AFC South: Houston Texans

HOUSTON --It was a foregone conclusion that Houston Texans' rookie quarterback Tom Savage was in need of development the moment he arrived in Houston.

He played only two seasons of college football in five years, bouncing between three different programs and finally settling at Pittsburgh last season. It was a journey that forced him to mature. It didn't leave much time, though, for learning how to be a quarterback, and he came into the league needing time.

Savage understood that. It's why his demeanor Thursday night -- after an 8-for-12 performance where he had a 37.8 passer rating in the Texans' 40-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers -- was similar to his demeanor last weekend minutes after he led a game-winning drive.

"I think it's going to be a good adventure for me," Savage said. "I think as a young player, you've got to be able to handle these situations. And trust me, it sucks to lose. ... But it's just the tough feeling. As a competitor you want to go out and win. It doesn't matter if you're playing checkers or football. So it stings, but you've just got to keep improving."

What the Texans' quarterbacks experienced during Thursday night's preseason finale was not pleasant for either of them. Savage's struggles included a pick-six.

Case Keenum, who started the game, completed 8 of 17 passes for 70 yards and an interception. His wasn't returned for a touchdown, but San Francisco scored on the very next play. Keenum was not available to media after the game.

"They put in a lot of work, even though tonight was not a great night," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "It is a body of work and there has been some decent play from those guys, so we are comfortable. We will always do what is best for the team ... but as it relates to those two guys, they have shown flashes of good things and some not so good things, just like everybody else."

Keenum and Savage now find themselves in very different positions. Savage, a fourth-round pick, has more leeway due to his lack of experience. Keenum, though impacted by a poorly handled quarterback transition last season, has less.

O'Brien has been asked repeatedly if the three quarterbacks on his roster right now are the three he'll take into the regular season. He once said yes, "as we stand here today." Another time he said "more than likely" they are the three that will remain.

On Thursday night he said this: "If keeping these three quarterbacks is what's best for the team, then that's what we'll do, but just coming in here off the field, it's not something that we can answer right now. We've got to go upstairs and figure it out and watch some more tape and meet as a staff and go from there."

If the staff gets together and decides the team needs another option, the Texans have the top position on the waiver wire and might keep an eye on which quarterbacks become available.

Observation Deck: Houston Texans

August, 28, 2014
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HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans took their backup quarterback competition into this final preseason game, and it wasn't either quarterback's best day.

Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage distinguished himself. By the end of the third quarter, they had passer ratings of 33.9 and 31.9. Both threw interceptions, though Savage's was returned for a touchdown. Keenum's could have been. After what looked like a miscommunication between Keenum and receiver DeVier Posey, the 49ers scored on the next play.

Houston lost to San Francisco 40-13.

Here are some other thoughts from the Texans' final preseason game:
  • Safeties Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant needed strong performances Thursday, and Keo's was better than Pleasant's, especially during their defensive snaps. On one play, Pleasant was in position to stop a touchdown but couldn't quite make the tackle. Keo also played well on special teams, which will be important to the Texans' decision on who remains on their roster.
  • Rookie cornerback Andre Hal made his second interception return for a touchdown of the preseason. Both of his came at home. On this one, Hal plucked the ball out of the air as it bounced off the receiver's hands. As is often the case with young defensive backs, though, there was good and bad mixed in for Hal. He was beat deep in the fourth quarter on a pass that got the 49ers to the Texans' 11-yard line. The drive ended in a touchdown.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell took on some kicking duties and all of the punting duties. He did fine kicking but had a punt blocked for a safety. Boswell had already lost the kicking competition to Randy Bullock (who made a 52-yarder Thursday), and he wasn't going to beat out Shane Lechler as the punter. A good performance Thursday might have given him a chance elsewhere.
  • Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus made back-to-back tackles for loss during the first half. He followed a sack of Blaine Gabbert by tackling LaMichael James in the backfield. Mercilus started for the second consecutive game. He started last Saturday in Denver when outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was out with an injury suffered after a helmet-to-helmet hit in a practice with the Broncos. This time, the Texans kept most of their starters out.
  • Interesting positional note on the offensive line: Xavier Su'a-Filo started at left tackle in place of Duane Brown. Su'a-Filo played as much guard as tackle in college, but was better as a guard. He was mostly a guard in games this preseason.
  • Running back Arian Foster missed the Texans' entire slate of exhibition games for the second straight season. Last year he dealt with a variety of soft tissue injuries, starting with the Texans' organized team activities. This season it's been a hamstring injury. Foster has looked like his old self during practices, but has been limited there, too. If he stays healthy, he'll be a big part of the Texans' offense, and they didn't see any reason to risk that Thursday.

Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
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Most significant move: There weren't really any very significant football moves in the Houston Texans' first round of cuts. Those gone as the team reduces its roster from 90 (the Texans had 89 for a few weeks) to 75 were long shots to make the team. Non-football-wise, the Texans placed David Quessenberry on the non-football illness list as he continues his treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He's talked often about how being part of the team and the support he's received from the team make him feel stronger, like he has an "army" behind him. He'll remain part of the group as he fights for his life.

Receivers stand out: The Texans cut three receivers in this round, which still leaves them with some very difficult decisions this weekend. Texans coach Bill O'Brien singled out that group Tuesday as being a very talented one. They could keep five receivers, or six if a sixth player forces his way on the roster. Undrafted rookie Travis Labhart is in the conversation to be that sixth player. He could make a case for himself on Thursday night in the team's final preseason game.

Texans' cuts: WR Joe Adams, G Conor Boffeli, NT Austin Brown, OLB Paul Hazel, NT David Hunter, WR Alec Lemon, OLB Terrence Lloyd, G Sam Longo, WR Anthony McClung, CB Junior Mertile, RB William Powell and OLB Lawrence Sidbury. In addition, safety Lonnie Ballentine was placed on injured reserve.
HOUSTON -- Two thirds of the Houston Texans' South Carolina wing remained mostly sidelined at practice on Monday.

Joseph
Clowney
Texans coach Bill O'Brien said outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph are day to day. He also said he is not concerned whether either player will miss the Texans' season opener on Sept. 7.

Clowney has been sidelined since colliding with Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme on Wednesday in Colorado.

Joseph is still on a rehab schedule stemming from foot surgery he had after the season. He returned to practice for a few days of training camp before being shut down again. Joseph has said he did not have a setback on his recovery, the Texans are simply being cautious.

Offensive linemen Will Yeatman and Chris Myers both returned to practice, O'Brien said.

The two starters are critical pieces of the Texans' defense, so it's a good thing for the Texans. O'Brien isn't worried about their availability for the games that count.
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' roster will have to be down to 75 by 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT Tuesday. That will mean 13 actual cuts, because the Texans started with 89 on the roster and will place David Quessenberry on the non-football injury list.

And those cuts began Monday. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Texans have cut receiver Joe Adams, receiver Alec Lemon, guard Sam Longo, running back William Powell, nose tackle David Hunter, nose tackle Austin Brown, cornerback Junior Mertile, outside linebacker Terrance Lloyd and outside linebacker Lawrence Sidbury.

Those cuts happened before the Texans practiced late Monday morning, so the coaches got another look at the bottom of the roster before finishing that first round of cuts. They need to make four more to get down to 75.

Thursday's game will be critical for players on the bubble as the Texans will have to reduce their roster to 53 by Saturday afternoon.

Houston Texans' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
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Examining the Houston Texans' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
A well-oiled 74-yard touchdown drive plus two-point conversion was cause for optimism about Savage. Savage said one of the things that kept him calm throughout that drive was the support he had on the sideline, not just from his coaches, but from the man with whom he's competing to be the Texans' backup quarterback. The quarterback room has been a smooth one this offseason and Texans coach Bill O'Brien believes Fitzpatrick's leadership is a big part of that.

RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS (5)

Blue got the start against the Denver Broncos -- a surprise start. He didn't even know until after warm-ups. Blue did well to convert a fourth down on a drive that ended in a touchdown. "It's fourth down. The coaches expect you to get it. Don't get denied. There's a lot of pressure. You have to get in your mind, I ain't getting denied. If anything it's going to be the defense, their defense is going to stay on the field." He didn't get the touchdown, but Grimes came in and got it shortly thereafter. Blue has some work to do toward becoming a more complete running back, but has the ability to back up Foster. I like Ronnie Brown's presence on this roster in a reserve/teaching role.

RECEIVERS (5)

Something interesting happened at slot receiver this week. Martin got a lot more playing time in the slot. Thomas had been a shoo-in as the Texans' slot receiver, but Martin took a step during Thomas's absence and surpassed him, in the coaches' eyes.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

The Texans opened their game Saturday with two tight ends in -- Fiedorowicz and Graham. Those are clearly their top two tight ends right now, and two they used together several times. It's interesting that Fiedorowicz's pass-catching ability was a question. That was mostly because Fiedorowicz didn't do much of it in college. He's showed now that given the opportunity, it's something that comes naturally to him.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Having gone back and listened to an interview I did with O'Brien during training camp, I noticed he mentioned eight offensive linemen. For a while I'd been wondering how to finagle the roster to include more skill players, and if the Texans are comfortable that they have enough offensive linemen with multiple skills, they could do that.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

This exercise gives me an appreciation for how difficult cuts will be this week. I would love to include Ricardo Matthews on this list as he's had a nice preseason, but I don't know that the Texans will keep him over Nix.

LINEBACKERS (9)

Mercilus got a chance to start Saturday because of Clowney's absence. He has had a difficult preseason as he adjusts to life as a non-starter.

CORNERBACKS (6)

No changes to this position group. Saturday was tough for them -- well all of them who played as Joseph sat out as part of his rehab plan. Mack had an excellent week of practice. He had several pass breakups and one interception returned for a touchdown that delighted his teammates and coaches.

SAFETIES (5)

Lewis made a nice play during the game, with some help over the top during one pass that could have been a touchdown. His familiarity with the Texans' new defense has been big both for himself and for the rest of the defense. Pleasant took the heat, along with Bouye, for Peyton Manning's two touchdowns in the final minute and a half against the Texans, but O'Brien said on that play, the receiver was primarily the cornerback's responsibility. He added some blame for the offense for putting the defense in that position at all.

SPECIALISTS (3)

This group had a fun weekend in Denver with its high altitude and thin air. Boswell did quite a bit of punting and did well. Still, the kicking job is Bullock's to lose.

HOUSTON -- There was a clear resignation in Texans safety D.J. Swearinger's voice as he spoke about the hit he made last night against Broncos receiver Wes Welker.

It's a very familiar tone for anyone who listens to defensive backs.

What are we supposed to do?

When he spoke in the locker room after the game, Swearinger didn't know the hit had caused Welker's third concussion in less than a year. What he knew was that he tried to hit his shoulder against a receiver's shoulder, when the receiver he aimed for lowered his head.

A lot of the ire directed toward Swearinger, including that of Welker's quarterback, Peyton Manning, had to do with the result of the play. It's a mistake, though, to think that the ends explain the means.

Swearinger
Welker
It was a dangerous hit, but not a dirty one. It had a frightening consequence for a man whose brain has taken a lot in the past nine months. But that fact doesn't change what Swearinger did and what he was trying to do. He was not trying to hit Welker in the head. He was not trying to rattle Welker's brain into another concussion.

Swearinger was caught in the middle of a somewhat similar situation last season.

Back then, Swearinger was a rookie in his first preseason, trying to figure out how he was supposed to hit in the NFL. He tackled Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller low, tearing apart Keller's knee. Proud of the hit, before he knew what he'd done, Swearinger celebrated. Keller's teammates unleashed their wrath, not accepting the apology that followed once Swearinger found out how badly Keller was hurt.

