Training camp news and notes

Texans training camp report: David Johnson continues to impress

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Texans

The Houston Texans stood on the 40-yard line when Deshaun Watson received a snapped to initiate the play. With his eyes set on his target, Watson threw a 15-yard pass attempt to tight end, Darren Fells. Instead of making the completion, Watson's pass attempt fell short as safety A.J. Moore Jr. came away with the interception.

Moore's pick on Watson was the first of two interceptions by Houston's secondary. A few possessions later, cornerback Cornell Armstrong picked off A.J. McCarron's pass attempt to Keke Coutee in a similar fashion.

"I think it's hard because you don't want to throw interceptions, but you also want takeaways in the game," head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien said. "Again, at the end of the day the turnover-takeaway battle is a huge part of the game and I think it's going to be a huge part of the game early on here. Penalties, tackling and then turnovers and takeaways – your ability to take the ball away – those things are going to be huge. It was good to see our defense – they work hard at those drills and then it carried over ... today a couple of times."

The Houston's Training Center marked the Texans' return to practice for their third day of action in full pads. Wide receiver Kenny Stills and inside linebacker Dylan Cole made their first appearance in training camp, but noticeably missing from the group was star defensive end, J.J Watt. The five-time Pro-Bowler did not participate in any of the team's on-field practice, but Watt's absence was apart of O'Brien's new management plan for his seasoned veterans.

"J.J. has played a ton of football for us and at a very high level," says O'Brien. "He's on a different type of plan. I'm not sure how much you'll see him out there this week. He'll be out there eventually, but he's on a different type of plan just like a lot of other guys."

David Johnson continues to impress:

David Johnson recently told Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report that his personal goal in 2020 is to recapture his potential as a running back who is capable of recording 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiver yards on the season. Albeit Johnson has yet to live up to his 2016 All-Pro status, the Texans appear to have put the 28-year-old running back in a position to succeed.

Stepping in as the primary back, Johnson took part in several reps showcasing his productivity as a dual-threat option coming out of the backfield. Johnson had some quality plays rushing the ball for a few yards, but what stood out the most was his proficient hands as a receiver. He capitalized on four out of his five pass-catching plays coming out of the backfield — demonstrating the harmony of the Watson-to-Johnson collaboration.

Since the beginning of training camp on July 25, Johnson's new coaches and teammates have gushed at his expertise, and the Texans' endless offensive possibilities to attack with him on the field. Johnson has impressed nearly everyone through his first few weeks of training camp. Everyone, except for his new backfield-mate, Duke Johnson.

"Absolutely nothing," Duke said. "Everything I see from David, I kind of expect. We came out the same year, so I kind of knew what he was capable of. I watched him when he was in Arizona. I think what has surprised a lot of people is the way that he's able to move at the size he is and what a great receiver he is out of the backfield."

Steven Mitchell Jr. plays with starters:

Last season, wideout Steven Mitchell Jr. spent most of 2019 as a member of the Texans practice squad. The most amount of snaps he received took placed during Houston's season finale against the Titans. As a starter, Mitchell recorded 37 yards on five catches in 65 snaps — as the Texans fell 35-14 to their AFC South rivals.

Coming into camp, the possibility of Mitchell solidifying a placed on the Texans' 53-man roster seemed far-fetched — but the former undrafted free-agent is making a strong case.

Mitchell ran nearly all of his reps with the starters during the Texans' 11-on-11 situational drills, where he completed three receptions from Watson in the process. O'Brien credited Mitchell's reps to managing his primary receiving core, but was impressed by the development the USC prodigy showcased Monday morning.

"I really like Stevie. He works so hard. When you look at the GPS numbers, he can run all day. He works really hard. He made a couple good plays today, he had a touchdown catch today. I think he's gotten better every year here. I think he's really improved. Relative to his role, he does things on special teams, he does things on offense. He's always trying to improve and he's always embracing his role." says O'Brien.

Special teams rotation:

The Texans have a plethora of speed on their roster. So much so, special teams coordinator Tracy Smith mentioned that he feels comfortable using anyone from Will Fuller to Keke Coutee as Houston's primary returner. Perhaps Fuller maybe the latter given his offensive responsibilities, but Smith explored with a combination using of Coutee, DeAndre Carter and David Johnson.

From the looks of it, Carter and Coutee have reprised their role as the Texans' primary choice in both kick and punt returns — with Carter as the main option. Followed by Johnson, who only received reps with kicks.

"We have to take pride in it and I think we have a bunch of people who do that," Johnson said. "Once you establish a core group of special team players, it's up to that core group of people to lead the teams and believe that third phase of the game is really important. That's how you win football games and close football games at that."

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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