NEWS AND NOTES

Texans training camp report: Running backs already impressing O'Brien

Photo by Getty Images.

The sound of Deshaun Watson under center inside the Methodist Training Center could only mean one thing — football is back.

J.J. Watt described the feeling as being similar to the first day of school. On Friday, the Houston Texans held their first practice in full pads since opening training camp on July 25. For the Texans, the next few weeks of camp will take on a different purpose, with preseason canceled due to COVID-19.

Here is my first Texans training camp report. I will be publishing one of these every day of practice, with observations and notes as the Texans prepare to open their 2020 season against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on September 10.

Scottie Phillips makes early impression on Bill O'Brien

In June, I called Scottie Phillips the most significant steal following the 2020 NFL Draft. Why? The 5-foot-8 running back may have the most upside out of his undrafted contemporaries, and many consider him to be one of the most talented players at his position.

Although he may not receive much playing time thanks to the likes of David Johnson, Duke Johnson and Karan Higdon Jr., Phillips is making his claim to become the Texans' running back of the future. On Saturday, Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien raved at Phillips' talent as a back who possesses great ball security and explosiveness coming out of the backfield.

"I think he's getting better," O'Brien said. "I think that he's in a very competitive position. Karan Higdon (Jr.) has been practicing really well, too. He had a couple good runs yesterday [Friday] that you probably saw. It's a very competitive position, but I do think that Scottie is working at it and he's improving."

Duke Ejiofor tears ACL, out for the season

The first day of padded practice did not end on a good note for the Texans. Late Friday afternoon, Houston announced that OLB Duke Ejiofor will miss all of the 2020 season after he sustained an ACL injury at practice.

Ejiofor's latest injury is a continuous streak of misfortunes for the Houston native. After a promising rookie season in 2018, Ejiofor suffered a torn Achilles last training camp and missed his entire sophomore season. Bill O'Brien, for the second straight season, has encountered the daunting task of replacing Ejiofor's on-field production.

"Duke has a very unique skill set," O'Brien said. "You could use Duke in a lot of different ways. He wasn't just an outside backer. He could do some different things. I don't know relative to replacing that exact skill set. I think it's more about what can these guys do and how can we fit it to what we're trying to do."

Jordan Thomas is back to full health

Following a breakout rookie season in 2018, the Texans placed Jordan Thomas on IR following a rib injury he sustained last preseason. The 24-year-old tight end missed 11 games in 2019 and did not receive much playing time once he made his return in a Week 12 victory over the Colts.

Now healthy, Thomas will be in the running to become Houston's primary tight end — a position held by the likes of Darren Fells and Jordan Akins. And after his first two days of practice, no one is as excited for Thomas' return than Watson.

"He's a guy that's very talented and has so much potential," Watson said. "He's been working, you can tell. He came back ready and prepared for this camp. He's ready to go. Whenever he gets his opportunity, I'm definitely going to give him a shot. He's been capitalizing on those."

In 2018, Thomas appeared in all 16 regular-season games (10 starts) where he recorded 20 receptions for 215 yards (10.6 AVG) and four touchdowns.

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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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