Roster Expectation:

While I believe O'Brien will get Tyron Johnson "right," I think it'll come after a "redshirt" season, similar to his time in college. The NFL "redshirt" season comes in the form of the practice squad. The Texans have their three studs at the receiver position and a couple of guys that they've grown comfortable with to some degree. A year around the best receiver in the game, DeAndre Hopkins, another receiver with 4.3 speed that knows how to win with it at the NFL level in Will Fuller and a young receiver that is the king of the sharp, quick cuts, in Keke Coutee, along with Bill O'Brien's "route school," could make this kid a find for the future.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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