HOUSTON — Let’s just skip the pleasantries and get down to what everyone wants to know about the Texans in training camp (besides the status of J.J. Watt’s back): How is the $72 million man, quarterback Brock Osweiler, progressing?
They are only four days into camp and haven’t played a game yet, but after watching Wednesday’s (thankfully) indoor practice and talking to various people around the facility, the Texans are thrilled where Osweiler is at.
“We reached out to a lot of different guys and we spoke to a lot of guys that worked with Brock; everybody spoke highly of him,” coach Bill O’ Brien said of the decision to sign Osweiler away from the Broncos. “Now that we’ve had him here in person since whenever, May, the guy is really smart, he wants information, he’s here all the time. He really operates the offense. That’s one thing for [offensive coordinator George Godsey] and I that we’ve been very pleasantly surprised with. Sometimes it takes a while to operate our offense. That’s one thing that he’s done well. He’s put a lot of time into it. He’s been really good. Now look, we all know that he’s got to go out there and play well, that’s the bottom line, but to this point, he’s been really good.”
If you’ve read my previous stories diving into the Patriots’ complex offense and how the Texans gameplan for an opponent, you know that Houston runs a very complicated scheme that has several layers. It often takes a year or two for quarterbacks to get a good grasp of the system. But thanks to Osweiler’s smarts and the small taste of the New England/Houston offense that he received in Denver (where former coordinator Adam Gase retained some of Josh McDaniels’s system after McDaniels was fired as head coach), Osweiler is way ahead of the curve. To illustrate, the Texans used a play call on Wednesday that was 14 words long. Osweiler had no trouble taking in the information, dispensing it and then executing it. It may seem basic, but it means a lot in this system.
“The offense is as complicated and as in-depth as much as the quarterback can handle,” Godsey said. “He’s been able to handle a lot of information. As far as the knowledge of the system, he’s put a lot of time in. The operation, the communication from quarterbacks to receivers or linemen to changing plays with the whole unit, he’s done an excellent job of that. Now we’re only in a couple days into pads and the running game is becoming a little bit more prevalent, so it’s mixing run and pass and how we’re going to play the game. As far as being able to soak in the information and spit it back out and execute it, he’s been able to accomplish that here. It’s not easy and he’s done it in a quick amount of time if you just think from last free agency period. We’ve had quite a few [quarterbacks] here and he’s done a great job. Excellent.”
O’Brien and Godsey aren’t just saying that because they’re stuck with Osweiler. Not once during practice did I see a play be reset because someone was lined up wrong. The ball did not hit the ground very often, and the running game seemed to have some pop. It did not look like an offense with a new quarterback, running back (Lamar Miller), center (Nick Martin), right guard (Jeff Allen) and two rookie receivers (Will Fuller and Braxton Miller) running a lot of routes. That says a lot about the quarterback because in this system everything flows through him.
Not everything is perfect. Osweiler still has the same three-quarters delivery which, if his footwork isn’t right, causes his deep passes to lose steam quickly. And he’s still finding a rhythm with Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins: On one out route in the end zone, Hopkins and Osweiler weren’t close and Hopkins slumped his shoulders in frustration. There will be growing pains.
“We’re definitely on the verge of getting there, it’s early in camp,” Hopkins said. “He’s come from a winning team, under a winning quarterback. He knows everything to do on and off the field for his team to succeed and that’s what he’s doing out here. Just from that leadership role, he knows how to win and where he wants guys to be. I’m also staying on him as well, holding him accountable like that ball in the end zone. ‘Give me a chance, throw it up. I know what you might have saw but I want you to know just throw it up.’ We’re staying on each other to get where we want to be.”
More training camp observations
• Watt continues to make steady progress from off-season surgery to deal with a herniated disc. There is a possibility that he could miss the first two games of the season if the Texans go the conservative route.
• The Texans are quietly raving about rookies Fuller (a first-round pick) and Miller (third round) because both have acclimated well in the system. Fuller has shown the speed that he was known for at Notre Dame, but he’s catching the ball much more consistently. Miller does not look like a former college quarterback; he’s a natural at receiver.
• All three of the Texans’ undrafted receivers (Wendell Williams, Tevin Jones, Quenton Bundrage) are competitive and have shown skills worth developing. Williams is one to keep an eye on in the preseason games.
• Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz looks to be the full-time tight end because of his blocking ability, but he’s still nothing special in the passing game.
• What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Texans weren’t sure when Jadeveon Clowney would get back on the field after knee surgery. This year, not only is he on the field, he’s participating in full-contact special teams drills.
• Not sure what the Texans will do for numbers at the running back position, considering they like having a fullback. Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue and Akeem Dent would be a good threesome for most teams, and then you have the capable Jonathan Grimes and rookie fourth-round pick Tyler Ervin. Ervin couldn’t practice in the spring, and it shows. He appears hesitant and has to think too much. That doesn’t allow him to show off his speed.
• The defense is intact from last season, and all the competition is in depth spots (Hard Knocks star Charles James is still doing his thing). It’s a really good unit that seems to be getting a bit more aggressive in pressures and coverages.
• Vince Wilfork may have been a little heavy last season, but he aced his conditioning test this year. Must have all that work he put in for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue.
• Veteran Nick Novak and undrafted rookie Ka’imi Fairbairn are competing for the kicking spot.
• Rookie center Nick Martin looks like a Day One starter already. Free-agent pickup Jeff Allen stood out at guard in offensive line work, as did tackles Chris Clark, Jeff Adams and Kendall Lamm.
Five questions with running back Lamar Miller
Q1: After four seasons with the Dolphins, you’re with a new team. What has stood out so far?
LM: Since Day One, the team and organization has welcomed me with open arms. There’s a great bond within this team. That’s always a positive.
Q2: Do you still scratch your head about your tenure in Miami, where they never let you be the guy and then didn’t try to re-sign you?
LM: Not really, I don’t really think about it too much. I’m here and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. I never questioned why they didn’t use me as much or why they didn’t try hard enough to keep me, but I’m just looking forward to what’s ahead and making plays and helping this team win.
Q3: You went against the Patriots for years, and now you’re in the Patriots’ offensive system brought in by Bill O’Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey. Can you see why New England has the success it has had?
LM: Godsey and OB, I think they do a great job of putting their guys in the right situations to make plays. That’s one thing that the Patriots did: putting guys in the right spot to be successful. I think they do a great job at just whatever your skill set is, they try to put yourself in a situation where you can perform at a high level and make plays.
Q4: What have you thought of Brock Osweiler so far?
LM: I think he’s done a great job. He’s the leader of the offense, he’s been taking full control of the huddle, making sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do.
Q5: Anything you’ve seen so far that makes you think, ‘That’s something we were missing in Miami’?
LM: We have a whole bunch of competitive people on this team, they compete on anything. That’s the thing that stood out to me the most when I first got here, how competitive the team is.
Biggest Turnaround: Offensive speed
Everything the Texans did this off-season, especially in the draft, was designed to improve team speed and make things easier for Hopkins. With Fuller and Miller, Houston has exceeded expectations. Ervin has a ways to go.
Buzzing: Undrafted TE Stephen Anderson
With all the young talent at receiver and among the running backs, the only offensive position lacking in pizzazz is tight end, which is ironic considering all the talent Bill O’Brien had at his disposal in New England. The Texans got next to nothing from the position last season, when only average production would have been a boon to the team. Anderson has flashed early, and the 6' 3", 220-pounder out of Cal will get every opportunity in the preseason to show he can bring something to the table.