HOUSTON — The Houston Texans kicked off training camp on Friday with the hope that this year starts the true rebuild of a franchise in need of a good season.
Two years of four-win football are not going to do it. A new coach, a new attitude and a drama-free feeling might be what this team needs to get back into the good graces of a fan base anxious to see a winner again.
What has stood out from training camp so far? Here are the three things that I’ve noticed.
ROOKIES CAME READY
With a rebuilding franchise, each draft takes on even more significance and the 2022 class for the Texans is one that, if successful, could be the jolt the franchise needs. Third overall pick Derek Stingley Jr. out of LSU has looked great. Limited at times during OTAs and minicamp, the young cornerback has been going through drills and is even working on returning kicks during special teams periods of practice.
“Stingley can do a lot of things. Punt returner is one of them,” head coach Lovie Smith said after Saturday’s second camp practice. “Now I'm not saying that he for sure is going to for sure be our punt returner, but the more things you can do. You probably noticed Derek getting more reps today. We'll continue to bring him along at the pace that we had set up before camp started. He gets a little better each day, too.”
Since being drafted, the Texans have had a clear plan for him as far as his health is concerned. Coming off the injuries he had in college, it’s important to make sure he’s ready for the season and so far, the work they’ve done with him in the training room seems to be paying off because he looks very smooth on the field.
The other rookie that stands out, is Jalen Pitre. The safety from Baylor has impressed me ever since rookie mini camp and he continues to excel now that training camp is here. He looks like he belongs, already working his way into rotations and positioning himself as someone Lovie can trust in a very important position.
“He's talking, telling us what type of plays might come,” safety Jonathan Owens said. “He's a really smart guy. He's a great safety to be out there with. He’s definitely coming along quicker and developing, and we are all take to go him just to make sure we are all on the same page.”
Also, worth noting, Lovie says Kenyon Green is going to be worked into the offensive line rotation as well while running back Dameon Pierce is showing signs of why the Texans feel he can be special out of the backfield.
DAVIS MILLS TAKES OVER
Teams will go as far as their quarterback play takes them, especially in today’s NFL. The Texans have handed over the reins to 2nd-year quarterback Davis Mills. Last year was a struggle. The young quarterback had to learn on the fly, thrown into the fire in a situation that seemed like a lose-lose one from the beginning.
But, the offseason has treated Mills well and he’s had a lot to do with that. Mills took the time and effort to work with his receivers away from Houston, most recently throwing with a group of them in Oregon to get better chemistry with each of them. That’s the type of maturity this team needs right now. During practice, he’s been sharp, hitting throws that maybe a year ago he would have missed.
It’s clear that the work he’s put in with former quarterback coach and now offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is paying off. On the field, he seems vastly improved. But away from it, that’s what has impressed his teammates and his head coach. So much so, that Lovie Smith on the first day of practice made sure to tell the media that his quarterback was getting his seal of approval as team captain.
“Showing up, every time we open up the building he's been there. He leads everything,” Smith said on Friday. “You see him first to do everything and then making plays, it's established who your leaders are on both sides of the ball. No doubt who ours is. We are going to vote for our captains Monday of the week of the first game. I'm going to vote just like everybody, for one special teams, one offense, one defensive guy. Davis Mills is getting my vote for captain.”
RELATED: Houston Texans Training Camp Day 2
OWENS HAS RENEWED CONFIDENCE
On a team with so many young players and guys that are finally getting a chance to show what they can do, you’re bound to see improvement.
One of those cases is safety Jonathan Owens who is taking advantage of the coaching staff’s commitment to him.
“Getting out there and actually getting game time on defense,” Owens said. “I think it had been five years since I got to play serious defensive time and just being out there and getting comfortable again and slow your mind down and play football free. That was my goal and I'm just looking to keep building.”
Owens got his chance a year ago and delivered, coming up with some big plays including an interception and fumble recovery in the Texans' win over the Chargers last season. Now, he expects to build on that and be one of the leaders of a defense that hopes to continue to improve.
“We have that mutual confidence in each other,” Owens said. “That's really how a defense works. You have to trust your brother to make that play. It's just overall trust. It feels good when your teammates trust you and they expect to you make that play.”
And yes, many may associate Owens with his fiancée, Olympic champion Simone Biles. But, for the first time during one of his media sessions, he wasn’t asked any questions about their relationship or about the wedding plans…a sign that he’s carving out his own path as one of the faces of this team…which I’m sure his fiancée is pretty proud of.