KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED

3 significant signs to watch for before Houston Texans training camp begins

Houston Texans CJ Stroud
CJ Stroud working with his receivers is first on the list. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.
Early leader in Houston Texans quarterback competition revealed

July is upon us. Baseball season is in full swing. Basketball offseason has people talking. But let's be honest. We're all waiting on football season, right? Astros are rounding into form slowly. Rockets have made moves to show some promise. But it's the Texans everyone is waiting on.

Training camp starts in a few weeks. The new coaching regime is in place and DeMeco Ryans is ready to get to work. General Manager Nick Caserio has been hard at work this offseason reshaping this roster into something fans can be proud of, and will want to pay to support. Every offseason, there are things everyone looks at or looks forward to. Here are three things I'm looking at and forward to as we're closing in on training camp:

1) Videos of CJ Stroud and his receivers working together: Offseason workouts are essential. Whether they're team organized or individual, these workouts can often dictate how the upcoming season is going to go. Every year, we see QBs get with their receivers and get some reps in. It helps with timing, chemistry, and establishes a foundation for the season ahead. My favorites are the ones that are either heavily produced or very raw. The heavily produced ones will highlight all the good stuff, music, and graphics get you hyped, then they leave you thinking anything less than a Super Bowl run is failure. The raw footage is gritty and shows the players in their truest form. Not much team issued gear is worn. Typically stuff from sponsors of things they find cool/comfortable. I need to see videos of CJ and his receivers working out together. I want to see the chemistry being built. I want fans to get hyped when they see him connect on a deep ball. I want the receivers to talk about how well his places his passes.

2) Kicking the tires on leftovers: If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you know that I LOVE to cook! I'm talking about every meal, every style, desserts, whatever. When you like to cook a lot of food and can cook well, you're going to have leftovers from time to time. Leftovers hit the spot when you don't feel like cooking after a long day. They often come in clutch when you least expect it. The best ones are the ones that are better the next day. The same can be said for some free agents still on the open market, or the ones that get cut during camp. Kicking the tires on some of these guys could be well worth it. Every year there are injuries, players who don't pan out, or other situations out of anyone's control that require a team to look for replacements. Cap casualties are the ones that sometimes still have something left in the tank, but were too expensive to keep around. With a team trying to get back to prominence, it's good to look under every rock to try to discover a hidden gem. You never know when a change of scenery can help revive a guy's career.

3) Derek Stingley Jr workout videos: When a player gets hurt and is on the comeback trail, nothing gets you more interested in the return other than a hype video. The music, the monologues, the graphics, and the carefully curated editing to enhance the condition the athlete is in all hit home when executed properly. I need one from Stingley! He's been labeled a bust and injury prone. To make matters worse, Sauce Gardner was an All Pro as a rookie and was picked one selection behind Stingley. Corners are supposed to have a short memory. Get burned one play, make a pick the next play. It's the nature of the beast. Stingley needs something to let people know he was highly recruited and drafted number three overall for a reason. He holds one of the keys to this defense as their lockdown corner. Which is why I feel he needs something to get everyone back into the thought process of who he is and what he can bring to the table. It's time to rev up the hype train! Get the ball rolling on why your next contract should be on par with the guy everyone said should've been drafted here instead of you!

These three are just the tip of the iceberg for me. There are more things I'm looking forward to as well. Maybe I'll speak on those more in the future. For now, this is where I'm at. Yes, I get this list is more about hype and possibilities that may not come to fruition. However, if the possibilities come to fruition and the hype gets lived up to, this could be a much more exciting team to watch than we're thinking. Some will say this team is a four to five win team. I say they should win at least six or seven, with a shot at wining a few more. All in all, there's plenty to watch for these last few weeks leading into camp. What are some of the things you're looking forward to?

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Duran leads the AL to victory! Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Speedy Jarren Duran describes himself as a player who keeps his head down, works hard and never thinks of himself as being better than anybody else.

Duran turned some heads in his first All-Star Game, hitting a tiebreaking two-run homer for the American League and being awarded the MVP trophy named after Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams.

“That's an honor. Who else would I want to try to follow in the footsteps of besides a guy like that, who is not just a great baseball player but a great human being,” Duran said after becoming the fifth Red Sox player selected All-Star Game MVP. “That guy was awesome, and I’m honored to be able to have his award.”

