Seven Takeaways from Texans OTAs

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.

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If you’re feeling left out to dry on the posts — sorry. The summer is pretty much Football Outsiders Almanac season for me and I’ve got the entire AFC South and the top prospects chapter. So I’ve put in a good 10,000 words this past week, just not a lot in the service of the Texans that you can read in this moment.

So the Texans put minicamp to bed and decided that OTAs are enough, we got a solid month of players in town working out and a slew of interviews with the coaching staff. Here are my takeaways:

1) It sure seems like the Texans want us to believe they’ll play Tytus Howard at guard

During our huge outpouring of assistant coach pressers last week, James Campen was asked about Tytus Howard and Marcus Cannon competing at right tackle:

Since that came out, in-house media has also repeatedly hinted at surprise changes on the line, and John McClain came on their radio show and out-and-out said he thinks Howard will play guard.

I’m of two different minds of this. One is that the Texans were playing around with the idea of Howard at guard in his rookie season, even giving him a start there in the second game of the season, so maybe they just don’t think he’s developing quickly enough at tackle. I actually think that Campen came off as extremely insightful in his deeper interview with John Harris and Marc Vandermeer, particularly when compared to the uh, genius that was Mike Devlin:

The second part of this is: Why is a team that has almost no good young players yanking around another young player to a new spot to accommodate a 33-year-old right tackle who didn’t play last year and has a real cap charge? It continues what I’ve banged on before about this team’s troubling inability to understand that the youth on the roster has to be served for the Texans to go anywhere.

I wasn’t really a huge fan of the Cannon trade to begin with — not because he’s bad but because he’s old. But if he’s so valued that he’s moving the only Texans-selected first-round pick on the roster not named Deshaun Watson off of his spot, that makes me even more skeptical of the move. To be clear, we don’t know if this move is actually going to happen. But it sure seems to fit what we know about how this team operates.

2) Deshaun Watson was never a Texan, we have always been at war with Deshaun Watson

Listen, I’m aware that you can’t say anything about Deshaun Watson’s legal cases. Nobody’s asking for that. But what the patented Caserio Veil of Secrecy has created here is a case where we just outright deny that the guy exists because there’s nothing they can say about him.

The lack of transparency about the situation isn’t making it any less of a distraction. It’s very obviously a distraction from what the Texans are trying to do. Having a coherent statement to give out about where the organization stands on Watson would, at this point, be a welcome change. The more optimistic Texans fans are tired of hearing the questions about it — and I totally get that — but as long as it remains an unanswered question, the question is going to continue to be asked in a few different forms.

It came out that the Texans were on the phone with Kellen Mond when he was picked by the Vikings and they pivoted to Davis Mills. I find it extremely hard to believe that they just happened to decide that both quarterbacks were at the top of their board without some emphasis on the position. We know what that means the front office has decided.

At this point it feels fated that the Watson situation will play out the way that Watson wants it to play out, the only questions left are when the court cases and NFL attention go away enough to make other teams comfortable pulling the trigger, and how badly the Texans will get short-changed for his services. (And I don’t mean that I think the Texans are getting a second-rounder, I mean that when I hear “three first-round picks,” that’s not enough for the guy I saw play in 2020.)

3) r/cosplay football coaches

OK, is it unfair to make fun of how involved Caserio is on the field at OTAs? Probably a little bit. He’s the general manager and it stands to reason that he’d be there. Same with his superior, Jack Easterby:

But at the same time, they clearly have a lot of power, I have pulled no less than one Easterby photo out of every photo gallery the Texans have posted. It’s very clear where the power in this organization is.

Texans in-house media has at times tried to play off Caserio throwing at camp as a positive thing — like versatility but for general managers — and even talks about him throwing at Pro Days in the past. When you look at how hands-on the churn has been — to the point where there is almost a roster move per week — and how close to the action these two get, it’s impossible for me to not come away thinking that they have a lot more power over this situation than David Culley has. That’s all. Just recognizing the power dynamic as we see it created in person.

4) The fantasy of running the ball a lot more is alive

It was never not going to be an area of emphasis, but what struck me about this comment was not that Texans OC Tim Kelly said they’d run the ball more, but that they thought they’d improved schematically and with personnel already. The Caserio Veil of Secrecy Texans have not spent a lot of time actually communicating an offensive ethos, leading to a widespread speculation train of the Texans taking Baltimore’s run game from Culley/Mark Ingram/Andy Bischoff and running it.

I think the closest thing to honest we got out of these offensive coaches was what Pep Hamilton said:

They don’t really know what that means because, well, it’s hard to win games in the NFL with an easy-to-spot run game. If you run read-option with Tyrod Taylor and Phillip Lindsay — the best-case scenario in my opinion that this team has — defenses are going to stack the box. Then you’re asking this receiver and tight end group to win one-on-one balls or the play-action game to be much, much better than it was last year.

