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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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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