The decisive homer came in the fifth inning Tuesday night as the AL beat the National League 5-3 for its 10th win in the past 11 All-Star Games.

Pittsburgh rookie Paul Skenes pitched a hitless first for the NL, twice hitting 100 mph, and Shohei Ohtani also went deep in Texas with a three-run homer for a 3-0 lead in the third.

Juan Soto hit a two-run double and scored on David Fry’s single to tie the score in the AL third, and Duran went deep off Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene.

“It’s a surreal moment. So I’m just thankful to be here,” said Duran, who was one of 39 first-time All-Stars this year.

Oakland right-hander Mason Miller got the win after throwing a 103.6 mph pitch, the fastest in the All-Star Game since tracking began in 2008. Hard-throwing Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase struck out two in the ninth for the save.

The 22-year-old Skenes, who has pitched only 11 big league games since being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft last July, became the first rookie starter since 1995 and had the fewest games played for any player to make an All-Star team. The right-hander threw a hitless first, with a two-out walk to Soto before his Yankees teammate Aaron Judge grounded into a forceout on the next pitch.

Skenes threw 11 of 16 pitches for strikes, with seven fastballs up to 100.1 mph.

“Frankly, I wish I’d had a few more pitches to do that today,” said Skenes, who has a good mix of pitches to go with the hard stuff. “It’s cool to bring eyes to the game.”

Ohtani, who has gone deep 29 times in the first season of his record $700 million, 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, pulled a 400-foot drive to right off Tanner Houck. That came after the Boston right-hander allowed singles to the first two batters he faced: No. 9 batter Jurickson Profar and leadoff hitter Ketel Marte.

“I haven’t really hit well in the All-Star Game, so I’m just relieved that I put the ball in play,” Ohtani said. “I just focused on having a regular at-bat as if I was in the regular season.”

When Ohtani went against Miller in the fifth, he struck out on an 89.2 mph slider well inside and out of the strike zone. That was after twice taking strikes on fastballs of more than 100 mph.

Ohtani’s first All-Star homer made him the first Dodgers player to go deep in the Midsummer Classic since Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza in 1996. Eleven days after his 30th birthday, Ohtani was an All-Star for the fourth time — his first with the NL.

Baltimore’s Anthony Santander, after taking over for Soto in right field, had a two-out single in the fifth before Duran’s 413-foot homer to right-center after he had replaced Judge in center. Duran took a 95.9 mph fastball before going deep on an 86 mph splitter.

“I knew he threw really hard so I was just praying he would throw me a first pitch fastball so I could see how hard it was. After that, I was hoping to get a pitch up,” Duran said. “He happened to leave a pitch up. I happened to put a good swing on it.”

The last Red Sox player to be the All-Star MVP was J.D. Drew in 2008, following Pedro Martinez in 1999, Roger Clemens in 1986 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1970.

Duran was voted by his peers as an All-Star after being the first AL player to go into the break with at least 100 hits, 10 triples, 10 homers and 20 stolen bases.

The AL has a 48-44-2 record in the All-Star Game, and had won nine in a row before the National League's 3-2 victory last year in Seattle.

AL starter Corbin Burnes arrived in Texas the morning of the game after spending time at home with his newborn twin daughters. The Baltimore right-hander allowed a walk and then a two-out double to Bryce Harper before getting out of his inning on a comebacker by William Contreras, his catcher last season in Milwaukee.

After his underhand toss of the ball to first base, Burnes had a big smile on his face when he kept jogging and wrapped his arm around Contreras on the baseline.

Quick game

Played in 2 hours, 28 minutes, it was the shortest All-Star Game since 1988, a game that the AL won 2-1 in Cincinnati that took only two minutes less.

Won in both leagues

Bruce Bochy of the host Rangers became the first manager to win World Series titles and All-Star Games in both leagues. Bochy is now 2-3 as an All-Star manager, leading the NL to a win in 2011. He won the World Series three times with the NL's San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014, then led the Rangers to their first championship in his debut season with them last year.

Up next

The MLB regular series resumes Friday when 14 games are scheduled, with Milwaukee and Minnesota the only teams that won’t play until Saturday. Philadelphia (62-34) has the best record in the majors and Cleveland (58-37) has an AL-best .611 winning percentage, though Baltimore and the New York Yankees also have 58 wins.

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