During the Houston Texans' three days of joint practices with the Broncos at Denver, defensive end J.J. Watt was in the news. It started with Watt going public with his frustrations over his failure to get a contract extension.
Watt's agent, Tom Condon, has been involved in negotiations with the Texans on an extension, but they've been unable to reach an agreement. Watt's in the fourth year of the four-year contract he signed in 2011, with a base salary this year of $1.9 million. In May, the Texans exercised a fifth-year option in 2015 for $6.9 million.
"I sure as heck hope we can make something happen," Watt said. "I get paid to go after quarterbacks. There are people who get paid to decide how much I get paid to go after quarterbacks. I'll let them decide that (how much he's worth).
"I hope I've given the effort and everything they could want to hopefully show that appreciation."
General manager Rick Smith has a policy of no contract negotiations during the regular season, so they're working with a deadline.
Watt has no intention of playing anywhere but Houston.
"I love the fans we have," he said. "I love the relationship we have. The city's so great. The way they've treated (me) and my family, I couldn't ask for a better place to play."
Watt wouldn't consider holding out.
"Because that would cause me to miss time with my teammates, and right now, I want to practice," he said. "I want to be out here with these young guys. I want to teach them the things I know.
"I want to better myself. It hasn't really come to that. I want to be a Houston Texan. I want to play football. I want to be the best I can be, and I can't do that by sitting on my couch."
Watt was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. That was the first draft class under the new collective bargaining agreement that severely reduced guaranteed money for first-round picks.
Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson and Dallas offensive tackle Tyron Smith were selected ahead of Watt, and both have received extensions.
"With the new CBA, I think one of the goals was to make guys earn their pay," he said. "No more big paydays upfront. Make guys go out there and play and show that they've earned it.
"I think when a team gives a contract after the third year, I think they're saying, 'Listen, we think you've earned this.' I don't know if they (Texans) feel that way or not, but I sure hope I've put in all the work, and I've put in everything I can do to hopefully earn it."
--During their third and final day of practice against the Broncos, players from both teams got into three fights, mostly shoving matches, but clearly the first time it had happened.
J.J. Watt was in the middle of two of the skirmishes.
"Everybody wants to pick on the big guy," Watt said, grinning. "If you want to fight, that's fine, but the only time they wanted to fight was after a play when they got beat."
Last week, the Texans practiced two days against Atlanta and beat the Falcons 32-7. On Saturday, they're playing the defending AFC champions.
"It's been a great trip for us," Watt said. "It's like an old-school training camp where you go somewhere with just your brothers on the team and you play against another team. For a whole week, it's just you around your brothers, and you get a whole lot closer."
--Houston Texans fans were able to ease back from the ledge after a 32-7 victory over Atlanta - a metamorphosis from the 32-0 debacle the week before at Arizona.
Everyone got to witness what they needed the most - a vastly improved performance by the quarterbacks, particularly starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
As far as coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey are concerned, one of Fitzpatrick's strengths is his capacity to not get high or low, no matter how bad or good he performs.
When fans and media panicked after he posted a 14.6 rating at Arizona, where he threw two interceptions in the first half, Fitzpatrick said all the right things about needing to get better, pulling out all the cliches he's learned as a 10-year veteran.
Playing before the home fans at NRG Stadium, Fitzpatrick was 9-of-12 for 97 yards and one touchdown. He didn't throw an interception. His rating was 126.0. He also ran twice for 25 yards, generating two first downs.
Everyone thought Fitzpatrick was done for the night after leading a touchdown drive on the second series, but O'Brien wanted to see him in a two-minute drill. When the Texans got the ball with 1:25 left in the first half, Fitzpatrick returned to the lineup and engineered a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with his 8-yard touchdown pass over the middle to receiver DeVier Posey.
Naturally, O'Brien was pleased with Fitzpatrick's performance - a 180 from the previous week when he was so awful against the Cardinals.
"He's getting more comfortable with the system," O'Brien said. "It was a good step in the right direction."
The Texans are Fitzpatrick's fifth team, including his third in three years after Buffalo and Tennessee. Inconsistency has always been a problem.
The next stop is Denver, where they'll practice against the Broncos three times before playing Saturday night.
"The preseason is just a process," Fitzpatrick said. "Last week, we were disappointed, obviously, but we had a great week of practice (including two against the Falcons), and it showed up not just with the first team or second team but really with all phases."
The Texans scored on offense, defense and special teams, but everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Fitzpatrick rebounded from his Arizona performance. Now he has to build on it. His job is secure. Veteran Case Keenum is the backup, and rookie Tom Savage is third.
"That's how he has to play," O'Brien said about Fitzpatrick. "He played smart. He was comfortable. But we've all got improvements to make."
--Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was making a good impression on the Broncos before he left Wednesday's practice with an undisclosed injury. He walked off with no problem, spent the rest of practice on a trainer's table under a tent not getting treatment, then walked to the bus without a problem after practice.
