THE PALLILOG

Texans face uphill task in opener; plus A&M, UT, LSU and the Astros

Deshaun Watson . Tim Warner/Getty Images

The 18th season of Houston Texans football dawns Monday night in New Orleans. It probably begins with a loss to the Saints. While in a 16 game schedule each game matters much more than one game in an NBA or MLB season, the Texans open with somewhat of a playing with house money opportunity. The Saints open the season as the NFC Super Bowl favorite. The Texans are supposed to lose at the Superdome so it's not as if a defeat puts them behind an early eight ball. Win on the other hand, and wow.

The addition of Laremy Tunsil from the Dolphins to play left tackle is a huge upgrade to the Texans' crummy offensive line. Wide receiver Kenny Stills is a good get too. Even though the Texans grossly overpaid in dealing away their next two first round draft picks and their 2021 second rounder, the deal indisputably and significantly improves the Texans' offense for 2019.

For every yin there's supposed to be a yang. Well, trading away Jadeveon Clowney for 40 cents on the dollar was ineptitude. If Duke Johnson plays in 10 games this season the Texans give up a third rounder for him. Only getting a third rounder for Clowney displayed a fundamental failure in grasping the NFL offseason timeline, how leverage works, and how not having a real General Manager can make the Texans look silly. Bill O'Brien is obtuse if not aware that if the Texans crater this season even he could lose his job. If that happens, future high draft picks dealt away wouldn't be his problem. O'Brien can be Billy Bluster but he is not obtuse. O'Brien has harnessed too much power for his level of accomplishment. That doesn't guarantee that things can't work out. Matching last season's 11 wins is unlikely, but with Andrew Luck retired a 9-7 AFC South championship is quite possible.

Big day for college football

What a doubleheader Saturday as Texas A&M and Texas each take cracks at upsetting Tigers: the Aggies play at Clemson followed by the Longhorns home to LSU.

The Aggies are 17 ½ point underdogs. Opening against Texas State was a glorified scrimmage, so irresponsible and hence suspended A&M cornerback Debione Renfro was not missed in that game. Renfro's absence figures to hurt the Ags against the Tigers' dynamic receiving corps. Clemson has a new batch of studs in its defensive line to replace the three guys who went in the top 17 picks of the NFL Draft. How the Aggie offensive line fares against them should in large part determine whether A&M is in the game in the fourth quarter with a chance at the upset.

The Longhorns are surprisingly (to me anyway) six and a half point home underdogs. As opposed to beating an under-motivated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, beating LSU would send up a huge flare that the Horns really "are back." The Tigers may finally have a 21st century offense. UT only has three defensive starters back from last season, but that should not be a big deal. The two departees who were drafted went in the fifth and seventh rounds. If Tom Herman's recruiting classes live up to billing this unit should have more talent.

Bullpen woes

The Astros start the playoffs four weeks from today. Except for maybe the Dodgers, the Astros' chance of winning the World Series is better than everybody else. It's a phenomenal team. But the Astros' Achilles Heel is evident, it's the back end of the bullpen. That also happens to be the Dodgers' biggest question mark right now.

Manager A.J. Hinch is a sharp guy, an excellent handler of people, but of late not the greatest handler of the pen. It's no botch job a la the Texans handling of the Clowney situation, but it hasn't been outstanding. The injury loss of Ryan Pressly is a real problem, but Hinch isn't helping by continuing to robotically use Roberto Osuna in save situations.

Osuna isn't an awful closer. He darn sure isn't a great closer. That Osuna should automatically be the ninth inning guy every time the Astros lead by three or fewer runs, is silly. Thing is, Hinch knows this, having said in the past bullpen roles are flexible and that guys can be used in different situations. Hinch has fallen into "he's my closer" mentality.

