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Postcard from Houston

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  • By Neil Reynolds NFL International
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I attended Houston Texans practice on a broiling Sunday morning in Texas and genuinely felt like I was in the presence of greatness as I watched quarterback Deshaun Watson at work.

I know that is a bold statement at this stage but I think when his career is said and done, Watson will have gone down as one of the very best of his generation. Everything he does just looks so smooth and impressive and it is not that bold to think he will have a big year in his third NFL season.

Of course, much will depend on a line that allowed far too many sacks and pressures being better in 2019.

The Texans worked indoors on Sunday and while the lighting inside any practice bubble is not as bright as being outside in the sunshine, Watson shone like a supernova. He is one of those stars who you instantly find yourself searching out on the field. And in this case it was a crowded gridiron with 90 players working on one field (teams often use two or three fields when working outside).

Watson can run like the wind, is slippery and elusive and when he throws, it looks like a thing of beauty. His throws can be powerful, accurate and smooth... often all at the same time. He is viewed by other players around the NFL as a rising superstar but he is dedicated and grounded.

"Never get too comfortable and always stay humble," Watson told me.

When you consider that Watson is growing into a big star, it should be noted that he continues to grind. That is what the great ones tend to do. I waited to conduct our interview after practice and Deshaun was a good 20 minutes or so after most of the team before leaving the bubble.

"Deshaun puts in a lot of time," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien told me. "He puts in time post practice, he comes out early for practice to get his own game better to help our team win. He wants the team to win so he does everything he can to help the team win."

After years of rotating through sub-level quarterbacks, the Texans finally have 'the guy.' Now, all their efforts should be focused on keeping him upright. It is not hype to suggest that this can be a Super Bowl team if Watson is offered greater protection - he is that good and it will be exciting to see him play in the UK.

Camp Thoughts

As I watched O'Brien's men practice indoors on Sunday, I couldn't help but think of Matt Patricia making the Detroit Lions practice outdoors in the snow in December. That was in a bid to toughen up his team and have them buy in to his culture. Both men learned at the knee of Bill Belichick but O'Brien took a more player-friendly approach in Houston today. It was 32 degrees Celsius at 9am on Sunday and the Texans had exhausted themselves in pads the day before. So O'Brien took them inside to get their work done. And the Texans have also installed a cooling recovery zone at edge of their practice field. This giant sauna-like building is filled with fans and cooled to 1.6 degrees Celsius. The benches are freezing and just two minutes is needed to get you feeling better and ready to head back onto the field. O'Brien may have his tough moments, but he truly looks out for his players and their health.

The Texans don't have a marquee name at tight end but the position is going to feature in their passing attack in 2019 and several guys stood out during team drills and made big plays on Sunday. Sophomore Jordan Akins made a ridiculous one-handed catch on a crossing route throw from Watson and backed it up with a 25-yard touchdown reception down the seam on the following play. Darren Fells and Jerell Adams also made notable contributions in team drills.

All feels right in the NFL now that J.J. Watt is back up to full speed and fully healthy. The monster defensive end was back to his best in 2018 after missing much of 2017 through injury. And that time away from the gridiron certainly made Watt soak in every minute of playing in the NFL. Watt told me: "You appreciate it more. You realise how special and fleeting it is. You can't play forever so every day is a truly special day for me now."

One to Watch

Tytus Howard - Offensive Tackle
Much will be expected of rookie first-rounder Tytus Howard given how much pressure was inflicted upon Watson in 2018. It was only one practice, of course, but I liked what I saw out of Howard on Sunday. The Texans went into 'the pit' as offensive and defensive linemen battled one on one. That is never an easy drill for the offensive lineman but Howard more than held his own time and again. If he can slot in and instantly upgrade the line, that will be great news for the Texans.

Quote of the Day
"I don't really tune it out. I enjoy it and use it as confidence and try to be the best that I can be. After my career, I want people to talk about my name like they do Michael Jordan in basketball. I use comments like that in a motivational way. It encourages me to keep raising the bar." - Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson responding to various NFL players who have compared him to basketball legend Michael Jordan.

Inside the Game
Culture is a big word for the Texans and their head coach and O'Brien loves the veteran leadership that comes from Watson and Watt. The work ethic of those two stars sends a definite message to young players who join the team and it's clearly a huge benefit when your best players also have the best attitudes. O'Brien explained: "We have good character and a lot of good guys in our locker room.

The Last Word
Three very productive days are in the books with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans. And now I head out west for days with the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Rams. Then it's onto NFL Network before heading back east for visits with the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. Keep following along via nfl.com/uk. Until next time, it's bedtime!

 

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