NFL Nation: DeAndre Hopkins

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

November, 30, 2014
11/30/14
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HOUSTON -- Some thoughts from the Houston Texans' 45-21 win over the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: Nothing like facing the floundering Titans to help a team feel good again. The Texans produced utter domination of the 2-10 Titans, manhandling their division rivals for a season sweep. Tennessee served as the perfect medication for a team that lost its new starting quarterback for the season last week and discovered its first overall pick had a setback with his knee recovery. None of that mattered for the Texans, who got outstanding performances from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, receiver DeAndre Hopkins and, of course, defensive end J.J. Watt.

Stock watch: Fitzpatrick's stock is up. He had help on the Texans' first drive as Hopkins scooped up a couple of low third-down passes, but he completed his first seven passes. Fitzpatrick set a franchise record for touchdown passes in a game with six -- two to Hopkins, one to Andre Johnson, one to tight end Ryan Griffin, one to Arian Foster and one to Watt. The NFL record is seven touchdown passes in a game, but the Texans removed Fitzpatrick before he could get his shot, giving Tom Savage his first regular-season snaps.

More Watt: He J.J. Watted again. Let's make that a verb. Watt had two sacks and six quarterback hits. One of his hits knocked Zach Mettenberger out of the game, and Watt, appropriately, kneeled next to Mettenberger until he was taken off the field with a shoulder injury. Watt's second sack came against Jake Locker, a strip sack. He chased after the football, picked it up and returned it 14 yards. Two plays later, Watt lined up at fullback, shifted to tight end and caught his third touchdown pass of the season, becoming the first defensive lineman since 1944 to have at least five touchdowns in one season.

Game ball: Watt would have been a perfectly reasonable recipient, but we'll go with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins helped the Texans separate from the Titans early on, catching nine passes for a career-high 238 yards. He caught two touchdown passes, proving he's earned the trust of his quarterback in a big way.

What's next: The Texans travel to Jacksonville next Sunday for their first game against the plucky Jaguars.
HOUSTON -- Looking back, Ryan Mallett's teammates can't help but be impressed.

Mallett
 There were certain plays when Texans left tackle Duane Brown could see him grimace, a hint at the pain he felt as he played through a torn pectoral muscle in his second NFL start. Mallett finally had the chance for which he'd waited three-and-a-half years -- he gave everything he could.

"He’s tough, man," Brown said. "He’s tough. You can just tell that by his character. He’s tough. He wants to win. He wants to compete. Like I said, I could tell there was something there towards the end. He didn’t back down at all. He didn’t ease up at all. He showed his fight to even try to get a score on that last drive there. That is just the kind of player that he is and the kind of person that he is. We really respect that."

It was clear throughout the Texans 22-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that Mallett's accuracy was off. He just wasn't playing like the quarterback who led the Texans to a win in his first start, showing the necessary quarterback leadership skills beyond what the Texans had with any of the other three full-time starters in the franchise's history.

This time, though, Mallett only completed 21 of his 45 passes for 189 yards. He threw an interception and narrowly missed several more.

"The guy, he wanted to win," receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "You could see it in his eyes. He never showed that he was hurt. He really never let us down on the sideline."
PITTSBURGH -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has more than film at his disposal to game plan against Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant.

He may also call on his son to help him figure out how to stop the first player in NFL history to score five touchdowns in his first three games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Seth Ryan is a wide receiver at Clemson, and he and Bryant were teammates last season.

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsMartavis Bryant has 10 catches for 167 yards and five touchdowns in the past three games.
"My son thought the world of him when he was there," said Ryan, whose team hosts the Steelers Sunday in a 1 p.m. ET game. "It's hard to cover 6-foot-4 and 210 running a 4.3 (seconds in 40-yard dash)."

The Steelers' last three opponents won't argue with Ryan.

Bryant has burst onto the scene after not dressing in the first six games of the season.

The rookie fourth-round pick has caught 10 passes for 167 yards, and Bryant's five touchdowns are more than any Steelers player not named Antonio Brown.

Bryant made a passing reference to Clemson as "Wide Receiver U" on Wednesday, and it is easy to see why he sees his alma mater that way given the prism through which he views the Tigers.

