HOUSTON -- New Houston Texans defensive end Jerry Hughes puts an emphasis on the proper music being played at practice during training camp. So far, he's been less than pleased with the playlist set by the coaches.
Wednesday was the first time Hughes, 33, approved the playlist, calling it "ideal" for what the team needs. It started with heavy metal to get the blood following. That was followed up by current top-40 songs from the biggest names in the business.
"That's how we want to set the tempo, start the day, start any game," Hughes said following practice. "It's coming off in the trenches, flying off the ball, and that's what we like.
"This is football. We ain't playing basketball.”
Music is one element that sets the tone of practice. A certain level of competition is another factor. Last season, Houston finished bottom-five in sacks with 32. Third-year defensive end Jonathan Greenard was the only player of note that broke out, finishing with a team-high eight sacks and nine tackles for loss.
That won't be the case this fall. General manager Nick Caserio added veteran leaders in Hughes and fellow Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Addison. He also signed Seattle Seahawks defensive end Rasheem Green and Los Angeles Rams situational pass-rusher Obo Okoronkwo.
The additions raise the level of competition in the trenches. Greenard, who is looking to become the first Texans player since J.J. Watt in 2018 to record double-digit sacks, isn't opposed to the bar being set higher. Hughes isn't going to let the younger players take a step backward.
"Every play, whoever is out there, you've got to give it your all," Hughes said. "That's what we're trying to do is just make each other better and sharpen up our game.”
Hughes, a native of the Greater Houston area, can remember during his early days with the Indianapolis Colts having to play up to the standard of greats such as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. On the opposing side, his job was the add pressure to the backfield and force quarterback Peyton Manning into making a mistake.
Manning is a Hall of Famer and considered one of the greatest players in league history. Mathis and Freeney both could make the case for Canton in the coming years. They didn't care about this status among others in the league. When practice was underway, they set the tone.
Hughes is entering his 13th season and is now the Mathis or Freeny of Houston. Texans coach Lovie Smith said one of the main reasons he was brought in was to be a leader in the locker room. So far, he's been more than just a vocal presence on the defensive line.
"It's just great to see a lot of young guys asking those questions, wanting to figure out what they can do to change their game and take it to that next level," Hughes said. "That's what we need."
Mills' Magic and Cooks' Consistency
One week into training camp, and two things are certain; Davis Mills is light years ahead of last year at quarterback and receiver Brandin Cooks seems untouchable. On Wednesday, both statements reached new levels.
Mills finished the day with only two errant throws. One was an interception tipped by linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin into the hands of Blake Cashman. The second was on a jump ball to rookie wideout Johnny Johnson III that would be intercepted by rookie Derek Stingley Jr.
Outside of that, Mills' accuracy has been his biggest asset. Combined between the two drills, the second-year quarterback went 11 of 14 in team and 4 of 5 in 7-on-7 drills with a pair of touchdown passes.
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Cooks, who signed a two-year extension this offseason, was on a new level. Fans of the franchise know what he's capable of after posting back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, but Wednesday was different.
The veteran receiver didn't drop a single pass. Even on two throws that were far from stellar, he made the snag. He hauled in a pair of touchdown grabs, one from Mills and one while working with third-team QB Jeff Driskel.
He tallied receptions against Stingley, cornerback Steven Nelson and both safeties Jalen Pitre and Jonathan Owens. No one stopped Cooks Wednesday. That's the hopeful plan for Sundays come time for the regular season.
Cashman Cashing In
Give credit where credit is due. Cashman has been flying under the radar for Houston but could be fighting for first-team reps in the coming days with players like Garret Wallow and rookie Christian Harris.
Traded by the New York Jets for a 2023 sixth-round pick, the Texans were hopeful Cashman could be a special team's ace with value as a secondary linebacker. So far, he leads the position in interceptions with three in practice. On top of picking off Mills, Cashman ended practice during the two-minute drill with an interception against backup Kyle Allen.
"The guy can run," special teams coordinator Frank Ross said. "So, hopefully, he's using all of our fundamentals and techniques and then playing with those explosive traits that's in his body when it's time to go out there and make the plays.”
- The Texans are being cautious with players returning from injury as of this time. Addison, center Justin Britt, receiver Phillip Dorsett, and rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano all dressed out but were limited in practice outside of individual drills.
- Another day, another great practice from rookie running back Dameon Pierce. Twice the Florida runner broke free into the open field after getting past the line of scrimmage. He also made three catches during 7-on-7 drills, once putting Houston at the 1-yard line.
- The Texans officially signed veteran receiver Chester Rogers. He will wear the No. 16 and is expected to work with both the first- and second-team offense. In a corresponding move, Houston added receiver Davion Davis to the injured/waived list after he suffered a hamstring injury on Wednesday.
- Owens is getting more comfortable working with the first-team defense. He recorded two pass breakups during seven-on-seven drills and nearly had an interception on a throw made by Allen. So far, he and Pitre have been a constant on the back end with what's expected to be the starting defense.
- Houston will return to practice on Friday.
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