HOUSTON -- One thing the Houston Texans aren't going to change under new coach Lovie Smith is their usage of the tight end position. Last season, Houston finished second in the NFL in usage of 12 and 13 personnel.
Pharaoh Brown was Houston's most consistently inconsistent tight end. On one drive, he'd make a clean block to open a running lane. The next, a holding call would negate a big play downfield.
On one drive, Brown looked like a serviceable security blanket, utilizing his 6-6 frame to his advantage. On the next drive, he'd have a crucial drop, thus taking the life out of the offense and forcing a punt.
Brown, who Smith expects to be Houston's starter, hasn't been the Brown of last season so far in training camp. His blocks are clean. As a route-runner, there's seems to be new-found passion to his cuts and breaks.
As for the drops? On Tuesday, the 28-year-old only had one. The six other times he was targeted went for either touchdowns during seven-on-seven drills in the red zone or first downs during team reps.
"He's a wide tight end," Smith. "He can block, big body. You see him make catches every day. We'll have a big role for him.”
Under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Houston plans on running plenty of two-tight end sets. Brown likely will get the first crack of working from the "Y" position on the line of scrimmage while second-year standout Brevin Jordan will work from the flex.
Jordan also has shined during camp, improving as a receiver and developing a mean streak in run blocking. On Monday, he made two TD grabs over a pair of defenders during seven-on-seven drills. On Tuesday, Jordan hauled in two more red-zone touchdowns, one of which he pileadrove a defender into the ground to cross the goal line.
"Brevin is a good match-up," Smith said Monday. "He's a tight end. He’s a big receiver. Against linebacker and safeties, we should have the advantage."
While the attention has been on Jordan in the national spotlight, Brown deserves credit. This offseason, he took up meditation to clear his mind of negative thoughts. He began using hot yoga as a technique to maintain his playing weight.
Hamilton has spoken of the importance of the tight end position to make his offense work. Brown offers more in terms of blocking than Jordan. He also has been an effective red-zone target for second-year quarterback Davis Mills.
Last season, Brown finished with 23 catches for 174 yards. This year, that production is expected to double. Hopefully, so will his career touchdown total.
Jalen Pitre's Promising Start
Pitre is just built different. There's likely players in the league that matches his style of play, work ethic and awareness in coverage, but it's clear he's one of a kind in Houston.
"That's one of the smartest guys I've seen coming in, [and I'm] going on my fifth year," defensive back Tavierre Thomas said. "He's very smart. You wouldn't know that he's a rookie. Like he ain't make like the little rookie mistakes."
Drafted 37th overall, Pitre has been working with the first-team defense since the start of OTAs in June. At first, he rotated in with veteran Eric Murray. Now, Murray has been working with the second-team, instead.
Tuesday might have been the Baylor alum's best practice of the summer. During team drills, he jumped a route on a pass thrown by Kyle Allen. It should have been an interception, but the rookie took his eyes off the ball a second too early.
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Maturity is Pitre's biggest strength. Before heading back to the huddle, he dropped to the turf and did push-ups to punish himself for botching the easy pick.
Three plays later, Pitre redeemed himself by blitzing on third down, forcing a sack on Allen.
Defensive Line Commanding Respect
Last season, defensive end Jonathan Greenard was the only player worth mentioning in the Texans' pass rush. The second-year defender recorded a team-high eight sacks in Smith's four-man front. If not for an injury, he likely would have been the first Texan since J.J. Watt in 2018 to surpass the double-digit marker.
Greenard isn't letting what could have been bother him. He can't, as there's a battle between him and four other defensive linemen for starting reps. Instead of adding a high-profile name via the draft, Texans general manager Nick Caserio went for experience, adding former Buffalo Bills standouts Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, along with Rams pass-rusher Obo Okoronkwo and Seattle Seahawks veteran Rasheem Green.
“They bring the energy, all the time," Greenard said of Addison and Hughes. "I think them being 25 years [of experience] combined, you can't coach that so I think I just try to pick their brain, understand how they can get through this camp."
Addison, who finished with a team-high seven sacks in Buffalo last season, played in Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Carolina Panthers. Okoronkwo, a native of Houston and situational pass rusher, was a member of the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl roster from a season ago. They understand what it takes to make it to the final showdown, and Greenard is paying close attention.
Last season, Houston was bottom-five in sacks with 32. That likely won't be the case this fall now with Green, Okoronkwo, Addison and Hughes on the roster. One of the main reasons Greenard can expect better results is there's a new standard among the pass rushers each snap.
"When they obviously see something that's not up to the standard they want to see and obviously for this team to get to where we want to go, they say stuff and it's well-needed at times," Greenard said. "Overall, it brings that leadership and that mentality."
- First-round offensive lineman Kenyon Green began working with the first-team offense at left guard for the first time Tuesday. Drafted 15th overall out of Texas A&M, Green has been known for his run-blocking ability. The Texans will need him to attack early after finishing dead last in rushing last season with an average of 3.4 yards per play.
- While not expected to be a full-time starter Week 1, linebacker Christian Harris did work first-team reps Tuesday. Playing what seemed to be the "Will" position, Harris caused a fumble during 11-on-11 drills against Jordan that would have been a turnover. Both Smith and veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey have praised the third-rounder, calling him the "fastest player at the position" earlier this training camp.
- Running back Dameon Pierce remains the one constant on the ground. Twice the Florida runner broke free for massive gains, including a run down the sideline that would have gone for a 50-plus-yard touchdown.
- Mills' deep ball was finally on point during one-on-one drills. Twice, the second-year passer connected with receiver Nico Collins for 30-plus yard touchdowns. While the throw was near flawless, both catches might have been the highlight of practice.
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