Two of Bryant's former teammates are among the top 15 in the NFL in receiving yards.

Second-year Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, is 11th with 684 yards. Sammy Watkins, whom the Buffalo Bills traded up for to take No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL draft, is 15th (590 yards) and is going to be a star. Watkins, who overshadowed Bryant at Clemson, also has five touchdowns.

He and Bryant are the first rookies who were college teammates to combine for at least 10 touchdowns through the first nine weeks of an NFL season, according to Elias.

The contributions of the young NFL wideouts who played for Clemson make it staggering to think of the talent Tigers coach Dabo Swinney had at the position over the previous two seasons.

Hopkins, Watkins and Bryant have combined for 90 catches for 1,441 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns through the first nine weeks of the season.

"Coach Swinney always said if you work hard in practice it's going to come out in a game," Bryant said. "We just took that and ran with it. You put your work in through the week and after that you go cut loose and have fun. Like (Steelers) coach (Mike Tomlin) says, ‘Have fun.' "

Bryant is, and he is just getting started.

The Film Don't Lie: Texans

November, 4, 2014
11/04/14
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A weekly review of what the Houston Texans must fix:

We've addressed the big plays allowed by the Texans' defense in this space a few times. Now we'll turn our attention to the Texans' third-down offense.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Texans had 10 third downs with 6 or more yards to go, including a third-and-18 and a third-and-14. The Texans converted three of those 10, one with an 18-yard dash by running back Arian Foster, another with a 45-yard pass to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and another with a 21-yard reception by Hopkins. On both pass plays, Hopkins' yards after catch created the first-down conversion.

Overall, Houston converted only five of 13 third-down attempts. It's been a season-long problem. The Texans have found themselves in those third-and-long situations 75 times this season, more than every team except the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars.

It helps explain the Texans' struggles on third down. This season, the Texans have converted only 37.6 percent of their third downs. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's Total QBR on third down is 32.9, ranking 30th among eligible quarterbacks, and better than only Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and EJ Manuel. Making things simpler on Fitzpatrick will help.

Avoiding negative plays on first and second downs can keep the Texans out of those difficult third downs -- that's what caused most of the long third downs for Houston against the Eagles. It's not just coachspeak when Bill O'Brien harps on being better on first and second downs.

 
HOUSTON -- There is no doubt the Houston Texans have elite weapons offensively, and Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly knows it.

Hopkins
“Obviously you’ve got a Hall of Fame receiver in (Andre) Johnson," Kelly said Wednesday morning on a conference call with Houston reporters. "DeAndre Hopkins in his second year is somebody that I think is really a star in the making, a guy that you have to be aware of every formation of what they do."

Kelly and Texans coach Bill O'Brien are very familiar with each other, both being New Englanders. They've known each other for years and talked a lot of football during that time.

"I think what Billy does offensively is never really revolved around one guy," Kelly said. "Obviously you’ve got somebody like Arian Foster to hand the ball to, and Alfred Blue is really contributed. We liked Alfred coming out of college also."

Kelly went on to praise every position on the field, which is fairly typical of a head coach talking about his next opponent. He lost me a little bit when he talked about what a big factor the Texans' tight ends have been, as the Texans have only targeted tight ends a league-low 25 times this season.

There are some obvious flaws with the Texans' offensive play right now, but Kelly is right on the matter of where to place one's attention. The Texans have the potential to make an opponent pay for too much focus in one place.

"There is just not one thing that we can gang up on and say, ‘Hey, if we stop this you’re going to win the football game,’ because I think they’ve got weapons," Kelly said. "Whether it be at receiver or at running back, they’ve got a solid offensive line, the quarterback’s a good decision-maker, so it’s going to present our defense a big challenge."
HOUSTON -- After the football was knocked out of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's grasp, the Indianapolis Colts recovered that fumble inside the two-minute warning and Thursday night's game was essentially lost for the Houston Texans.

While Texans coach Bill O'Brien didn't like the play, he said he had no problem with how any of his players reacted to that play.

Hopkins
One player who's taken some heat for his reaction is second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins didn't immediately go for the fumbled football. He explained his thought process Friday.