Osuna started the season converting his first 12 save opportunities. Through May 23 his earned run average was 0.42. Since then, a notably larger chunk of the season, Osuna has been a closer closer to awful than great. 19 saves while blowing six chances with an ERA over 4 is not good. Hinch publicly professes to still have "complete confidence" in Osuna. It's not a problem for A.J. to say that publicly. It could be an October problem if he feels the same way privately, and manages accordingly.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If the Texans are to win 10+ games or lose 9+, put me down for the 9+. 2. When (ok, if) Serena Williams wins her 7th U.S. Open Saturday, the bookend titles will have been won in 1999 and 2019. That will be one of the great athletic greatness durability achievements ever. 3. Greatest sports Williamses: Bronze-Ricky Silver-Ted Gold-Serena

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Davis Mills has to work to do. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans took to the field for their second day of workouts on the field. Here are 11 observations from a shaky offensive day.

1. Mills had a shakier day than his first. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. There were a lot of teachable moments for him in this practice. General manager Nick Caserio said consistency is the biggest thing for him in evaluating a player. Part of the consistency is how often do you make the same mistakes, according to Caserio. Mills has work to do before Monday’s practice.

2. Even with the shaky day, there is still excitement to Mills. Seeing how he bounces back will be big, and the challenge won't be easy as the team will have a padded practice on Monday. Traditionally, defenses are ahead of the offense early in training camp.

3. Nico Collins and Davis Mills weren’t on the same page on Saturday. The two had a few miscommunications that led to some incomplete passes. Mills also came up just a little long on a deep pass to Collins. Later the two hooked up for a nice completion as Collins beat rookie Derek Stingley Jr. but it was not the best day for the two second-year players.

4. There weren’t a lot of receivers getting open today. Brandin Cooks is about the only player who constantly gets open. It led to Davis Mills holding the ball a few times and ultimately deciding to check the ball down. The secondary had a solid day.

5. Lovie Smith said after practice they don’t scheme up a lot of short passes and this team will need to move the ball through the air. He did lament that sometimes you have to take a quick and short gain as an offense. Smith also joked when you don’t like the passing game you can give credit to the coverage.

6. Speaking of the secondary, it featured a lot of Derek Stingley Jr. on Saturday. The first passing drill with the offense against defense saw Stingley Jr. square off with Brandin Cooks. It was again a win for Cooks, but the rookie had some nice moments on the field. Chris Conley also had a nice win against Stingley Jr. in coverage. The Texans have to get their first-round pick acclimated to how they will use him. I will say though that Stingley Jr. makes things look fluid and easy as he moves about the defense.

7. Safety Terrence Brooks has put together a nice couple of days to start training camp. He has had at least one pass break-up in each of the first two days and he has a lot of energy in the secondary. Rookie Jalen Pitre dashed into the backfield sniffing out a toss play showcasing his anticipation.

8. Garret Wallow was a player showing up to camp with high expectations, and he’d earned them. The late-round pick last year had done a great job getting his body in shape, and it feels like he is all over the field. Wallow had a pass break-up Saturday and he is near the top of my list for when the pads come on Monday.

9. Speaking of players who will excite when the pads come on, Kenyon Green is near the top of my list too. The “other” first-round pick for the Texans hasn’t played as much as you would maybe like so far, but he absolutely STONED a defender on a running play. There is work to do, but Green has flashes and in pads, he should flash more.

10. Jerry Hughes is one of the oldest players on the field. You wouldn’t know it though. The veteran has a ton of energy, and he’s very vocal. He easily dismissed Laremy Tunsil for what would have been a sack. Hughes is going to be a necessary contributor to this team in 2022.

11. Jonathan Greenard, Justin Britt, and Kamu Grugier-Hill all practiced after missing time on Friday. Phillip Dorsett has yet to really get involved and Lovie Smith said Dorsett is a little dinged up. The team will practice in pads on Monday for the first time. Jalen Pitre, Kenyon Green, Garret Wallow, Christian Harris, and Roy Lopez are the players I have near the top of my list to keep an eye on as the pads come on.

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