At the time, Swearinger said he knew if he went high a fine or flag would have come.

"These guys know what a proper tackle is," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said today. "It’s not leading with the head, it’s hitting with your shoulder and hitting between basically the shoulders and the waist and not above the neck area. We just continually show that to them, but I think last night's play was a tough one to really say, 'Hey, you were at fault there.'"

It was a play that left Swearinger wondering what he was supposed to do.

D.J. Swearinger remains himself

August, 24, 2014
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DENVER -- The target of Peyton Manning's taunting penalty was perhaps the least surprising thing about Saturday night's game.

"I get a lot of people mad at me," Texans safety D.J. Swearinger said. "That’s how I’ve been all my life. That’s why I am the way I am."

Swearinger
Broncos receiver Wes Welker made a nine-yard catch at the Texans' 38-yard line, halted by a big hit from Swearinger. The safety's shoulder collided with Welker's head, doling another concussion to the receiver, who had two last season. It angered Welker's quarterback, who let Swearinger know immediately.

One play later Manning threw a touchdown pass, then ran over to Swearinger again to offer what Swearinger called "choice words." The quarterback considered the ensuing 15-yard penalty well worth it.

Forget the discussion about that hit in particular, because that is a much broader one to have. Swearinger says he led with his shoulder and that's all he could do. The Broncos thought it was dirty. That's generally how these things go.

But Manning's focus on Swearinger was about more than just one hit.

"The week had something to do with it," Swearinger said. "Practice during the week and the hit had something to do with it."

These teams spent three days facing each other. Swearinger, who as a kid sought to be as smart of a football player as Manning, made sure Manning felt his presence with his words and his play. He picked off Manning in a drill on Wednesday, and shortly thereafter a mild fracas ensued.

"He's been a competitor all week at practice," Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We've been competing against him, and sometimes he lets his attitude get the most of him."

That attitude is something Swearinger considers an asset. It certainly can be. He uses it to rattle opponents; he wants them to be thinking about him rather than about what they're supposed to be doing.

That's where the tricky part comes.

Swearinger's edge makes him a better football player -- safeties have to be a little nuts sometimes -- and often a really fun one to watch. But that edge and enthusiasm can get him in trouble with the way game are officiated. He's been flagged for penalties enough to know that and has said he's working on figuring out ways to keep his swagger, only hidden from officials.

Will it work? Is it even possible? That's a major challenge for his career.

Observation Deck: Houston Texans

August, 24, 2014
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The Houston Texans' first-team defense, even without two important starters, was playing terrifically against a very talented Denver Broncos offense. The Texans were ahead 7-3, having sacked and intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and harried his receivers.

And then, the two-minute warning.

It's a dangerous time to be a defense against Manning, and he proved it. With 1:07 left in the first half, Manning threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders as safety Eddie Pleasant and cornerback A.J. Bouye chased him into the end zone. Then, with five seconds left in the half, Manning threw another touchdown pass to Sanders with the same two Texans defensive backs chasing him.

The Texans had sat some starters by that point, but a majority of the players who started the game finished it, an 18-17 victory pulled out in the final minute on a touchdown pass from Tom Savage to Ryan Griffin and a two-point conversion pass to Travis Labhart.