"I thought it was incomplete, so I hesitated," Hopkins said. "By the time I got to it, guys got on it. Looking back on it, if I didn’t think it was incomplete, I probably could’ve got it. But the game doesn’t come down to one play. It’s an hour or two hours of a football game. I’ll take the blame, though."

He joins fellow receiver Andre Johnson in doing so. Johnson said after the game his fumble on the previous drive was the reason the Texans lost.

It's true, of course, that the game didn't come down to one play. More impactful was that miserable first quarter that showed how slow starts are becoming a trend.

"I think the players need to make up their minds that they’re going to start well," O'Brien said.
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Houston Texans' 23-17 win against the Buffalo Bills.
  • Texans owner Bob McNair couldn't believe his eyes when he saw J.J. Watt run back an interception 80 yards for a touchdown. "He's worth every cent, he's worth every cent," McNair said of the defensive end he awarded a $100 million contract to this offseason. "I hope he doesn't come in tomorrow and ask for a raise."
  • Hopkins
    The celebration from DeAndre Hopkins that incurred a 15-yard penalty involved his dropping to the ground with the ball, lying in a half circle and acting like a dead fish after catching a 35-yard touchdown pass. "It's highly known in soccer, so the soccer fans know what it was," Hopkins said. It's apparently illegal in the NFL. Hopkins didn't know that when he did it, and got an earful from coach Bill O'Brien during the game.
  • Cornerback Darryl Morris filled in as the Texans' third corner with A.J. Bouye out with a groin injury and made the game-sealing interception. As that final pass from Bills quarterback EJ Manuel fluttered through the air toward him, he had one thought: "Don't drop it."
  • Cornerback Kareem Jackson can be seen in the frame running behind Watt as he returned the interception 80 yards, making sure nobody got to him. "I was just trying to get in the way. The big fella has some wheels on him, so I figured if I got in the way, then he would take it to the house."

Texans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • Wednesday marked the first of two joint practices between the Texans' and Atlanta Falcons. The teams decided not to go live with tackling, but limited contact to "thuds." They did periods of work on separate fields, then joined for some team drills before a group of fans there for the open practice. Oh, and, "Hard Knocks" was there, too, though careful not to get too close to the Texans. Asked if he'd be open to his team being featured on Hark Knocks, Texans' coach Bill O'Brien replied: "I’m always open to anything that helps our team get better."
  • Young cornerback A.J. Bouye, an undrafted rookie last season, got a great test on Wednesday, facing Falcons receiver Roddy White quite a bit. During one drill, Bouye and White went against each other three times. Once White won. Once Bouye won. The third time, Bouye had his hand in White's face and White dropped the ball. Other reporters watching the play with me thought it was a straight drop by White. I thought Bouye made an impact on the play. But even if it was merely a draw with White, that's pretty good from Bouye. Later, during a seven-on-seven drill, Bouye knocked the ball away from White again.
  • Speaking of White, that Atlanta tandem of White and Julio Jones is one that Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins really looked up to before coming into the NFL. We asked Hopkins if he had a chance to say hello. He said he did have the chance, but didn't do it. Why? He wanted to play it cool, instead of seeming like a fan.
  • Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got a stiff challenge from the Texans' defense. During one set of team drills, he had his first pass batted away, he had J.J. Watt in his face on the next (completed it, but Watt wasn't allowed to tackle him), and on the third pass, he threw one incomplete while facing excellent pressure form the Texans' front.
  • Atlanta's offensive line was a problem last season. It's part of why they drafted tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M. Matthews' roots go deep in Houston as the son of former Oilers Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews (who attended Wednesday's practice). The younger Matthews got tested against Watt. The offensive and defensive line one-on-one drills happen on the end of the field that the media can't see, so I can't speak to what happened there. But I did see a play early in practice during a team drill when the two faced each other. Watt rushed Matthews and the rookie held up against him.
  • Offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo got some first-team reps today. O'Brien has liked the way he's progressed. He had a lot of catching up to do after missing the spring workouts due to an NFL rule.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 6, 2014
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HOUSTON -- Gone are the days off for veterans just because they're veterans.

