Houston Texans training camp: 11 observations you need to know about from Day 4

Nico Collins looks like the real deal. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans had a lovely day on offense in their second workout in pads. Here are 11 observations from the practice.

1. Davis Mills was phenomenal today. There wasn’t anything spectacular to report from an eye-popping play standpoint, but he dissected the defense. His red zone success last season seems to be even better and here to stay this year.

2. Davis Mills showcased decision-making speed, but combined it with bigger plays today. Previously, Mills had been making quick decisions and getting the ball to short routes for small gains. Today, he was whipping the ball around the field for big chunks.

3. Davis Mills playing last year in some chaotic situations seems to help him this year. Even when the offensive line has a breakdown, his mobility in the pocket is apparent. He also has a better internal clock, it feels like, so some of those punishing hits will maybe disappear.

4. Nico Collins and Davis Mills have wonderful chemistry. Mills found Collins on a deep pass where Collins got vertical on cornerback Steven Nelson. With Nelson being very physical, Collins hauled in the pass for a score. It seems almost daily Collins showcases his physical gifts and how he uses them to beat defenders.

5. Speaking of physical gifts, Pharaoh Brown uses his plenty. Lovie Smith called Brown the team’s starting tight end after practice. He is a bully against defenders, and his athleticism is apparent as he gets loose in the middle of the field. He has a chance to be a weapon for this team.

6. Brevin Jordan has had his moments too. He and Brown will make for a fearsome red zone duo. There will be times each will play next to the other, providing a matchup nightmare for most teams. Jordan hauled in some scores today too.

7. Rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green ran with the first team today. He opened a big hole on one play that allowed Marlon Mack to dart through for a big run. He is physical and had a few solid victories on Tuesday. Lovie Smith said he is having “normal rookie progression” so far.

8. Let’s keep with the offensive rookie theme, shall we? I like what Dameon Pierce has showcased in camp so far. He hasn’t “won” the job, but he’s forced himself to be a factor. Pierce hauled in a screen in traffic today and darted up the field for a big gain. He should be a constant option for Pep Hamilton’s offense.

9. Rookie safety Jalen Pitre had a really nice moment and a really ugly moment today. Pitre read a play and darted in front of a tight end, earning himself a pass breakup but dropping an interception. Pitre’s bad moment happened when in a rushing play, Rex Burkhead juked him out of his shoes for a gain. Pitre should be on the field a lot, but there is plenty of growth needed.

10. Christian Harris is fast. Duh, you knew that from his pre-draft workout. But he’s football fast and his recognition is very solid. Harris darted in to stymie a rushing play that he anticipated and ran past the blocking to ruin the play. He played with the first team at times, as Lovie Smith noted after practice. There is a chance he will play quite a bit for this team.

11. If the Texans played a game tomorrow, I would start Rasheem Green at defensive end. Green is frequently near the ball and seems to be quite the annoyance for the offensive line. He had a play today where he had a sack if it was a live rep. He is constantly near the football on rushing plays. He’s been a nice free agent find.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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