Ultimately, unless there’s a huge improvement on the defense, this team isn’t going to be able to run much anyway. While the team was empirically bad at rushing last year as well, a lot of people looked at the problem as if it was simply “they don’t run very much,” when it’s hard to run when your defense is getting lit up badly enough for Jake Luton to have a chance at a game-winning drive, and for Brandon Allen to carve it up for 380 passing yards.

5) The EDGE rusher conundrum

On the defensive side of OTAs, we got a lot of optimism about players like Jacob Martin, Charles Omenihu, and Whitney Mercilus:

I think what slips a lot of minds when we discuss these things is how bad the run defense was in 2020, where it was an open sieve. Jon Greenard spoke to that some in his presser:

And yeah, I get using that as fuel. But how about an actual address of the situation? The only interior lineman the Texans added who has an actual history as a good run defender is Vincent Taylor, who was pretty bad at it in a small sample last year. Ross Blacklock might have some bounce-back ability because he was clearly unable to hold two gaps last year. But add that might on top of Greenard/Omenihu/Martin/Mercilus re-weighting to get to 4-3 status and not having much history of being positive run defenders (Greenard was fine in a small snap size). Shaq Lawson is more of a pass rusher. Zach Cunningham was horrific reading gaps last year and I don’t know that the Texans have added the linebacker that’s going to make him as comfortable as he was with Benardrick McKinney in 2019.

The defensive talk has focused on three things: getting turnovers, getting turnovers again, and how the system will let them play faster. Greg Jackson, the safeties coach, gave some content during his interview that I found actually somewhat insightful rather than vague:

By far, the Lovie Smith defense in a role where he’s able to focus entirely on it is the most optimistic thing the Texans have going for them right now. It’s a solid secondary of potential bounce-back players and not a ton of weak links on paper assuming Vernon Hargreaves doesn’t con his way into a starting spot yet again. If you want optimism, the idea of some designer Lovie blitzes and/or coverage disguises that maybe he wouldn’t get to implement with the head coach workload is very tempting.

But to get to those passing downs, they’re going to need to be much more stout as a defense, and I think that might be the No. 1 most pressing question as far as the difference between a team angling for the first pick in the draft and a team that can steal a few wins here or there. Run defense might be about finishing and want, but there’s not a lot of established want on that defensive line.

6) I feel for the players, this situation is impossible

Texans players have mostly been pretty quiet about the situation unfolding within the team, encouraged to either outright ignore it or dance around it, but we got a small window into it with this Phillip Lindsay interview.

When I think about this team coming together, and try to think about how I can sell people on following and rooting for them this year, I think a lot about the movie Major League. Most people are sick of the bumbling ownership and front office. But Major League wasn’t about that dynamic so much as it used that dynamic to drive together a bunch of “has-beens and never-weres” into a team that cared for each other. I realize I can’t get a lot of you guys in on the ground floor of rooting for good things to come to the higher-ups. I realize I can’t excite you by citing Tyrod Taylor’s rushing stats. I wrote that article and nobody cared.

But if you’re in some kind of conflict about how you can cheer for this team, the answer is to pull for the players:

Listen, I can promise you that Tyrod Taylor doesn’t care about any Easterby or whatever. A lot of players on this roster are on this roster looking to get another year in the bigs, trying to catch the eye of someone on a better team or someone who will open up the pocketbook for them with a good year. That in and of itself, is impossible to root against. We’re pulling for these guys to show that they belong, and for them to have, as Jake Taylor would call it, “one final trip around the sun.”

7) Jesus, etc.

One last thing about the state of fandom around this team right now is that Kamu Grugier-Hill’s comments about bible study got a lot more traction than they might have otherwise got:

Now, I’m not going to go out of my way to defend Easterby — but keying in on this quote in the way that some did was a little disingenuous and I want to show you why. I was digging into a lot of recent AFC South stuff for writing my chapters. Here’s something I pulled from the Colts self-documentary:

Imagine if that happened on a Texans media station. Everyone would be hooting and hollering for days. That’s a choice that the Texans have made for themselves, but probably one that doesn’t need to be as emphasized by some of the fanbase as it is. Let’s focus on how Easterby’s management has shackled the Texans rather than turn every mention of Christianity into an r/atheism thread. There are many Christian NFL players. I was much more intrigued/curious about this Grugier-Hill quote:

To say what he said here, unprompted as far as the question itself, was an extremely odd public stand to take. To the point where it almost could be read as sucking up in public. Nobody really followed up on that, but THAT was something that spoke quite loudly to me.

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