10 observations: Texans’ spring practices

10 observations: Texans’ spring practices
June 20, 2014, 10:30 am
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The Texans wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp on Thursday. That was the last practice the team will have until training camp in late July.

The Texans were able to get together before other teams (on April 7) because they had a new coaching staff. From there, the team had a veteran minicamp, the draft, a rookie minicamp, OTAs and the mandatory camp.

Here are 10 observations from all those practices:

1. Bill O’Brien is super hands-on
O’Brien doesn’t just watch practice; he gets involved. He roams around practice during the individual periods and helps position coaches give hands-on instruction. Several Texans say they’ve never had a head coach like that.

“I always try to get around, especially during individual, really because I want to see the guys working and see how they’re improving and I want to hear the teaching because I love listening to all the guys teach and their different styles,” O’Brien said.

And it’s not just the head coach. There seems to be a lot more teaching going on at practice from the coaches under O’Brien. It seems like all the assistants have taken that approach too. One Texan said his position coach this year is doing much more than his position coach from the previous regime.

2. Tom Savage has a heckuva right arm
Soon after the rookie from Pittsburgh made his way on the field for the rookie minicamp, it was easy to see what O’Brien and GM Rick Smith liked about him. Savage is big – 6-4, 228 – and has a rocket of a right arm.

Now, that doesn’t always translate into being a good quarterback. There have been plenty of quarterbacks with big arms who have failed in the NFL. But if nothing else, it’s a good start.

Savage clearly has the best arm of the other three quarterbacks the Texans had in spring practices. And from talking with media members who have covered the Texans since the start, Savage probably has the strongest arm of any quarterback the team has had on the roster.

3. Clowney can play
Clowney missed the final five practices this spring after needing sports hernia surgery but we saw plenty of him before that.

He still has a ton to learn. He’s raw. He’s making mistakes. But he has a chance to be really good. He’s fast, instinctive and has a ton of potential. The most impressive about Clowney is when he makes mistakes, his athleticism helps him recover.

If he’s in coverage and a guy gets away from him, which has happened plenty, he has the recovery speed to make sure a big play won’t happen. That makes him less of a liability as a rookie.

4. Former KC guys have an advantage
O’Brien was asked on Jun 5 if Kendrick Lewis has an advantage over Chris Clemons in the safety battle because Lewis already knows the defense. O’Brien said Lewis didn’t but it’s a little hard to believe.

Lewis and Jerrell Powe both played for Romeo Crennel in Kansas City, so they got a head start on the new defense and because of it, have a better understanding of it. In fact, their teammates have been asking them questions about the defense as Crennel and the coaches have been teaching it.

If the season started today, it’s very likely Lewis and Powe would be the starters at safety and nose tackle but that could change once training camp starts.

5. Top undrafted guys are …
It’s always fun to watch the undrafted guys once they get brought into camp. These are the guys who fans might not know much about but have a chance to make the roster. Last year, four of those players made the team’s 53-man roster heading into the season: Cierre Wood, Willie Jefferson, Justin Tuggle and A.J. Bouye.

This year, the guys who have been impressive to start have been OLB Jason Ankrah from Nebraska and ILB Max Bullough from Michigan State. Rice kicker Chris Boswell might have a chance to make the team over Randy Bullock but the team didn’t do much kicking this spring.

6. The rookies have been brainwashed
OK, OK, maybe they haven’t been brainwashed but it certainly seems like the rookies got a stern talking-to from O’Brien before they ever got a chance to meet with the media in Houston.

In his first meeting with Houston media since his day-after-the-draft press conference, Clowney said the word “playbook” 14 times in 5 ½ minutes during an interview during the rookie camp.

The main points the rookies have presumably been told to hit are: learning the playbook, being good teammates, working hard and being coachable.

We should make grids with those clichés and play bingo every time a rookie talks.

7. Versatility is key
O’Brien doesn’t just want his players to know their position; he wants them to know all their teammates’ positions and assignments too. First, it helps to understand what the offense or defense is trying to do as a whole.

Second, he might ask his players to do something else.

He wants Clowney to be able to play defensive line. He wants Brooks Reed to be able to play inside and outside linebacker. He wants Kareem Jackson to play slot and outside corner. He wants Xavier Su’a-Filo to play guard and tackle. He wants Arian Foster to be a running back and line up as a wide receiver.

Doing one thing isn’t good enough anymore.

“I think every position, with the exception of quarterback, punter, place kicker, long snapper are fluid,” O’Brien said. “They have to be able to play multiple roles. This is way in the future here, but when you can only have 46 guys on a game-day roster, the phrase ‘the more you can do’ is a really important phrase.”

8. Foster looks just fine
Foster needed back surgery last year, which ended his 2013 season early. But he looks pretty healthy so far heading into 2014. Sure, the team isn’t hitting yet but there don’t seem to be any lingering effects from last year’s injury and surgery.

Foster actually missed most of the spring practices with a calf injury. From there, he hurt his back before eventually being able to play the beginning of the season.

Aside from an appearance at a grand opening of a bowling alley and an appearance at a local premier for his own movie, Foster hasn’t talked to media in Houston this offseason. He turned down repeated requests, through the team’s PR department, throughout the veteran minicamp, OTAs and the mandatory minicamp.

9. The Texans are speeding up
Expect the Texans to move much quicker on offense this year. They have already started to speed up their practices in the spring. But it’s not just about speeding up; the team also wants to vary its tempo.

“It is really important,” O’Brien said. “It is important for us to be able to control the tempo of the game.” It is also important for our defense to be able to communicate against offenses that play fast. So, the speed in which we do things will be really, really important in training camp. We’ve introduced a lot of different tempos to our team in the spring here, but again, training camp will be the true test for that.”

10. The team is rallying around Quessenberry
The coolest moment of the spring happened on the last day of the mandatory minicamp. David Quessenbery, who was recently diagnosed with lymphoma, showed up to practice.

He waited until the rest of his teammates were working before walking over the bridge over Kirby and onto the fields like he did a few weeks ago as a player. The coolest part about his visit was watching his teammates see him one-by-one. Shane Lechler and Jon Weeks were off to the side and saw him first, then O’Brien spotted him and scurried over.

His teammates seemed legitimately touched by the visit.

“It makes our day look easy,” said Ben Jones about Quessenberry’s declaration that he’s going to kick cancer’s butt and be back with his team again.

Sometimes there are situations like Quessenberry’s that put plays and practice and football and the NFL on the back burner. It gives everyone – players, coaches, fans, media – some much-needed perspective.

Kick cancer’s butt, Q.