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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Keep an eye on Kevin Harvick. Photo by Wiki Commons

It's been a season of surprises as the NASCAR Cup Series begins its West Coast swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is one of NASCAR's many mile and a half tracks, but this one is different as it is much more bumpy and when this track gets in the sun, it gets slippery as well. The track is a lot more narrow than the other mile and a half tracks as well, so there will be a lot more close quarter racing.

Last week at Homestead, William Byron pulled away from the field and went on to claim his second career victory. The Charlotte native battled back from early tire issues and ran as low as 31st until he was able to claw his way back to the front around stage 2 when he drove around the two JGR teammates of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to take the stage victory. There has been a lot of expectations and hype around this young phenom but in his first three years, it took him a while to grow into a race winner. It wasn't until last year when Byron claimed his first win at the Daytona fall race. This year he was paired with crew-chief Rudy Fugle. This pair amassed tons of success when they worked together in the Truck Series back in 2016 when they won seven races. It seems now that the pair could be back to their winning ways. This looks like this could be a good pairing down the line.

As we all know, this has been the season of surprises and those surprises continued last week as Michael McDowell went on to his third consecutive top ten finish as he finished eighth. McDowell has been sort of a journeyman driver. He has raced for teams such as LeaVine Family Racing and the now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing where he got his start. While it has only been three races, he's in the midst of a career year beginning with a victory in this year's Daytona 500. Many thought that victory was a fluke and that he was "wasting a playoff spot," but since then he has proved his haters wrong as he currently sits fourth in the points. Will this streak continue? I think it can. His string of good runs puts him in an advantageous position as he gets to start up front each week and knowing how important qualifying was, he has really been able to take advantage of this. Look for the #34 Loves Ford Mustang to build on this.

The favorite for this week's race has to be Joey Logano. In the fifteen races Logano has started in here, he has ten top fives and two victories including last season's spring Vegas race in February. He hasn't got off to the best start as it's been three up and down races for him. From finishing second at the Daytona road course to following that up with a twenty-fifth last week at Homestead. This week though I believe he can get everything back on track with a good run or a victory.

The driver that I am picking to win this week is Kevin Harvick. The future Hall of Famer has been stout this season with a 6th and 5th place finish. The speed for Harvick and his team have been there, but they just haven't been able to get the win. But this week he's going to a track he has excelled at big time. He will start from the pole this Sunday and that should really scare the whole field. He has two victories here and twelve top tens since his beginning back in 2001. I look for him to get his third victory here and begin another run for his second championship.

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