STOOTS ON TEXANS

Houston Texans training camp: 11 observations you need to know about from Day 3

Davis Mills bounced back Monday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans took to the field with pads on for the first time. Here are 11 observations from the first padded practice.

1. Davis Mills had a much better day today than he did on Saturday. Saturday saw Mills struggling to quickly decide and beat some solid coverage. Monday saw the offense chipping away at the defense with short and quick completions. Mills is much speedier than last year’s version in deciding.

2. Davis Mills has yet to throw an interception. This is a fact that delights and perturbs Lovie Smith who is the head coach but also calls the defense. In fact, Mills hasn’t really gotten close to throwing an interception.

3. Davis Mills has still yet to hit a clean deep ball. This isn’t a concern, Mills had some of the best deep ball numbers last year, but it would be nice to see him hook up on one of these plays.

4. Kyle Allen tossed a touchdown in the two-minute drill. He hit Chad Beebe on the sideline for a score. This came after Davis Mills led an unsuccessful two-minute drive.

5. The best play of the day from Davis Mills was in the red zone. He surveyed the field after the snap and tossed a dart only where a fully stretched Brevin Jordan could catch it. Jordan landed in the end zone. Touchdown offense.

6. Brandin Cooks is so good. Nobody can consistently cover him. Steven Nelson had a very physical win early in practice against Cooks, but later Nelson was yet another Cooks victim.

7. The most regular victim of Brandin Cooks’ skills was Derek Stingley. The rookie cornerback found himself on Cooks a ton and rarely “won” the rep. After practice Cooks and Stingley were working 1-on-1 on the practice field.

8. Jalen Camp had a few nice plays Monday. The second-year player from Georgia Tech is long and athletic. He skied for a pass early in practice and later hauled in a deep pass. There is competition in front of him but there is an opportunity for the youngster as well.

9. Rasheem Green is set to be a factor for this defensive line. I need more time to watch him in pads, but he blew up a play today that would have been a quarterback sack in a live rep. His physical stature stands out among the defensive linemen.

10. Nico Collins has a best friend that helps him a ton: the sideline. It is rare to see a player in just his second year use the sideline as much as Collins does, but he frequently makes plays on the sideline. Collins was practicing sideline and back of end zone catches with Mills and his footwork was very clean.

11. The running backs have a little more than you think they have. Marlon Mack is shifty and looks a lot closer to the player he was that rushed for 1,999 yards over two seasons in Indianapolis. Rookie Dameon Pierce has plenty of burst and vision to his game. When asked how the team improved the running game left tackle Laremy Tunsil said “we went and got Pep Hamilton and we’re fixing to get this (expletive) rolling.”

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DeMeco Ryans feels like the perfect fit. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

There’s one big difference between the Houston Texans and the Canadian Mounties.

The Mounties always get their man. The Texans not so much. That’s how second and third (and desperation) choices like David Culley, who never even was a coordinator in his nearly 30-year NFL career, and Lovie Smith, whose top credential for the job was being in the building, got to be Texans head coaches the past two years. Both of whom were one and done – summarily fired after disheartening, aimless seasons.

But that all changes with the imminent hiring of 38-year-old DeMeco Ryans as Texans head coach. An announcement could come any moment.

With one bold stroke, the Texans will be cleaning up a mess that took years to fester. Ryans is the perfect candidate for the job. He was drafted out of Alabama by the Texans in 2006 and became Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-Pro linebacker. He played six years in Houston when, lest we forget, the Texans developed into a winning team bound for the playoffs.

After retiring in 2017, Ryans became a successful coach with the San Francisco 49ers, rising quickly from defensive quality control to inside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator the past two seasons. This year, the 49ers had the stingiest defense in the league with the fewest points and yards allowed. They allowed their opponents to score on less than 25 percent of their drives – far and away the best performance in the NFL.

The Texans want Ryans and Ryans, who was the hottest head coach candidate on several teams’ wish list, wants the Texans. He’s reportedly said no thanks to the Denver Broncos, a team which appears to have a faster track to rebuilding than the Texans. Contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s classic novel, Ryans believes that you can go home again.

Ryans will accomplish some immediate fixes for the Texans – like bringing respectability to the franchise and soothing wounds with the fan base. The team desperately needs a kick in its image. As recently as five years ago, the Texans were selling out every home game at NRG Stadium with tens of thousands of home-viewing fans wishin’ and hopin’ to buy season tickets.

Then came Bill O’Brien, criminally one-sided trades (in the wrong direction), a divisive and unpopular executive with the owner’s ear, the Deshaun Watson scandal, two head coaches plucked off the scrap heap, and losing … lots and lots of losing. The Texans finished their recent season with three wins and the undisputed crown of most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL.

The jewel of that damning crown was winning a game they needed to lose to guarantee the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. You’d think that losing would be the easiest thing for the Texans. It’s sort of become their thing.

Not only did they win, they did it the hard way, by going for two in the last minute of their last game and winning by a single point. By winning they forfeited their unobstructed and worry-free path to drafting the quarterback of their choosing. Who thinks to do that? Now they have to wait to see what the Chicago Bears will do with the No. 1 pick.

Ryans will require time, probably a few years at least, to restore the Texans to the ranks of playoff contenders. In blunt terms, the Texans currently stink. They won three games in 2022 after back-to-back four-win seasons. On defense, they were 27th in points allowed. They were 31st in rushing yards allowed. On offense, 31st in yards per game, 31st in rushing, and 31st in third down conversions. There’s only 32 teams in the NFL.

Of course you can cherry pick stats to make a team look good or bad. With the Texans, they’re all bad.

Their returning starting quarterback won’t be starting next season. That’s the plan, anyway. The Texans are expected to draft quarterbacks Bryce Young of Alabama, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State or Will Levis of Kentucky with their No. 2 pick. The Texans may sign a free agent veteran signal caller or trade for one.

And start from scratch. Again. At least this time with a coach that brings hope back to Houston.

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