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

Texans training camp report: Running backs already impressing O'Brien
Photo by Getty Images.
Houston Texans positional preview: Running Back

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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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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