HOUSTON -- Players who are secure with roster spots usually aren't asked to do more than the norm. However, Houston Texans offensive lineman Tytus Howard isn't like most players.
And yes, "offensive lineman-at-large'' might be the best phrase to describe the third-year starter.
Since training camp began last week, Howard has been everywhere on the offensive line. Some reps, he's working his natural right tackle spot. Others, he's on the blindside. Recently, Howard has worked reps inside at both guard spots.
Is it frustrating to be on the move this much? Howard doesn't mind the change. He just wants to give his team the best chance to win.
"When I put the work in, I can play anywhere on the line." Howard said Tuesday after practice. "I'm only here to be the best me I can be and help the team. That's my ultimate goal."
Howard, the team's first-round pick in 2019, has been a staple at right tackle. Entering camp, many suspected that he and veteran Marcus Cannon from New England would battle it out for the outside spot, with the loser moving inside to right guard.
There's still a battle unfolding - it's just not with Cannon.
Houston seems high on Charlie Heck, the fourth-round offensive tackle out of North Carolina. This offseason, the 6-7 second-year player spent the offseason refining his footwork and delivering cleaner punches.
Time (plus a full offseason that won't be affected by a global pandemic) usually helps solve a problem such as that. Now, Heck continues to show progress under the direction of new O-line coach James Campen.
Howard doesn't mind the extra reps inside. It allows him to better his footwork and improve with hand placement in pass-protection sets.
"My feet are little bit faster," Howard said. "When I'm playing guard, I'm able to use my athleticism to inside against guys who usually don't go against feet I good as mine.
"I like playing all the positions. Whichever one my team sees me as, I'm going to go in day in and day out and play the best I can be."
Howard continues to grow both as a player and a person. Maybe he feels the pressure of living up to a certain standard. After all, he's the last first-round pick the Texans have made.
The other two first-round picks? They went to Miami in the trade for Laremy Tunsil. The good news for Texans fans is at least Howard thinks they have the league's best left tackle.
Said Howard: "My goal is to be on that level and that's why I look at all his [Tunsil's] film and learn from it. I take all that in and try to apply to my game."
No matter where he lines up, Howard seems comfortable. He also looks to be more sound and improved all-around in his game, both against the run and when facing pass-rushers.
Howard could attribute his comfort level to his offseason time at home with his wife, Chelsea, and their soon-to-be 10-month old daughter, Willow. He also was able to train at full strength instead of dealing with an injury, as has been the case in every previous season.
Whatever the reason, Howard is happy when he enters the building. Maybe his family, plus a new-found responsibility as the Texans' do-it-all lineman, provides that smile when the whistle blows.
"When you have a good time at home, it makes coming to work a lot better," Howard said. "I do this job, I do it for them."
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Maybe one of the more under-the-radar moves of the offseason by Houston, Chris Conley continues to prove why he should be considered a lock for a roster spot on the final 53. If anything, the former AFC South rival is showing why he should see No. 2 reps opposite Brandin Cooks.
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From a route-running standpoint, Conley continues to improve as a downfield threat. Twice during one-on-ones, he used a vertical pattern to his favor, beating the Texans defender for the score. He also didn't drop a pass in seven-on-seven drills.
What really stood out was his athleticism. In the two-minute drill, Conley extended his hand for a pass that was overthrown. While in mid-air, he was able to get his fingertips on the ball, bringing it back into play for a first down.
Conley, who spent the last four years with the Jaguars, is arguably the second- or third-best newcomer offensively for Houston. Between him and Nico Collins, the rookie from Michigan, it should be a fun battle for reps come Week 1 against his former team.
Johnson, Armstrong And Brown All Back
After clearing COVID protocol, The Texans activated safety Lonnie Johnson Jr., tight end Pharaoh Brown and cornerback Cornell Armstrong for the first day of pads.
The reps were limited for the trio as they look to return to full strength. Johnson, the former second-round pick, worked the most alongside Justin Reid and Eric Murray in team drills. With Reid locking down one safety spot, it feels like the battle for the other job will come between these two.
Coach David Culley said after practice that while it is great to have back the key contributors, their reps would be limited for now. Everything comes in moderation, including playing time.
"They're actually going through the ramp-up right now." Culley said. "Their reps are limited from that standpoint."
Mixed Play From QBs
Tyrod Taylor turned 32 on Tuesday and was serenaded to a "Happy Birthday'' song by teammates. But, he still needs work. Overall, he's looked the most complete among the quarterbacks, but there is a downside to his game: Extending plays vertically.
Throughout practice, Taylor impressed with his footwork, ability to evade pressure and completion rating with his targets. On plays fewer than 15 yards, he looked like the man who once led Buffalo back to the postseason for the first time in 17 years.
Anything deeper? There's some work that needs to be done. On multiple occasions, receivers would slow down in stride to wait for Taylor's ball to drop into play.
Meanwhile, rookie QB Davis Mills looked strong connecting deep. On three different plays, the rookie led receivers perfectly on end-zone throws. However, in the short game, there were still some inconsistencies.
During two-minute drill, Mills fired another interception, this time to cornerback in Vernon Hargreaves II, who perfectly timed his break.
But, overall, Culley sees a more comfortable approach from Mills.
Now, it's about limiting the turnovers.
"He just needs to get reps," Culley said. "He and Jeff [Driskel] and Tyrod just need to keep getting the reps and as the reps come, they get better and they get better."
Intensity And Defense Wins Again
If fans want to take anything away from Culley as the new leader of the Texans, it's his love for football. Just before taking the podium, the 27-year vet was grinning - because the pads are going on.
“It felt good to finally get the pads on today and to be able to look at the guys and evaluate,” Culley said. “From a practice standpoint, it went exactly like I wanted it to. We’ve been waiting for this day. What I saw and what I heard was exactly what we expected. Guys were playing football the way you’re supposed to play football.”
The defense once again made headlines with turnovers. Mills threw several interceptions, as did Driskel. Names like Desmond King and Terrance Mitchell excelled in coverage, causing turnovers left and right and breaking up plays.
Tuesday marked the fourth day the defense caused multiple turnovers. Under new coordinator Lovie Smith, the unit looks stronger than a season ago. It could be the team's greatest asset as they prep for their first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers next week.
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