Gone are the nights when only rookies are forced to stay in the team hotel throughout training camp.

No Texans are spared from coach Bill O'Brien's sharp tongue. None are spared from running a lap for a mental error.

And you know what? The players like it.

"I love it; it's great," 12-year veteran Andre Johnson said when asked about O'Brien's demeanor. "The one thing that I like about him, and I think that’s the thing when I first met him, he’s straight up with you. He will let you know what needs to be heard. He’s not just going to tell you what you want to hear. I love his demeanor; it’s fun. I think just his whole attitude and everything he brings is a lot of fun."

Accountability has taken precedence during this first Texans training camp of the O'Brien era. What it means for the season is yet unknown, but after a 2-14 campaign in 2013, it was clear things had to change in Houston.

It's the basis from which the team that won consecutive division championships not too long ago will crawl out of the league's cellar.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has shown soft hands throughout training camp.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

  1. In his second season since being drafted in the first round, receiver DeAndre Hopkins' development seems to have taken a major step. The sure-handed leaping catches he made so often in college are becoming a staple of training camp. (Aside: It's crazy to think about those Clemson teams that had both Hopkins and Bills rookie Sammy Watkins. What an embarrassment of riches.) Hopkins' issues last season weren't based so much on ability as they were on precision. He seems on the right track this season. Johnson said it's clear Hopkins is playing with a lot of confidence, something that's critical for a receiver. What's even better is that his chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is improving regularly.
  2. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been working through the rehab process from his sports hernia surgery in June, which has limited what he can do during practices. When the staff has let Clowney loose, though, he is a lot of fun to watch. He's quick, powerful and fast. He will absolutely be a player for whom offenses have to account. When an offense is thinking about one player, that's a big advantage for a defense. Not to mention, opposing offenses were already having to keep an eye on defensive end J.J. Watt, who hasn't missed a beat.
  3. Two young players have made significant progress this offseason: right tackle Derek Newton and inside linebacker Justin Tuggle. Newton, the declared starter at the position, struggled last season, but based on what I've seen and heard during training camp this year, he'll be much better in pass protection this season. Tuggle was a quarterback four years ago (the successor to Cam Newton at Blinn College). The fact that he's played linebacker for such a short amount of time means even though he's improved tremendously in the past year, he still has a lot of room to grow. He's competing to be the Texans' starter next to Brian Cushing.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

  1. The fact that Brandon Brooks is still on the Texans' non-football injury list is concerning. Brooks began training camp on the list for what appears to be a back injury. Brooks really came into his own at right guard last season. He's a player who had very high expectations because of that growth, and one the Texans need. Without him, the guard position starts to thin a bit.
  2. The Texans' quarterback situation is tenuous right now. I like the improvement I've seen from Fitzpatrick, but what we're watching right now does not quite simulate game conditions for quarterbacks since they can't be touched during practice. Fitzpatrick's issues in the past have had a lot to do with turnovers, and the decision-making process that leads to or prevents turnovers is hard to simulate in practice. Beyond Fitzpatrick, the depth at the position is concerning. Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage has shown during practice that they could be viable starters in case of an injury during the season. For Savage, it's part of the learning process. Nobody expects the raw but talented rookie to be ready just yet.
  3. Beyond a wily group of veterans, the Texans have a lot of unproven players they'll depend on defensively. When looking past Watt on the defensive line, there are more questions than answers. Who will play nose tackle? How will defensive end Jared Crick do in a starting role? Questions remain on the back end, too. This could be a big year for a lot of young players. But it's hard to know how they'll fare without any proof yet.
[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJ.J. Watt has taken the time to help his teammates with technique during camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Whether it's linebackers coach Mike Vrabel running with his group after practice or defensive backs coach John Butler facing his players during drills to compensate for an odd number of cornerbacks, this Texans staff is particularly hands-on. It starts at the top with O'Brien, a coach who makes sure to be involved with every position on his team.
  • Safety D.J. Swearinger's goal this season is to create at least one game-changing play in each game, whether that's an interception, a forced fumble or even a pass breakup that leads to a turnover. Swearinger is getting started in practice, regularly intercepting the ball. And each time he does it, he runs it back to the opposite end zone, finishing with an ad-libbed celebratory flair.
  • Player-to-player coaching happens a lot, and Watt is embracing his growing role as a team leader in that fashion. During a recent practice, he stopped Jeoffrey Pagan during a drill to offer tips on moves to use.
  • A pair of receivers from Texas A&M are doing their best to make it difficult for the coaching staff to cut them. EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart make very few mistakes. Nwachukwu's speed is apparent. His work on route-running has shown during this year's camp.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell and third-year kicker Randy Bullock are competing to be the Texans' kicker. That battle will be decided during the preseason. They've so far alternated kicking days, and both have made their fair share.

