Let me preface this with an important point that I was limited to just one area of the primary practice field, so there was plenty of action taking place in the other areas that I couldn't see. Overall, the team looks really good compared to this time last season. It's clear that they have fully embraced Bill O'Brien's style of NFL football, and everyone is rowing in the same direction. They exude a vibe and confidence that comes across as hardworking professionals who are focused on winning.
Brian Hoyer got the start with the first-team today, but Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage had an equal number of reps by the end of practice. Situation drills included: backed up on their own 3-yard line (end zone), driving down field from the 20-yard line, and goal line offense at the opponent 5-yard line.
Hoyer had some very nice "touch" passes at times, but he also threw inaccurate mid-range passes more often than you want to see in a starter. One time he threw well behind Keshawn Martin on a crossing route, and he managed to overthrow DeAndre Hopkins on a shallow post 12-yard pass. Hop tried to stretch and grab it one-handed in stride, but it was THAT far overthrown that even he couldn't haul it in. I was also concerned with how much I saw Hoyer rolling out and checking down. It looked like "Fitz 2.0" out there to me. I'd grade him slightly better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, but not by much. Again, there were some very pretty passes that were on the money, but enough errant throws to warrant concern.
Ryan Mallett had the more consistent day passing from the plays I was able to observe. His velocity is just incredible for intermediate and long passes, and the "eye test" suggests the ball is traveling nearly twice the speed of Hoyer's. He seems to have dialed that velocity back on short throws to make them easier to handle, but still has enough zip to ensure the receiver gets it. Overall, his accuracy was better than Savage or Hoyer from the plays I could see. He really takes charge of the offense, and his height is a clear advantage over Savage and Hoyer. I remember last year when I attended the practice with the Falcons and how much Matt Ryan looked more like an NFL QB than the guys lining up for Houston (Fitz, Case Keenum, Savage). That's how it looks with Mallett out there: tall, strong arm, in charge, high energy, directing the offense.
Practice eventually got going and it was
Brian Hoyer’s day with the ones. They started the day with an 11-on-11 "coming out" drill. The ball was placed inside the ten yard line and the offense was forced to "come out" from deep in their own territory. I missed the first reps in that bunch but I saw one of the best throws of the day. QB Ryan Mallettthrew a laser backshoulder ball to the near sideline to get the drive going. There was some smoke on that ball and it was thrown in the only spot where his receiver could make the catch.
Tom Savage had some incredible plays today. He also has one hell of a powerful arm with high-velocity throws, and his accuracy is night and day from where it was last year. He won't beat out Hoyer or Mallett right now, but he is developing well. You can tell that he "gets it" mentally in this system as opposed to last year.
DeAndre Hopkins has a sizable lead over the rest of the receivers with his overall ability, although I didn't get to see Nate Washington today.
Jaelen Strong - I saw him a few times, but overall not much action from my vantage point. I was rather hoping to see something on him today, but perhaps it wasn't on my end of the field.
Damaris Johnson had a solid day as a receiver and clearly had more targets than anyone else, but can he find a way to translate his "camp star" ability to real games?
Keith Mumphery flashed a few times; he knows how to get separation better than most.
Kevin Johnson looked great! That guy may be our best defensive back in less than a year or two if he keeps getting reps and sees some playing time through the season. His speed is excellent for keeping pace with all the receivers, he has the most fluid hips of our entire secondary, and he instinctively breaks to the ball better than any rookie corner I have seen. There were a few plays where Johnathan Joseph (in street clothes today) ran over and high-fived him and yelled something positive.
Benardrick McKinney really surprised me. He was incredibly instinctive for run-defense and in coverage. C.J. Fiedorowicz had a surefire touchdown reception from Hoyer in the endzone (right in front of me,) but McKinney stayed with CJF step for step and knocked it out of his hands at the last second. McKinney also intercepted Hoyer on a shallow crossing route, and the defense went nuts. They love this kid! He finishes plays and was in excellent condition out there. I expected to see a "confused-rookie bruising run-thumper," but this guy is a hell of a linebacker.
Xavier Su'a-Filo had his left ankle and foot taped up like someone who was recovering from a tweak. I wonder if this is what has kept him limited in action thus far in camp? He got some reps, but it looked like he might be on a snap-count.
Louis Nix looked solid on the reps that I was able to observe. He has the body to eventually replace Wilfork, but he is obviously still learning the mental aspect to become a starter. I didn't see any specific technique issues, although hard to see from my vantage point, and he anchored an impressive goal line stand.
C.J. Fiedorowicz had a solid day receiving. He looks to have made a very good leap from rookie to year two.
Jadeveon Clowney was running well as he hung out around the perimeter of the activities. He looks like he is itching to get into the action from his animated responses after several big plays made by the defense today. I can't wait to see him back in pads again.
Other Random Notes
Rahim Moore is the answer we have been looking for at safety. The guy has a nose for the ball, and flew all over the place making plays today. He's a good leader back there directing the secondary, and he seems to have a strong chemistry with them already.
A.J. Bouye was starting in place of J-Jo (I think he was given a "veteran day off"), and looked better out there than Kareem Jackson did on the other side. Bouye broke up several passes and had some good contact against the run. They use quick/early whistles to avoid injuries, so it isn't "full tackling." It looked as though Kareem was burned a couple of times while trying to "guess" the routes.
Ben Jones looks like he has been playing center for the Texans for the last three years. He looks so natural and confident out there. He was able to compete toe-to-toe with Wilfork and Nix through most of the 11-on-11 that I saw. This is no longer an area I'm concerned about at all for the Texans in 2015.
Vince Wilfork and J.J. Watt are inseparable. They were cutting up together when not in the lineup, and they were both vocal leaders when in the action.
Brian Cushing made a few good plays today, and seems to have his sideline-to-sideline speed back. He was in harmony with Watt, Wilfork and R. Moore in leading the defense vocally today. This defense is going to be one for the record books if everyone stays healthy!
I didn't get as many good images as I had hoped during today's practice. Be sure to check out Barry's "Thingy" that he posted after also attending the session today. He nailed some great photos!
That's a wrap! Overall I was very impressed with what I witnessed out there. This team looks far more ready to compete at a high level than they did last year. All three quarterbacks are also significantly further along than the three signal-callers who were in camp for 2014, which is an obvious vote of confidence for the improvements Savage has made going into year two.
Chime in with your comments and questions.