TRAINING CAMP NEWS AND NOTES

Texans training camp report: Kenny Stills speaks on social injustice

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Texans

Kenny Stills caught several deep passes from Deshaun Watson as the Houston Texans opened another week of training camp, Monday morning, inside the Houston's Training Center. As Stills and Watson rekindled their on-field connect from the previous season, a smile emerged on the face of the California native.

Unfortunately, the slight moment of joy the 6-foot-0 slot receiver felt did not last.

Stills arrived to practice with a heavy heart after receiving the disturbing news of Jacob Blake — an unarmed African American male who was shot seven times by Wisconsin police on Sunday. The shooting comes five months after the killing of Breonna Taylor and four months following the murder of George Floyd.

"I think it further proves the point that we need to make a change with what's going on with our law enforcement," Stills said following practice. "We have another unarmed black man being shot seven times in front of his children. I think there [are] other ways to deescalate these situations and just another horrible example of what our law enforcement is doing to our people."

Since 2016, Stills has been an activist fighting against social injustice and police brutality. Living by the phrase, "actions speak louder than words," Stills has partnered with police departments in Houston and Miami, with the hopes of improving the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities.

In mid-July, Stills was one of 87 people charged during a protest outside of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's home demanding justice for Taylor. The felony charges were dropped.

"It's great to have more people listening, more people paying attention, but there's got to be action behind that," he said. "Taking a knee, raising a fist and making t-shirts, putting people's names on our helmets or what have you – that's not going to bring somebody back to life. That's not going to stop somebody from getting shot."

"I'm really focused on the things that I can do outside of just taking a knee — like I always have been. So, yeah, it's great that we've got more people involved in the movement and more people paying attention, but it seems like, in a way, a lot of the leagues are just figuring out ways to market it and then make money off of it and then move forward."

Secondary continues to make strides

Stills was not the only player Watson made happy with his passes on Monday. During an 11-on-11 team scrimmage, third-year safety Justin Reid intercepted Watson's pass attempt to wideout Steven Mitchell Jr.

Reid's pick was the second interception by the Texans' secondary. The other was made by second-year cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. — whose defensive stop prevented Houston's offense from converting a touchdown inside the red zone.

Johnson has been one of a handful of players Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien have raved about since the start of training camp on July 25. The 24-year-old from Kentucky spent the bulk of the offseason honing his skills, with the goal of playing a more significant role as he enters his second season. As a rookie, Johnson recorded 40 tackles (33 solo hits) in 14 games (seven starts) last season for the Texans.

"Lonnie's made a lot of progress," Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien said. "I think the key with Lonnie is health. I think the other key is just continuing to grow in our defense. There are a lot of jobs that he can do, also. He can play corner. He can play safety. He can play down in the box. He covers kicks for us. Just staying on top of his assignments every week's going to be important."

Absent from Monday's practice: Isaiah Coulter. Keke Coutee. Jonathan Greenard. Cullen Gillaspia. And Phillip Gaines.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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