Here are some other thoughts on the Texans' third preseason game this year:
  • D.J. Swearinger likes to talk. He likes to try to get into his opponents' heads; he says that gives him an advantage. After Manning's second touchdown, just before halftime, the future Hall of Fame quarterback ran straight to Swearinger and got in his face. Manning drew a taunting penalty for that move, which could have been about something Swearinger said or Swearinger's hit on Wes Welker, which resulted in Welker getting evaluated for a concussion. You can look at this in two ways. One, Swearinger got into the head of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If he can rattle Manning, whom can't he rattle? Two, did he really rattle Manning? The quarterback threw two touchdown passes immediately before taunting Swearinger. We'll talk to Swearinger about it after the game.
  • It wasn't all bad for Pleasant and Bouye. Both had interceptions -- Bouye against Manning and Pleasant against backup Brock Osweiler. Bouye had done very well in coverage for the most part; it's just that a defensive back's mistakes stand out.
  • Rookie running back Alfred Blue started over Jonathan Grimes, who is listed ahead of Blue on the depth chart. Blue had several excellent runs -- eight for 27 yards by the end of the third quarter. Grimes had a very strong day, too. His best play was a 24-yard catch on which he was alert enough to get up and run after realizing he hadn't been touched. Starter Arian Foster did not play, but Blue and Grimes showed that the Texans' running back depth is in good shape.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick attempted 17 passes and five of them targeted Andre Johnson, playing in his first preseason game. Johnson caught three of those for 18 yards. It was a middling day for Fitzpatrick. He had some nice throws and some bad ones. He had one or two that should have been picked off, but weren't. One thing he does well is react to pressure. That's a marked improvement over what the Texans had last year.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ask Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage which quarterback he looked up to growing up, and he'll tell you it's his brother, Bryan Savage.

This week though, Savage got to share a practice facility with another pretty good quarterback role model. He was working with some receivers when Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walked up to him unsolicited.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Jack DempseyHouston rookie Tom Savage got to meet -- and learn from -- Peyton Manning this week.
"I was like, 'Guys, you go. I'm going to talk to Peyton for a little bit,'" Savage said with a bit of a smile.

The reigning league MVP asked the rookie quarterback how he was mentally, how he was faring in his first NFL training camp.

"I'm not going to lie -- I got a little starstruck when I first saw him," Savage said. "It was pretty unique to go out there and watch one of the greatest play."

The positions in which the two came into the league are different. Manning was the first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, immediately expected to change a franchise. Savage was a fourth-round pick this May, a product of the Texans' patience at the position. He's not expected to start right away -- he's a project with size, arm strength, intelligence and a nomadic college football career that gave him little chance to develop. Savage is currently third on the Texans' depth chart after starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum.

Savage and Manning found common ground in how hard it is for a quarterback to come into the NFL.

"He kind of reassured me of the rookie grind and how it is for a rookie," Savage said. "It was good, it was good to hear. Just when you're not in, get as many mental reps as you can. Just keep grinding because he said it'll be a long year, but at the same time it's gonna be fun.

"... It's good to hear that he went through some moments, too, where he had to grind through it."

Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions in his rookie season in 1998. The Colts went 3-13 that year, but enjoyed a dominant run with Manning for the next decade.

"It is a process," Savage said. "Knowing that, obviously as a quarterback you don't want to lose games and throw a bunch of picks. You don't want to say it's OK because Peyton did it. You want to do the best you can do. But just take kind of his work ethic and put it on the field."

Savage watched that work ethic and its fruits this week. He saw Manning's command of his team, and how much his receivers respect him. He knew that didn't come easily.

Said Savage: "Everyone knows he's probably one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the history of the game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a bit of a target on Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt on Thursday as the Texans and Broncos went through their final practice together.

Watt
Watt
 And that's just fine with Watt.

"Yeah, I'll take it any chance I can get," Watt said. "You don't normally fight when you win the rep. I have no interest in fighting someone when I beat you. ... That's why I don't normally get into fights. When you hit me, I don't feel a need to hit back. You can turn on the film, see what happened."

What happened yesterday was Watt beating Broncos tackle Chris Clark in a one-on-one drill early in practice. Clark tore off Watt's helmet and then took a swing at him after the play ended. An official threw a flag as Watt grinned and suggested Clark not get mad at losing.

He takes it as a compliment, mostly.

"Everybody wants to pick on the big guy," Watt said. "That's fine. You guys saw what happened yesterday. You win on the field. You don't have to fight if you win on the field. You win the rep, people tend to get chippy."