Texans Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
8/02/14
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans' training camp.


  • On the field it was DeAndre Hopkins day at Texans' training camp this morning. Every time I looked up, Hopkins was making another leaping catch. One particularly impressive one came during a red-zone drill in which quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found Hopkins in the end zone. Hopkins caught the ball with cornerback Brandon Harris draped on him, then held onto it as Harris tried to wrestle it out of Hopkins' gigantic hands as the two of them fell to the ground.
  • And by the way, that red-zone drill was great to watch. Actual hitting! In training camp! "That's how it's supposed to be every day," Kareem Jackson said. "We're supposed to be out here competing as a team. The more we can go full speed and live and compete against each other in game-type situations, it'll only make us better when game time comes."
  • The winner for most entertaining moment of practice goes to an interception by D.J. Swearinger (swag with three g's). He picked off Fitzpatrick during a drill where a line of offensive players stood just behind watching. Swearinger went forward full speed, moved aside the onlookers in his way and ran toward the end zone, high-stepping into it once he got there. By the time he got back to the drill, the offense was already well on its way to its next play.
  • The winner for biggest cheer of the day goes to a Shane Lechler punt that Jadeveon Clowney blocked.
  • Backup quarterback Case Keenum has had good moments during camp, but one thing that's obvious is his first instinct is still to run out of trouble. That's something the Texans' current staff and previous staff tried to fix in his game.
  • Sunday morning's practice will be open to the media but closed to the public. The Texans will start at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up around 11 a.m. They'll do their usual afternoon walk-through, too, and that will be closed to fans and media.
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay don’t always agree when evaluating draft-eligible players. But their thinking falls along the same lines when it comes to Steelers fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant.

Kiper listed the former Clemson wide receiver as one five offensive players drafted in the later rounds who could make an immediate impact in the NFL. McShay also said that Bryant has a chance to contribute early for the Steelers.

“He does a really nice job of getting off the line and he’s a vertical route runner,” McShay said. “You’ve got a big, strong-armed quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and you want a guy that can stretch the field vertically. There’s some boom or bust there, but when you get him in the fourth round you’re not worried so much about the risk factor. If he focuses and does all the right things he could wind up being a real steal from this class.”

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesMartavis Bryant's size and speed could help the WR earn plenty of playing time as a rookie.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bryant gives the Steelers the tall wide receiver that the offense has lacked. His 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine as well as his career yards per catch (22.2) at Clemson validate his potential as a big-time deep threat.

And he started only one season at Clemson where first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins overshadowed Bryant, meaning he is far from a finished product -- something that should excite the Steelers’ coaches as well as challenge them.

“He’s what I have been hunting,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “Probably had he played more [at Clemson], stayed for another year, he would have been a first-rounder for sure. I think all that he needs to learn we will teach it to him.”

Bryant slipped to the fourth round of the draft because of concerns about his maturity as well as his inconsistency as a pass-catcher. The Steelers hosted Bryant for a pre-draft visit and were comfortable enough after what they heard from him to think that he will be fine in the right environment.

As for the drops he had in college, Mann said that is something that can be easily corrected and can probably be traced to Bryant’s hand placement or his trying to run before securing a catch.

“He does a really good job of tracking the ball and catching it over the top,” Mann said. “A lot of times guys can’t do it and it’s very hard to teach.”

McShay agreed that Bryant’s ball skills are undeniable.

“He was inconsistent catching the ball but he also makes tough catches,” McShay said, “and he can adjust to the ball below his waist, over his head, behind his body.”

