With the start of Houston Texans rookie mini-camp came the first real look at the group in person. The Texans had six draft picks, fifteen rookie free agents, sixteen tryouts and seven players who spent time on the Texans practice squad last season,each of whom was in attendance today.
Josh Lenz, Kenny Hilliard, Corey Moore, Tony Washington, Karim Barton, Eric Tomlinson and Dan Pettinato all spent time with the Texans in 2015. The three that really caught our eyes were Hillard, Tomlinson, and Moore.
Hillard has concentrated on cutting weight and actually looks like a NFL running back when compared to his rookie season. Tomlinson is a big-bodied wide receiver whose sheer size gave no safety or linebacker a chance in coverage, while Moore looks much leaner, faster, and quicker than he did last season. That is one of the things that second-year players must take advantage of: learning the systems and transitioning to real football shape.
As for the tryout players, Houston native, Chuckie Keeton took all of the snaps and did what he was supposed to do, throw catchable passes and try to get the best looks from the group. For the time being, he is a quarterback to get the Texans through rookie mini-camp.
Former University of Houston safety, Lee Hightower, is a rangy player at safety. He showed good ball skills in drills but he is going to have to really standout in a competitive safety group to lock down a contract coming out of rookie mini-camp.
The Texans continue to bring in big offensive tackles and former Kansas OT, Larry Mazyck, checks in at 6'8" and 360 lbs. He is not the most fleet of foot but, with his size, he stands out from the rest.
The rookie free agent group is an interesting one especially where the Texans concentrated to add players.
There has been plenty of talk on who could be pushing to help at the vacant right defensive end spot and the Texans have two specific players who fit that mold. Joel Heath (6'6", 293 lbs.) and Ufomba Kamalu (6'6", 297) are both cookie cutters of what the team likes in the position. Both have long arms to keep defenders off of them but it is clear they are players who can play as the five technique in the base 3-4 defense.
Wendall Williams from Cumberlands, who made his name by running a sub 4.2 forty-yard dash, did not get to open it up on the field today but he showed some acceleration that looked like a track star. He caught the ball well and did everything the team asked for in a solid start.
Three cornerbacks to watch are Richard Leonard, Duke Thomas, and Cleveland Wallace. All three check in under 6' in height and appear to be fit to play at slot cornerback and special teams. Leonard and Thomas have the better movement skills for the position on day one, but all three are comparable to each other and will need to be sifted through during training camp to determine the best of the bunch.
Inside linebacker, Shakeel Rashad, is athletic as they come for the position. With camp being more about coverage and getting a feel for what the coaches want, Rashard checked the early boxes of athleticism and an ability to cover ground in coverage.
Outside linebacker, Eric Lee, has the explosion and get off in pass rush to catch the coaches' eyes. His arms have length to keep defenders off of him and, in pass rush drills, he is violent with his hands. Add plus athleticism, Lee could make some noise for the fourth outside linebacker spot.
Wide receiver, Richard Mullaney, showed why he was named “Slottie Pippen” at Alabama. He has good body control and some of the best hands on the field. With a log jam at the receiver position, the odds are stacked against him, but he has some solid skills which demand attention.
Stephen Anderson put on a show catching the football. His best catch came on an out route where he one-handed it while falling to the ground, only to roll over still controlling the football. No safety or linebacker could cover him with his solid route running, which was evident coming out of Cal. The potential issue with Anderson lies in the fact he will have to learn to block, as the tight end position with the Texans requires that. At 6'2" and 230 lbs., (that might be on a good day), he looks like an H-Back or wide receiver on the field. There will be plenty of talk from the outside of him pushing for a starting spot but he is going to have to show he can do this against defenders who are faster than him.
Tyler Ervin’s feet never stop and, when he touches the ball, they speed up in a hurry. He is able to get in and out of breaks at an impression clip but, most importantly, he has some of the best acceleration of the rookie group. He plays confidently and took the bulk of the return work in the special teams period.
K.J. Dillon looks the part and showed some good hands in the safety drills to start practice. He also showed that he has a good feel for coverage and was able to hold his own in one-on-one situations.
Braxton Miller has confidence on the field and, just on athletic ability alone, he could be the most gifted player out there. Working mainly on the inside, Miller showed he can start and stop with ease but more impressive is his acceleration out of breaks. Miller's best look of the day came against Corey Moore (roster player in 2015), where he worked an out route to create separation and the space he created by leaving Moore flat footed was something to see. Miller showed he can get open in routes with his speed and quickness, which was an added plus coming out on day one.
There will be plenty of talk on what Will Fuller needs to be and on his first day on the field with the team, like many of the rookies, Fuller dealt with fatigue. He caught the ball well. One catch down the middle of the field over the safety in stride and another up the sideline, were good looks for him. The routes were not crisp but that is to be expected with a rookie wide receiver. One thing that stood out is how small Fuller is, but even players on the field know what he brings to the table: top end speed. Fuller had cornerbacks bailing in a hurry, protecting against the deep ball, and he would snap off his routes for an easy pitch and catch. There is plenty of work for Fuller to do but his biggest concerns should be regarding his ability to hold up strength-wise against NFL cornerbacks.