Houston Texans training camp: 11 observations you need to know about from Day 5

Houston Texans training camp: 11 observations you need to know about from Day 5
Brandin Cooks looks unstoppable.Composite image by Jack Brame.
Houston Texans sign top receiver to contract extension

The Houston Texans had a competitive practice that saw Davis Mills make some mistakes and immediately bounce back. Here are 11 observations.

1. Brandin Cooks can’t be covered. He only lost one rep today, his first one, and then he dominated the rest of the day. I don’t want to exaggerate when I say he had close to 10 touchdowns today. Cooks hauled in one play at the front of the end zone where Steven Nelson was all over him. As the two went to the ground, Cooks hauled in a catch and kept control for a score. Nobody can cover Cooks at Texans camp. Draft him on your fantasy team.

2. Davis Mills doesn’t rely solely on Cooks though. He spreads the ball around. Multiple players had nice catches from Mills today, including the tight ends and wideouts down the depth charts.

3. Davis Mills finally threw an interception. Two actually. Neither felt like his fault, but he threw them. He’s the quarterback. The first was a GREAT play by the defensive back. The second was a risky pass that was tipped by one linebacker and ended up in Blake Cashman’s hands.

4. There wasn’t much worse from Mills other than those two interceptions. He’s been praised for his poise and ability to bounce back and sure enough, he found the end zone plenty after those interceptions.

5. Derek Stingley intercepted Davis Mills for the first time. It was the first interception of camp for Mills and Stingley's first interception as well. It was an amazing play where Stingley almost knew the route and ran it before the wideout. He came down with the ball with ease. He continues to showcase why he was highly touted and highly drafted.

6. Wide receiver Chris Moore has made some nice plays. He is a factor to make the roster with the uncertainty in the wide receiver room. Moore hauled in a nice play in 1-on-1 work against Desmond King. Moore also had a huge grab during a less-than-two-minute drill.

7. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is a joy to watch compete against the various pass rushers. My favorite reps are Tunsil against Jerry Hughes, although Jonathan Greenard is quickly climbing the ranks in giving Tunsil fits. The offensive and defensive linemen have mentioned multiple times how much they want to help each other grow.

8. Speaking of offensive linemen, Kenyon Green left practice and I didn’t see him return. This created an opportunity for Max Scharping to play some at guard next to Larmey Tunsil. Center Justin Britt and defensive end Mario Addison had veteran days off. Wideout Phillip Dorsett has yet to have a full practice.

9. Ross Blacklock had a phenomenal two-play series. Blacklock bullied an offensive lineman and blew up a run play. On the very next play, he did it again for another tackle for a loss. There is room for Ross Blacklock if he is playing that way.

10. Blake Cashman had two interceptions today. The linebacker acquired by the Texans via trade with the Jets has had a nice camp. He was brought up unprompted by Lovie Smith on Tuesday when talking about the linebackers on the team. Really, it feels like almost every linebacker has had some nice play at one point through five practices. Neville Hewitt once nicknamed “the tackling machine” forced a fumble earlier this week.

11. Another day, another tight end praise observation. This is a two-man room, but those two men are taking care of business! Brevin Jordan darted across the field in a 7-on-7 drill and wheeled up the sideline for a touchdown. In team drills, Pharaoh Brown took his turn impressing. He leaped and hauled in a Davis Mills pass, getting down for a score. The defense was furious the score was allowed, but Brown got down.

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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