It is way too premature to get overly excited about Bryant, who takes part in the Steelers' three-day rookie minicamp that starts on Friday.

Fred Gibson, the last physically gifted wide receiver that the Steelers drafted in the fourth round (2005), didn’t even make it out of training camp. And for all of the buzz created by the second-round selection of Limas Sweed in 2008, the former Texas standout caught just seven career passes for the Steelers.

Chronic drops were one of the reasons why the Steelers released Sweed in 2011.

One thing that Mann won’t do is speculate on how big of a role Bryant will have in the Steelers’ offense as a rookie. But he also won’t rule out Bryant challenging for the starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

“You have to come in and work because we have other guys in the room,” Mann said. “Potentially he will be a starter, you just never know. You play the best. That’s how you win.”
If Sammy Watkins is a target of the Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 5 pick in May's NFL draft, that might be news to the former Clemson receiver.

Watkins, the top wideout in the draft who could go as high as No. 2 overall, told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game on Tuesday that he did not recall meeting with the Raiders at last month's combine in Indianapolis.

Watkins
That's not to say, though, that Watkins is feeling shunned. As he put it, he has love for all 32 teams.

“I have some freakish talents and ability to make plays,” he said. “I can jump, run catch, make somebody miss. That's my game.”

It's a game and playmaking skill set badly needed by the rebuilding Raiders, who added veteran possession pass-catcher James Jones in free agency and return Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Denarius Moore, Brice Butler and Juron Criner.

Watkins, though, plays bigger and faster than his listed 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, and many see him as Denarius Moore 2.0.

“I'm able to transition myself and work through tough conditions,” Watkins said. “I understand football and the preparation, so for me, it's getting in with the team I'm with and learn that playbook. That's all I need to do is really learn that playbook, and after that, just adjusting to the speed of the game and how cornerbacks play in the NFL.

“That would be the next step. I think after the first few games I'll be definitely fine.”

Watkins said he patterned his game after many different NFL receivers, listing Julio Jones, Torrey Smith, DeAndre Hopkins, Alshon Jeffery and Larry Fitzgerald. He was also asked where his skill set would best be put to use on an NFL field.

“If you want to make a lot of plays and help your team, I think ‘Z' would definitely be the position, because if they flip the coverage to your side, you definitely got one-on-one back side,” he said of what is commonly known as the flanker. “I think for me to spread the field and getting down the field and have space, the ‘Z' would be a nice position for me.”

And his favorite route to run?

“I would probably say a dig, probably a speed dig or a regular dig,” Watkins said. “You can't really stop those.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Some of what Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman sees on Twitter baffles him.

Why would a player who hopes to enter one of the most public professions there is, brag publicly about partying or using drugs? Why, despite all the training, the warnings both verbal and by example, and the cautionary tales, would players delight in just the type of behavior that would make an NFL team balk?

[+] EnlargeRick Spielman
AP Photo/Johnny VyRick Spielman says the Vikings are looking at what players have posted on their Twitter accounts.
Spielman doesn't get it, but he makes sure he knows everything he can about it. Amid questions about players' failed drug tests, incidents from their past and other potential character red flags come those about their Twitter posts.

"I'm sure in the heck going to ask them when they come in for their interviews," he said. "I've got a list of all their Twitters. I've read them and we wrote a report just on their Twitter account. ...I won't say the names but out of the 60 that we did there were eight guys that we have concerns about on Twitter that we'll address."

Just as much as the disturbing content, the naivete or carelessness of showing it where future employers might find it tells teams something about the player. It speaks to his maturity -- a focal point of his pre-draft season, given the record number of underclassmen entering this year's draft. It's what led Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert to call this the most talented and possibly the most immature draft class he's ever seen.

"The emotional part of being a college kid and all of a sudden the next day being a professional, I think it's a little easier to transition from your senior year to the pros than it would be from a junior or sophomore year," Colbert said.

Rookie players have to live on their own, get themselves to meetings, pay their own bills and keep themselves out of trouble while having more money and more time. The spotlight grows even beyond what they experienced as college stars and mistakes are better documented. "We're in that age of social media," said San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. "We pay a great deal of attention to it. When we narrow the board down over the next several weeks, we'll start identifying the players that we want to run social media with and take a look at their accounts and how active they are and what they're saying and what they're doing."

