WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Wes Welker is in a defensive back stance three yards across from third-year tight end MyCole Pruitt. The end zone at his back, he breathes heavy as he chases the 6’6”, 245-pound target with physical inside leverage.
The goal of this route is for Pruitt to make Welker believe he’s continuing to run along the backside of the end zone, but in reality, once he has Welker overcommitted, Pruitt will snap back toward the sideline and receive a pass in the back corner of the end zone.
“Hard jab step,” Welker says. “You gotta believe you’re making him go that way.”
If there is a way around the post-collective bargaining agreement practice time crunch, the Texans are going to try to find it by maximizing the teaching opportunities they have. Leaving one of the best route-runners of the last decade (now in his second year as a Texans quality control coach) with a tight end group for one of the team’s 11 separate practice phases can only help.
“Back in the day you had an hour, hour and a half of just play-action, the running game,” defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “Then an hour and a half, two hours of the dropback passing game in the afternoon. You had all that time where you could work your trade. Now you do it once in pads, walk through, then meetings at night.”
If the development of Houston’s tight end group and the person who is helping get it polished don’t seem interesting to you, consider where the Texans are coming from offensively, and where they’re going.
In 2017, Deshaun Watson used the tight end spot on just 22.5 percent of his targets over six games. In 2018, with the Texans’ offense seeming ready to take on more of a deliberate option flare, dependable intermediate targets would not only be nice, but essential.
Triple-option looks are in Houston’s practice script and were worked on for what appeared to be an entire period Sunday. The Texans have the ideal personnel to elevate the concept with a speed back or hybrid wide receiver, which opens up more mismatch opportunities for Watson.
Of course at this point in the season it’s all part of a grand vision. Before the plays can be installed the quarterback has to be comfortable. Before the quarterback can be comfortable, the tight ends need to nail their routes. Until the tight ends can nail their routes, they’ll be here, in the corner of the end zone at the Greenbrier resort, being picked apart by a former Pro Bowl wide receiver.
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Training camp postcards! Nuggets on Dan Quinn’s summer as the peacekeeper in Atlanta, Norv Turner’s plans to get Cam Newton running again, the Vikings pressing on without Tony Sparano, and the Packers forging a new defensive identity under Mike Pettine.
TRAINING CAMP TIDBITS, JULY 30
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Texans corner Johnathan Joseph, is 34 and has been in the NFL for 14 seasons now, but he doesn’t feel a day over 21. His secret?
“It’s all a mind thing, man,” he said. “I’m out here having fun. Enjoying it. I never think about my age until someone brings it up.”
It also helps that the Greenbrier is tailor-made for bonding activities that blur the line between fresh-faced rookie and steely vet. Skeet shooting, ATV riding, fly fishing and golf are all a part of the aesthetic. Trips to the hunting store where players who grew up in the city are exposed to knee-high boots and camouflage waders.
His plan Sunday night after some rehab and rest? Taking in “Equalizer 2” starring Denzel Washington in theaters with some teammates. —Conor Orr
GREEN BAY, Wis. —The thing I like the most about this time of year is that the players are much more relaxed. There’s no W-L record yet to control the mood, and they’ve just come off their summer break, so the monotony of the season hasn’t yet hit. Because the players are looser, it’s not uncommon to get into some really interesting and weird conversations with guys. Here’s the story of one those times:
I interviewed gregarious defensive end Mike Daniels in the Packers’ open locker room period on Friday. I’ve spoken to Daniels before—we’re both Big Ten products (Iowa and Northwestern, so we’ve talked about that in the past, and he knew I was a cheerleader at Northwestern). At the end of the conversation, Daniels bent down to untie his shoes, which put him eye-level with my calves. In a non-creepy way, he said, “Oh yeah, I forgot you have those strong cheerleader calves! Those are great!” I laughed because he’s right—I do have athletic calves from a decade of dancing and cheerleading. I thanked him for the compliment and told him it meant a lot to me because I grew up being very self-conscious of my muscular calves. In middle school, boys would point them out to each other during class and ask me questions like, Oh my God, what kind of workout are you doing? Are you on steroids? They might not have meant to be mean, but I always felt embarrassed when anyone noticed I was different. All the other girls in school had stick-skinny legs. I told all of this to Daniels, and he was outraged. “WHAT! That is not okay!” he shouted. “You can tell those guys you went to school with that Mike Daniels of the Green Bay Packers says they can kiss my ass! Are you recording this? Because you can quote me on this one! You know why they acted like that? Because they were boys and not men!”
Daniels then called over defensive lineman Justin McCray to back him up on his take that I should be proud of my strong calves. McCray agreed. “See, you got two NFL guys saying it is a good thing to have strong calves!”
I could not for the life of me have predicted that was the direction our conversation would go, but I’m grateful to Daniels for destroying an old insecurity of mine that I thought I had grown out of. Apparently pre-teen embarrassment is hard to forget, and I left the Packers’ locker room smiling and walking a little bit taller. Middle school bullies, I hope you read this. —Kalyn Kahler
DETROIT — Matt Patricia was about 15 minutes late for this pre-practice press conference. “Sorry I’m late, I owe you guys a lap,” he joked to reporters. “It’s full pads today,” he said. “Do you guys know we put pads on today? Are you excited?” Patricia looked around the room for reporters to match his enthusiasm, and had to have been disappointed by our lack of excitement. The Lions’ new head coach was amped about finally putting on pads for the first time, and it showed in his press conference and on the field during practice. Patricia is a hands-on head coach, and throughout practice he shouted feedback to individual players and directed position drills. At one point in practice Patricia ran a drill with the tight ends going one-on-one against defensive ends in run-blocking. The drill happened on the part of the field right in front of the media, so we got to see up close and personal his very involved coaching style. Patricia is definitely not a sit-back and delegate kind of guy. —K.K.
ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL
The lowdown on Sam Darnold’s contract … A scary moment for Buccaneers first-round pick Vita Vea … Tom Brady is unhappy with the implication that his personal trainer and life guru had something to do with Julian Edelman’s banned substance suspension.
The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., is all at once decadent, immaculately kept, scenic and spooky. In addition to being a world-renowned vacation destination with beautiful modern amenities, it was also once a functioning nuclear fallout shelter for members of Congress that, at least for one visitor, gave off a romantically haunted vibe. While dining at one of the hotel’s restaurants, a hallucination of pink décor and ‘50s-era, fruit-dotted chicken salad dishes, one begins to wonder whether some of the older patrons sitting quietly in their peach basket hats and pearls were simply born in this space and never left. What happens when a beautiful building also becomes an incubator for the new world? Are the bunker tours simply a ruse for a deeper, more technologically advanced underground facility here that contains a cryogenically frozen 21-year-old replica of Mitch McConnell? By staying long enough, do you risk becoming one of the ghosts? Are you bound by time in a place where life cycles like the endless loop of a porcelain, wind-up carousel? What is the ceiling for the Texans’ offense in 2018? Stuff like this crosses your mind here.
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