There were a couple skirmishes between the Texans' defense and the Broncos offense today. Watt was right in the middle of one. The Texans had taken him out when the next one started.

"It's football," Watt said. "Boys will be boys. You know how that goes. Handle it like a man. I don't think there was a real major scuffle so that was a good thing. It's football. There's testosterone out here. People get excited. We practiced against each other for three days. We're professional athletes. Guys get a little antsy."

Broncos OL tested by Texans front

August, 21, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Teams have various strengths, and one of the major benefits of practicing against a different team is the chance to test those strengths and learn from them, consequence free.

For the Texans' defense, that's come this week through facing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his wide array of weapons.

One of the biggest challenges for the Broncos' offensive line is dealing with the Texans' front.

“I like it for them because it’s a different animal for us," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "J.J. [Watt], [Jadeveon] Clowney. I mean, the rest of that crew is tough. ... It’s a great test for our guys to see where we are at and where we can adjust and improve.”

Watt has excelled this week against the Broncos' offensive line, even outside that now-famous one-on-one drill when tackle Chris Clark ripped off his helmet. Clowney has also had his moments against Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady. As much as the Broncos line is being tested, the talented rookie is learning a lot from those bouts.

“We struggled yesterday, and I think today with pads on, we were a little better," Gase said. "But still, when you see No. 99 flashing in there every once and a while and you see one of those hands go up you are just hoping he doesn’t get a piece of it. We were better today than yesterday and hopefully, when we get to the game Saturday, we will play better.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hardly a passing play went by during the Houston Texans' and Denver Broncos' joint practice on Wednesday without a yellow flag flying out of an official's pocket.

They flew to the fury of defensive backs who insisted they did nothing wrong and to the amusement of some of those receivers who benefited from the calls that are part of the NFL's added emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

Johnson
The practice was reminiscent of many preseason games this offseason -- and even to the receivers who benefit, that isn't always a good thing.

The excessive calls were a little annoying to Texans receiver Andre Johnson.

"It kind of makes the game longer," Johnson said. "It actually kind of makes you hate it a little bit.

"Every time you look around, there's a flag on the ground. It's football. It's a contact sport. Everything's not going to be perfect, you're going to get bumped around a little bit."

Johnson believes those calls won't be made so frequently once the regular season begins. One way or another, though, this is giving the Texans' defensive backs a chance to have a better understanding of what officials are looking for.

"We had a few flags today and we asked them what it was, what it was they threw the flag for," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They gave us some pointers on what to do and what not to do. It's just a part of the game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Training camp is gone, and with it go our daily camp reports. But the Texans are in a training camp-like setting right now as they spend the week in the Denver area to practice against the Broncos.

And so, we'll continue recapping practice as long as we can.
  • Right guard Brandon Brooks passed his physical and came off the non-football injury list on Tuesday. He did only individual drills today, starting the process of being eased back into full participation. Brooks said that as an only child, his team is the closest thing to having brothers, and he was happy to be back with them. "I'm starting from square one and have got to play catch up, but at the same time after practice I got some extra reps today in different pass pro," he said. "Any chance I get to get an extra rep in any practice I can, I need to do it."
  • Brooks' return was part of the trend of the Texans getting more whole as the season approaches. Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph did significant work in practice, all of them dealt with some level of injury during the offseason and training camp. "It's nice to have guys out there working in practice and it's one of those things were I've got to be able to communicate with them," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "With Andre, a lot of it has been after series or whatever it is talking to him on the sideline. It's nice to have him in the huddle."
  • It was a no-pads practice, but defensive end J.J. Watt made his presence felt in individual drills, team drills and with his own teammates. Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted that Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said after practice: "I was fine until J.J. Watt ruined our practice." Watt also spent some time tutoring outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney on hand placement and he had a nice time against the Broncos offensive line during one-on-one drills.
  • Aqib Talib is a guy who likes to try and get into receivers' heads. It was fun to watch him face Texans' second-year player DeAndre Hopkins. "I think they like to pick on guys that they know can beat them," Hopkins said. He did indeed beat Talib a few times. Once Hopkins clearly won off the line of scrimmage, then stretched to attempt a one-handed catch in the end zone -- the kind he often makes in practice, but couldn't quite haul in the ball. "I'm a grown man," Hopkins said. "I don't back down from any challenge. It's great when a guy like (Talib) comes out here and challenges me to get better." He added that Talib has earned his reputation as a great defensive back.
  • Yellow flags were plentiful at practice, much to the frustration of the Broncos' defensive backfield. Toward the end of practice, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions, though the second was waved off with a flag, to loud protests from Denver's secondary.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After a two-hour practice against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt walked over to a blocking sled sitting on the edge of the practice field.

