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Texans Camp Notebook: Secondary Looking For Clean Break

The Texans secondary could be a point of emphasis for the next several weeks

HOUSTON -- Justin Reid enjoys the new defensive look under coordinator Lovie Smith. As one of the leaders for the Texans defense, his word could speak volumes for other players. 

Reid, who enters a contract year, looks calm and steady in coverage during practice. On Saturday, he jumped a pair of passes thrown by rookie Davis Mills that would have gone to the house any during a live game. 

The biggest takeaway from Smith's Tampa 2 system? It's aggressive — something Reid can't wait to bring to the table during the upcoming season. 

"He lets us play free on the back end. He's very intense about us wanting to make plays, and making plays," Reid said Monday after practice. "Playing with instinct, playing with security at the same time, but when we see an opportunity to make a play or strip the ball out, he harps on us going to do that." 

READ MORE: Texans Camp: How 'Big Truss' Ingram Can Again 'Explode' on NFL

Smith, who last year was coaching at Illinois, provides a new base for Houston underneath the direction of head coach David Culley. The Texans have run the 3-4 since 2011. 

They now will run a 4-3 base with much more zone coverage in the secondary. Maybe that's a blessing? After all, Houston finished 30th in total defense during the 2020 season and 24th in pass defense. 

Reid said that Smith tells him to remember, "Yesterday was yesterday, now do it again today." Once Houston can play consistent in coverage, maybe the doubters will be silenced.

"He preaches consistency," Reid said of his new defensive coordinator. "He preaches turnovers and that's just the type of defense we want to run." 

Houston returns three full-time starters from the 2020 secondary. Bradley Roby is back healthy on the outside. Lonnie Johnson Jr., who currently is on the active/non-football injury list, is again expected to see reps alongside Reid. 

READ MORE: Texans Camp: Rookie QB Davis Mills Moves Up - Glimpse of Future?

Reid, however, is the leader of the group. In his first two seasons, the Stanford alum looked to be one of the more up-and-coming defensive backs in the game. Last season, a lingering hand injury caused him to miss the final three games of the year. 

Still, he finished with an impressive 83 total tackles and two sacks. Reid says that missing the end of last season was a bit of a blessing because allowed him to focus on getting better in his recovery. 

"Physically, I feel great," Reid said. "I'm bigger, I'm faster, I'm stronger. I feel very fluid and loose on the field. I just feel like I'm free out there." 

It's showing up in camp for not just Reid, but also for Terrance Mitchell. A former Cleveland Browns starter, Mitchell has made the most of filling in as the No. 2 cornerback opposite Roby. Slowly, he continues to make a name for himself. 

Reid gave high praise to the new defensive back, saying that he's been his favorite player with whom to work. 

READ MORE: Deshaun Watson Trade: 'Teams Are Ready To Jump,' Says Texans QB Lawyer

"He's just a physical corner, he's very smart, he's competitive," Reid said. "He'll compete on every play, man coverage, zone coverage, doesn't bring any negativity to the team. Great guy."

Culley and Reid both know that anything can happen in shells. When the pads come on, that's when the action begins.

Tuesday will mark a chance for the secondary to earn a clean break after last year's down season. So far, players are starting to find their rhythm in Smith's scheme.

Competition brings out the best in defenders, and Culley can see it unfolding entering a new week. 

"That group is doing a heck of a job," Culley said of the secondary. "That's a deep group, that's a competitive group and we got some great competition right there in that group." 

READ MORE: Texans Camp Notebook: Tyrod Reveals Thoughts on Deshaun

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Mills Makes Adjustments 

With Tyrod Taylor out on a personal day on Sunday, rookie quarterback Davis Mills saw most of the reps with what could be considered the front-runners for the starting lineup. Let's just say it was more of a "teaching moment'' than a "defining factor'' for his future. 

Monday was a new day, and a new Mills took the field. This time, he looked confident in his reps working with receivers during one-on-one drills. Passes were accurate. They were well-placed against tight coverage. 

Best of all? Mills looked consistent, something Culley expected out of him with time. 

"That's the demeanor that he has," Culley said. "He's that kind of guy. We knew that when we drafted him He's a solid guy. Pressure doesn't bother him. For him to do what he did today was excellent

Mills has found a rhythm with players like rookies Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan, plus veterans such as Chris Conley and Brandin Cooks. He's not in line to start yet, but a strong practice maybe silences the critics for a few hours. 

READ MORE: Texans Star Excelling in Coverage and Chess?

Collins Hype Alive And Well  

Speaking of Collins, it's another day where he's shined bright. During one-on-ones, the Michigan product showed off speed by blazing down the sideline on a vertical route. 

During seven-on-sevens, Collins made not one, but two contested catches in a tight window and double coverage. Two defenders smashed into the 6-5 Collins, but both would be blown back by his pure strength. 

Said Mitchell: "He's a big receiver and he has a bright future." 

One thing that Texans general manager Nick Caserio said after drafting Collins was that the team needed a big receiver with speed. Both traits were evident in practice Monday. 

READ MORE: Texans Camp: What Is Tytus Howard's Role On Offense?

Turnovers Focal Point For Linebackers 

Jeff Driskel threw three interceptions on the afternoon, all in coverage at the second level of defense. Kamu Grugier-Hill intercepted one and returned it back, as did Kevin Pierre-Louis. 

“As a competitive group, we’re doing pretty well,” Pierre-Louis said. “We’re getting (some) interceptions. Coach Smith is harping on us to make plays and get turnovers.”

Turnovers need to be a point of emphasis for Smith. It was one of the biggest areas of weakness for Houston last year. Pierre-Louis said that they talk daily about having plays end in favor with the ball in their hands or on the ground.

So far through camp, the linebackers have stood out at a consistent level. 

“Everyone understands it’s an important part of this defense," Pierre-Louis said. "He talks to us individually and as a group. The proof is in the pudding because of where he’s been.”

Deshaun Watson Update 

Watson worked during warmup drills and individuals for the fifth straight practice. At one point, the beleaguered QB went to the sideline and had a trainer look at his foot before returning and standing on the sideline. 

Culley said that Watson still will likely be limited again on Tuesday. Translation? 

“Nothing’s changed,” Culley said.

CONTINUE READING: Texans QBs: 'Worst Practice Ever' From Deshaun Watson Replacements?