Texans Training Camp Notebook — Week 2: Death of Curiosity

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.

***

Death of curiosity

As someone who tends to traffic in analysis, the dog days of training camp are a bit of a slog for me. They are an endless parade of optimism, everybody is excited that football is back, there are no real results to check against as far as that optimism, and one-play analysis thrives. I’m not saying that to note that if you’re engaging with any of that it’s a bad thing, I think we all hope Nico Collins is a big deal. But the hype gets a little out of hand sometimes and when he’s the obvious eye-catcher and literally every other player gets asked about him in camp because we’re trying to find The Next Rebuilding Piece, well, it’s a burden of optimism that I hope doesn’t get met with backlash later. I keep the same basic heuristic on the positive side with Davis Mills, who seems to throw a pick every time a reporter shows up to the facility. There’s a lot of growing still to be done, and while you’d rather he be stand-out right away, it’s not necessarily a disqualifier towards his prospects that he hasn’t been.

After roughly five months in the wilderness without much news, training camp is drinking from the fire hose. The Texans themselves are putting up as many as four or five short interviews with players per day, there are pressers, and the in-house team goes from a short hour-long show to two hours live, plus a live training camp look on YouTube, plus all the other stuff they were already doing. Lean into it too far, as I have this year, and you just get to hear the same talking points over and over again. David Johnson was good in his last three games last year. Tyrod Taylor is a veteran presence. We shouldn’t judge the team before they’ve played a game. And so on. It’s saccharine to the point of just mainlining pixie sticks, and the most negative thing you’ll get is John Harris writing in his camp notebook that he wishes defensive linemen would do more than just a basic bullrush. To cover anything with the zeal of a fan these days is to realize that the content sausage is repurposed over and over again — rightfully, because most fans do not consume everything — and at the heart of the matter, there’s really not all that much new to say.

Phillip Lindsay feels slighted by the media. The remaining whole-hearted fans of this team feel they are slighted by the media. The team themselves feels slighted by the media. Optimism flows through the locker room because — much like any decision on House Hunters — once you’ve made a choice, you try to make the best of it. The story won’t change until September or October. The eye in the sky, as they say, won’t lie. And the way that leadership has really shown a lack of interest in answering any questions that are curious has jaded me to a mode along the lines of “okay just show me the games.”

Let’s leave the Deshaun Watson thing alone. They can’t tell you anything. They can’t tell you about the goddamn long snapper competition:

Just nothing but buzzwords up and down. I’ve heard from many fans who say “what do you expect?” Well, you can tell us many things about a situation without tipping your entire hand. Bradley Roby hinted at some discord in the 2020 Texans without really specifying what it was. Brandin Cooks has talked about how poor the practices were on that team publicly. The in-house media radio, John Harris and Marc Vandermeer, rave about Flying Coach, which is a podcast where Rams head coach Sean McVay lets down his guard and talks to other coaches who are doing the same. No Texans coach has ever been on it. Joe Judge is on it, and he has sent three separate dudes to retirement this week!

They are trying to sell you feelings — something I’ll get to in a second — and while I don’t think contempt is the right word, I think they approach every media session as a chance to do their gospel bits rather than with a real interest in answering any of these questions. Here’s Nick Caserio on the air on Friday:

Ha ha! It’s a little joke! But the best jokes have a bit of truth to them. It’s exhausting to listen to the CasEasterby troupe do media. It’s especially trying on the heels of the fact that everyone just sat through a seven-year Patriots administration that had twinges of this messaging in it. You don’t want to answer questions and sate the curiosity people have about your football team? Fine. But the calls about the national media not giving the team a fair shake ring hollow when the team isn’t interested in providing a look at why it should be given a fair shake. As Cal McNair said in the Caserio presser, they want your implicit trust. They just aren’t willing to give any assurances about why they should have it.

Left with no reason to not believe the results on the field, the media will fixate on the results on the field. Barring a Watson comeback, we all know how unlikely those are to look good. The perception is not something that comes out in every session, but the internal focus is a must for this team because they know how they are viewed:

We are in a spot where we are hoping against hope that the team can be good this year, and the team’s messaging around this has all been extremely process-oriented, dry, and dismissive. Of course fans are going to elect Nico Collins to the training camp Hall of Fame! Of course Roy Lopez getting some run against starters is going to start a second hype train! What else do they have to look forward to? What other reasons were they actually sold to believe in management? But it didn’t have to be this way, and you catch more flies with honey.

When you remove curiosity from the proceedings, you don’t have much to focus on outside of results. And whenever the Texans have tried to do anything that invites curiosity, they’ve revealed no inkling of a grand plan. Building The Texans is barely even about the players, let alone what they liked about them that would be of any interest to a fan. It’s just mythmaking arguments from a position of authority. Hope the results validate that stance.