It shouldn't be a problem anymore.

In the early days of Twitter and Facebook, kids and college students fancied some protection from the outside world in their posts as they entered the work force. Ignorance was a passable, if not terribly savvy, excuse about mediums through which people communicated with their friends.

But now common sense should prevail before anyone hits "tweet," especially in the high-profile world of being a college or professional athlete. An accidental or ill-advised or even hacked tweet can be seen by hundreds of people, even if deleted within seconds.

Last season, a lewd video that appeared on Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins' Instagram for a few minutes led to a news conference during which he uttered this uncomfortable phrase: "Negative: It is not my genitals." He then advised other athletes to make their social media passwords more creative.

The issue never came up again, but showed the reach of even a momentary post on a public social media account.

One of the best cautionary tales about Twitter came in 2010, when Giants safety Will Hill, then at the University of Florida, posted tweets about his marijuana use, sexual escapades and other things that raised questions about his maturity. He paid dearly for it. Hill went undrafted and spent a season in the Arena Football League before getting a chance in the NFL.

Florida took a more active interest in monitoring players' tweets after that episode. It's pervasive in college athletics now. Some coaches ban their players from using Twitter during the season. Schools put them through media training.

"Very aware," former Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas said, emphasizing the word "very" when asked how aware he was of the public nature of his tweets.

It shouldn't be a problem, and yet …

"There were guys I found on Twitter this year that I can't believe they would post and retweet some of the stuff they are saying," Spielman said.

Beyond the content, it just shows bad judgment in the same way marijuana use before an expected drug test shows bad judgment. If you know this will hurt you and you do it anyway, are you mature enough to make your own decisions, and the right ones?
HOUSTON -- When the Texans drafted receiver DeAndre Hopkins, they did so without ever meeting with him. The St. Louis Rams, however, met with Hopkins twice shortly before the draft. He thought he would wind up there.

Instead, the Rams took Tavon Austin out of West Virginia.

"He was the talk of the draft going in, saying he was going to be the top receiver," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "He’s a young player and it takes a little while, but you can see the talent he has.”

Our Rams reporter Nick Wagoner touched on some of Austin's struggles in our double coverage this week. It's a combination of factors within and outside Austin's control. He has 156 receiving yards, ranking him ninth among rookies. Troubling so far, though, is that Austin leads the league, among all players, in drops. He has six so far.

“I think if you ask him he’s probably frustrated right now," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said this week. "I know that his role in this offense is probably a little bit different than what he had pictured or what he’s used to at West Virginia. But, I’ve been impressed with him. I think he continues to try to get better each week on the practice field. I’ve seen it. I think as long he keeps pushing, eventually he will grow into that role that he probably expected to be in."

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Hopkins, on the other hand, started at a tremendous pace, catching passes for 243 yards in the first three games of the season. At the time he was 113 yards ahead of the next rookie receiver.

Hopkins' pace has since slowed, as has the Texans' offense. He caught four passes for 50 yards in the past two games.

The Texans have had Hopkins on the field quite a bit more than the Rams have had Austin; Hopkins has run 48 more routes than Austin this season. But Austin's targets per route are about 10 percent higher than Hopkins'. And while Austin has seven more targets than Hopkins, Austin has only one more catch than Hopkins.

Hopkins wins the early returns. But this early in their careers it's impossible to tell what this all means.

Double Coverage: Rams at Texans

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
12:00
PM ET
Schaub/BradfordGetty ImagesMatt Schaub and Sam Bradford have combined to throw a pick-six in every week this season.
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While neither the St. Louis Rams nor the Houston Texans have had especially inspiring seasons, for Houston, the start has seemed more dramatic given preseason Super Bowl expectations.

There have been no concessions in Houston, though. The Texans still believe they can do it, and they believe quarterback Matt Schaub can recover from his slump.

ESPN.com Rams team reporter Nick Wagoner and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss the Texans' matchup against St. Louis this weekend.

Is the Rams' defense a good one for Schaub to recover against? Or will it pose more of a challenge than its statistical rankings suggest?