It was the first action that sled had had in a while -- the Broncos never use them anymore -- and Watt put it through it. He delivered blow after blow with the force he reserves to dispatch opposing offensive linemen, pummeling the sheds for several minutes, finally yielding to catch his breath before moving on to his post-practice obligations.

Watt doesn't mind the work. He doesn't mind the fact that as the 11th pick in 2011 his rookie contract was significantly smaller than those selected before him. One goal for the new rookie scale in the collective bargaining agreement was to force players to earn big contracts, rather than get them upon arrival. And he doesn't mind that either (though, what choice does he have?).

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/TUSP/Jay BiggerstaffJ.J. Watt hopes that the Texans reward him with a long-term contract.
Those post-practice obligations included a barrage of questions about his contract situation following comments Watt made to Yahoo! Sports about hoping he'd earned the same appreciation he's seen other 2011 draft picks get.

Watt wouldn't say it today, but I will: He has earned the new contract he has yet to receive. There are salary-cap concerns to consider, sure, but those can be navigated without things getting ugly between the Texans and the best defensive player in franchise history.

The genesis of this came from a reaction to some of owner Bob McNair's comments earlier this month. In a conversation we had, McNair made clear he wouldn't be afraid to use the franchise tag on Watt. McNair brought up the concept of the franchise tag unprompted, noting that Watt would be with the Texans one way or another for the next four seasons: 2014 on his rookie deal, 2015 on the rookie deal's option year, 2016 on a franchise tag if necessary and 2017 on another franchise tag. I asked about the potential ill will using the franchise tag could cause in negotiations and McNair said he wasn't worried. He said that was just a negotiating tactic.

But using that franchise tag says something. It also lacks the security players crave.

Today, Watt reiterated that his goal is always to outperform any contract he has.

"You should want people to think you're underpaid because of how hard you work, because of how well you do your job, because of how you go about your business," Watt said. "That's just personal pride."

Mission accomplished, because Watt has far outperformed his contract. Getting him for just $1.9 million this year and $6.9 million in 2015, the option year the Texans picked up in May, is a steal. He's been one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the NFL for the past two seasons.

Today, Watt avoided actively voicing the frustration nobody would blame him for having at this point. He didn't demand a contract. He didn't say he'd earned the same consideration given to Patrick Peterson (five years, $70 million) or Tyron Smith (eight years, $98 million). He deferred business talks when asked today, saying the time hadn't come for him to get involved. He was asked why he didn't use his leverage, perhaps with a holdout, and said that he wanted to be with his team -- and it hadn't come to that point.

But there were hints of frustration even in his carefully selected words.

One came when Watt said this: "I think when you look around the league and you see a couple other guys from the 2011 draft class get contracts, I think it's just nice to see the appreciation being shown."

Another came when Watt said this: "I always try and put on the best face I can for this organization and be the best ambassador I can be for the Houston Texans."

And the third was this: "Right now I’m in football mode, so I worry about that. If the time comes that I need to get involved in the business side I will.”

The Texans shouldn't let that time come -- and I don't think they will.

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