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.


  • 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)
  • 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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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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