Still, Clowney wasn't at Thursday's practice.
"He's doing fine," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We just held him out today. He'll be fine."
Before he was injured, Clowney impressed the Broncos.
"A couple of those moves (Clowney) makes are very impressive," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "He's so quick and so fast.
"He's such a freak as far as his athletic ability. It's been good for us to go against him."
Added defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, "(Clowney) comes in with a high pedigree, and just looking at the way he moves out here, he'll fit into that (greatness) category."
Clowney is making the transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker in a 3-4 in the NFL - the same transition DeMarcus Ware made with the Dallas Cowboys.
Ware is playing in his first season with the Broncos.
"You can see his athleticism," Ware said. "He's still young, but he's a great player. Experience comes with years and maturing of the game and figuring out the speed of it."
--The Texans blasted the Falcons without receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, left tackle Duane Brown, center Chris Myers, defensive end J.J. Watt, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, all of whom have been to the Pro Bowl.
--One of the most impressive things about the victory over the Falcons was the contributions of so many rookies - the draft class as well as several who were undrafted.
Running back Alfred Blue, a sixth-round pick, and cornerback Andre Hal, a seventh-round selection, scored touchdowns.
Inside linebacker Max Bullough and center James Ferentz, both of whom were undrafted, received extensive playing time and impressed the coaches.
"Whether it's (Jadeveon) Clowney or Andre Hal getting a pick-six, I feel like all the rookies did a great job," said tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a third-round pick. "Max Bullough did a great job. We take pride in it. We grind all day in this heat. When it pays off, it feels good."
Xavier Su'a-Filo, the first pick in the second round, started at right guard. He's also played center and left tackle.
"He played more consistent," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We had moved him around a lot. This game, we played him exclusively at the guard spots. There are a few things he needs to clean up. He's working extremely hard, and he's going to get better."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Rookie quarterback Tom Savage came off the bench in the first quarter to play with the starters, but he's still behind Case Keenum in the competition for the backup job behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Savage was tentative in completing 4-of-5 passes for 8 yards, checking down rather than throwing down the field. Keenum started the second half and finished with 6-of-12 for 81 yards with one interception.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR DeAndre Hopkins had a spectacular week of practice against the Broncos. He made six outstanding catches, including three touchdowns with Broncos defensive backs draped all over him. Hopkins has strong hands and excellent leaping ability that begins with exceptional timing.
--C James Ferentz, the son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, is starting his second consecutive game in place of Chris Myers, who's out with an undisclosed injury. Myers, who's never missed a start, will be ready for the opener against Washington. Ferentz is 6-2, 285. The coaches like him because he's smart, strong, scrappy and has a tremendous work ethic.
--T Tyson Clabo, who started on the right side in last week's victory over Atlanta, one of his former teams, has been practicing against another of his former teams, the Broncos. He signed as an undrafted free agent with Denver. The executive who signed him was Rick Smith, the Texans' general manager. Clabo is expected to be the swing tackle behind starters Duane Brown and Derek Newton.
--D.J. Swearinger, the second-year strong safety, spent a lot of time during practice this week banging on Denver receivers and then talking about it to them afterward. He's got to be careful about drawing taunting penalties in games. Swearinger is a ferocious hitter who's worked hard to improve in coverage.
--P Shane Lechler, who turned 38 this month, has punted six times in two games. He has a 49.7-yard gross and a 43.2 net. In the altitude of Denver, where he punted every season when he played for Oakland, no telling how much he'll boost those averages on Saturday night.
--G Brandon Brooks passed his physical and was cleared to practice Tuesday (Aug. 19) by the Texans.
--WR Keshawn Martin came off the bench to catch three passes for 39 yards and carry three times for 26 yards. His carries were backward passes, including a 12-yard gain. Coach Bill O'Brien called him one of the team's most improved players. He's also the team's best return man. He had a 33-yard kickoff return and a 16-yard punt return.
--K Chris Boswell missed two extra points before connecting on a 33-yard field goal. He's behind in his attempt to unseat veteran Randy Bullock, who made a 40-yard field goal and two extra points.
--RB Jonathan Grimes, starting in place of Arian Foster, who was kept out even though he returned to practice, led the team in rushing for the second game in a row. He carried nine times for 42 yards. The Texans ran for 138 yards and averaged 4.2 a carry.
--CB Andre Hal made Falcons quarterback T.J. Yates feel at home when he returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown. Last season with the Texans, Yates had one of the team's NFL-record five interceptions returned for a touchdown, including four by Matt Schaub.
--ILB Justin Tuggle, who made the team last year as an undrafted free agent, started his second consecutive game. He can play inside or outside. If he continues to play well, Tuggle could earn a starting job next to Brian Cushing when he's finally able to play. Cushing returned to practice on a limited basis last week.
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