***

It sure would be cool if Deshaun Watson spoke some words, but there’s not a lot of upside in it

With Watson no longer even appearing at practice once the pads went on, we have almost filled up the bingo card of events he can do that are “newsworthy.” I think the most interesting thing said about him this week was not about him at all, but this question and answer with Tim Kelly:

Notice how in that answer about “your quarterbacks,” Watson was not mentioned. They kept bringing Watson up to Kelly, and eventually he complimented Watson in helping the other quarterbacks as if he were a coach. But I think that’s a very telling paragraph by omission of where Watson is.

Many fans have pelted me with some sort of call for Watson to speak publicly — I think the best way this could be done is probably through a heavily choreographed interview with a major network. The problem with Watson speaking publicly at this point actually isn’t about the Texans, but about the lawsuits. There is no answer he can give that calls for the process to continue that looks “good,” be it a brief “no comment” or even something like “I won’t speak about pending litigation but I do believe that women should be heard,” ala his agent’s statement when this was all kicking off. It’s enough of a big deal that no network is going to let the question get away unasked. But it’s also a no-win question for Watson to answer. The best-case scenario is that he’s met with derisive snark, a fairly innocent no-comment twisted into something that isn’t good for his public persona.

(Brief aside: The people who point out that he thanked Easterby (and many other people) at his contract extension presser? I would like to see how many people they would thank if they were handed life-changing money forever. I’m not a fan of the Texas State government, but if they ran a vaccine lottery (haha!) that I won (hahaha!), I would probably thank Dan Patrick. I hate Dan Patrick.)

Now, would I love it if Watson would take some ownership of the situation? Sure. It is quite the clusterfuck, and I think the sentiment I’ve seen presented by Texans Unfiltered and other places that he is the reason he can’t be traded carries a lot of truth to it. His own actions are the reason he’s untradeable at this exact moment.

But if Watson hired me, and asked me how to solve the problem from a PR-standpoint, about the only thing I’d have for him is “go play football for the Texans, do what people loved you for, give one quick statement on the allegations and say that you won’t be taking questions on them beyond that, give one quick statement on the trade request and how you still want to leave but don’t want to be a distraction and say that you won’t be taking questions on it beyond that, then bury that with as many games of great football as you’re allowed.” My sense is that this is not something he wants to hear right now. It’s an odd situation where both sides are leaking to the press, and both sides have enough ego to think they have an upper hand on this.

I still think the best outcome for both sides is to pretend they’re with each other for a season while the lawsuits play out, but we’re into enough emotion that I can’t tell you with any confidence I believe that either side wants that outcome. At this point, I’m not totally unconvinced that the Texans will make Watson a healthy inactive in Week 1. A lot can change in a very short time and a lot of the season is riding on how this plays out. I wish I could tell you I had more confidence in an outcome one way or another here.

***

Desperate pandering

I don’t always speak my mind on the things that this team says out loud. Part of that is because I’m aware of my own skepticism and how it’s perceived to the point where I realize there are some battles I just don’t need to fight, some things that certain subsets of people willfully don’t want to see. So I try to straddle the line between straight news and my own feelings in a way that makes it not a total pain-in-the-ass to follow me on the Twitter, but also still gets enough of the sentiment out that I don’t feel like a robot. Tough line to toe.

Something I’ve drawn more of a line about over the past couple of years is the in-house team, because PR is PR. While I think the David Johnson last three games talk is tedious and misinformed, I get what they’re trying to do there and how it fits in the grand game of the discourse.

But this thing. Good God, this thing:

That Football Feeling is gross and sappy in a cynical sort of way that happens when a marketing team looks at their remaining options and shrugs. It’s less about the Texans than a general sense of what football is supposed to be. An appeal to the fact that the Texans are a Houston institution and a place where you can tailgate and literally nothing else. It’s the kind of video I’d expect to have foisted on me if I were in workplace training for the Texans rather than the kind of video you release for the sake of public relations. That the Texans released it speaks volumes about what they think about their fanbase.

This comes on the heels of (ugh) TexansPup

Listen, it’s blatantly obvious that there’s a segment of our society that loves dogs. It’s blatantly obvious there’s a segment of our society that wants to cheer veterans at games — it’s a cottage industry that goes beyond the Texans — and combining the two is the cheapest of cheap created impressions.

There’s a lot about society in the social media world that feels nakedly transactional. I insert one Twitter thought and get 20 likes, which do not feed me, while Twitter makes a lot of money, and I hope people are inspired enough that eventually it trickles down to me. When you’re a multi-billion dollar business, though, you generally don’t need to stoop to this kind of stuff to try to create positive emotions around things. The Texans were doing just fine around that when professional sourpuss Bill O’Brien was around telling everyone he needed to do a better job.

The desperation is popping off the screen here. It really would have been incredibly easy to fire Easterby, hire a Ravens or Steelers cohort as GM, hire Eric Bieniemy or Joe Brady or Brandon Staley, and print free positive publicity. But that was beyond this team. So here we are with TexansPup, Football Feelings, and a lifetime supply of indignation from people who don’t want to understand why anyone wouldn’t believe in them.

***

I’m writing this article free of charge — this website is ad-free and non-intrusive. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.