Wagoner: If you'd asked me before the season, I would have said it certainly wouldn't be the right week for Schaub to get back on track. As we sit here today, it's hard not to think the opposite. For all the Rams' struggles this season, I believe the defensive performance is the greatest disappointment. It was a group that had aspirations of being among the top 10 but has been far from that. The run defense has been gouged lately (save last week against Jacksonville), and it seems the secondary is good to give up a handful of big plays in the air each week. The front four's pass rush is still pretty good, but there are a lot of questions in the secondary right now.

Speaking of defense, obviously the Texans are playing really well right now. Do you see any obvious weaknesses the Rams might be able to attack?

Ganguli: A lot of people point to their red zone statistics and points allowed, which are among the worst in the NFL. But those are misleading numbers that have more to do with the Texans' offense sticking the defense in difficult positions. Three of San Francisco's touchdowns resulted from interceptions thrown by Schaub. A fourth came after a 65-yard drive following a Texans missed field goal. If an opponent can get into a rhythm on a drive against the Texans, it often finds success. Houston has given up drives of 99 and 98 yards in its first five games.

The Texans' defense did give up 177 rushing yards last weekend, 81 of which were to 49ers running back Frank Gore. How has the Rams' running game changed with the departure of Steven Jackson. Do you see someone emerging as the starter?

Wagoner: To be blunt, the Rams' running game was nothing short of awful before last week against Jacksonville. As has been the case elsewhere, playing the Jaguars served as a tonic for that, and the Rams ran for 143 yards. They switched to rookie Zac Stacy for that game, and he showed the ability to hit the hole and get some yards after contact. His performance was better than any of the other backs through the first five weeks. He's a little banged up and missed the end of the Jacksonville game because of it, but the Rams expect him to be ready to go this week. Stacy, with Daryl Richardson as a change of pace, is probably the team's best option right now, but Richardson has been banged up, too, and because of it has not been as effective as he was last season.

Obviously, the hot topic down there right now is Schaub. Not to ask you to play Dr. Melfi, but where is his confidence right now, and what do you think is at the root of the problem?

Ganguli: Against the Seattle Seahawks he threw a pick-six that tied the game. That was his third in three consecutive games, and it was a costly one. I believe he got past it during a week of practice and regained his confidence, but the pick-six he threw on his first pass against the San Francisco 49ers sent him back down the rabbit hole. I can't answer whether or not his confidence is back, but he'll start again against the Rams and his play will make it clear. The situation in which he finds himself is most certainly mental, though. He's shown the ability to be much more productive in the past.

Schaub has had some success this season throwing to his new toy, rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who, having been drafted 27th overall, is looking like a steal. Hopkins actually thought the Rams were going to pick him, given their pre-draft interest. Of course, the Rams instead took receiver Tavon Austin with the eighth pick. What is your assessment of him so far?

Wagoner: Austin's impact has been limited for multiple reasons, some of which are out of his control. First, he's been victimized by an astounding number of special-teams penalties that have wiped out some impressive punt returns. He had 81 return yards wiped out last week alone, and the Rams' 17 special-teams penalties have cost them 306 yards in field position. Second, the Rams have not found creative ways to get Austin open in space as a receiver and let him do what he does. He catches short passes and gets swallowed up. Third, he's had some issues with drops. He had two more last week to bring his total for the season to six. He seems to be pressing a little bit. The talent is there, and I think it will surface at some point, but there's a lot that needs to happen before we see it.

Unfortunately, we may not get the opportunity to see a Cortland Finnegan-Andre Johnson rematch this week because Finnegan has been dealing with a thigh injury. Still, Johnson looks like he's playing at a high level. The Rams have struggled to defend the pass, particularly against elite receivers. Is Johnson still in that category, and what have you seen from him this season?

Ganguli: He's definitely still in that category when he's fully healthy, but he wasn't last weekend. Johnson suffered a shin injury in the second quarter against Baltimore in Week 3 and since then has been managing it.

Overall, the Texans have had to throw the ball a lot more than they'd like to because they've been behind so much. It's affected their play-action passing game, which used to be one of the best in the league.

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