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'Hard Knocks' episode 3 recap: The Texans visit space

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The Texans take a field trip to NASA, a fan favorite emerges and coach Bill O'Brien politely requests his offense move at a faster pace before he names a starting quarterback.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

After last week delivered an uneven episode of Hard Knocks that featured too much of Brian Cushing, the show got back to its more engaging ways -- even though we again saw too much of Brian Cushing, albeit in a different, somehow grosser fashion.

(Yes, Cushing ralphed for an entire minute on screen, or two days' worth of food as he proudly called it. No, there will not be any evidence of that here. This is a safe, puke-free zone.)

Episode 3 started off on an ominous note, our first time playing spectator to a player getting cut from the team. This is hardly a surprising development: It happens every season on Hard Knocks when teams around the league start trimming their rosters from 90 to 53 players. But unless you're completely desensitized after 15 years of watching American Idol-type shows, it's hard not to empathize with someone who's just trying to make his dream become a reality.

We were eased into the cringe factor a bit during this episode, though. The first roster cut was a player we had yet to meet on the show: rookie defensive lineman Jasper Coleman, who was released after the Texans worked out and signed safety Quintin Demps. General manager Rick Smith was encouraging when he broke the news, telling Coleman that his shot at an NFL career wasn't over. And for his part, Coleman seemed to take it all in stride.

Next week, however, is when the 90-man roster gets pruned to 75. And a few of the victims could very well be players we've gotten to know a little over this season.

Is there water on space?

Uzoma Nwachukwu, with a name that few can spell or pronounce, goes by the nickname "EZ" for reasons that no one can really figure out. There's a lot that EZ can't figure out -- but not on the field, where his route-running has been drawing rave reviews during practice.

Instead, it's a trip to NASA that left EZ filled with the sense of wonderment and inquisitiveness normally reserved for children or someone who just got very high and started watching Interstellar:

He had more questionsA lot of them. Thankfully he didn't go the "Was the moon landing real or not" conspiracy route, but he did have strong opinions about whether Pluto should be considered a planet.

The refs in the Texans' second preseason game against the Broncos must side with Neil deGrasse Tyson in the Pluto debate. On fourth-and-goal at the 2, EZ almost scored the first touchdown in his NFL career, but he couldn't grab the ball with the cornerback draped all over him. Bill O'Brien wanted a flag, but the "preseason form" refs denied him, and EZ, a chance at finding the end zone.

Charles in Charge

In the second episode we were introduced to Charles James II, sock aficionado. He's also a scene-stealing cornerback trying to make the team and give advice to rookies about the difference between earning a spot and getting cut. He should know -- James, who went undrafted out of Charleston Southern, played for the Giants in 2013 but was cut the following year and spent last season on Houston's practice squad.

If James wasn't already a fan favorite last week, he earned that distinction this week, among viewers and coaches alike. O'Brien decided to try him out as running back for a few plays during practice, and James' shifty moves and upbeat attitude helped his "the more you can do" case for snagging a spot on the roster.

But his most endearing moments of the episode came during the game against the Broncos. During warmups, he went over to say hello to Peyton Manning, arguably the closest player the NFL has to LeBron, and shake his hand. Once the game started, James was all over the place, especially on special teams.

O'Brien was complimentary of James' play -- "That guy is making a f-ing name for himself" -- but afterward he told reporters, "He’s really fighting hard to make this team."

Maybe there should be a fan vote on this one.

The many sides of Bill O'Brien

Based on the interactions with his players, O'Brien seems to have found the right balance between hard-ass and supportive coach. After James downed a punt inside the 5-yard line against the Broncos, O'Brien was the first to greet him with the mandatory "great job"/butt slap combination.

However, his attitude toward the offense in the game was anything but praising. Even though it's the preseason and there are kinks to work out for every team, O'Brien was clearly unhappy with the offense's effort. He had a deadline for naming a starting QB after the game and he wasn't satisfied with what he was seeing either.

Yelling "speed it up" numerous times and in increasingly more colorful ways, O'Brien wanted the offense to move the ball faster and also for the players to stop acting like extras from The Walking Dead. The, uh, "pep talk" worked a little bit, with a noticeably faster pace in the second half. The end zone, though, continued to elude the offense.

But O'Brien also knows when to have fun with the players -- and when to laugh at himself. He thoroughly enjoyed Khari Lee's stone-faced impression of his coach, complete with the appropriate amount of the phrase "competing and working f-ing hard."

Khari Lee impression

We also got a chance to see the personal side of O'Brien when his family life celebrated his son Jack's birthday. Jack was born with a neurological disorder called lissencephaly and wasn't supposed to live past the age of two, but he's now 13 years old and often amused by his father, but not necessarily for the same reasons we are. As O'Brien's wife Colleen said, he doesn't swear as much when he's at home.

I love naps

Once again, J.J. Watt appreciates the simple pleasures in life. Last week it was breakfast. This week, it was naps.

Watt nap

"It's a nap. It's fantastic." Who can argue with that?

SB Nation presents: J.J. Watt's awesome offseason

Hi Clowney, Bye Clowney

After a glimpse at Jadeveon Clowney last week, we were teased a longer segment in the third episode on the 2014 No. 1 overall pick. Instead, much like Clowney's career so far, that's all it was: a tease.

Getting injured isn't Clowney's fault, but everyone is itching to see the dominant, Outback Bowl Clowney make waves in the NFL. He returned to team practice this week, and even though we got but just a brief glance, we witnessed a nice moment between Clowney and LBs coach Mike Vrabel. Vrabel tends to ride the linebackers pretty hard, but when he welcomed Clowney back, he reminded him over and over again that "it's a process." Clowney, the team and the fans are all impatient for him to return to form, but recovery is nothing that should be rushed.

So, we continue to wait.

Another linebacker, Kourtnei Brown, got his turn in the spotlight. During practice and in the first half of the Broncos game, he received a chewing out from Vrabel. But then Brown, who has played for six teams and has yet to play in a regular season game, gave the Texans the lead with a 69-yard pick-six. Nice.

And with that score, he ended up being more of the offense than either starting quarterback candidate.

The dullest QB battle has a winner

It's not breaking news that Brian Hoyer was named the starting quarterback over Ryan Mallett. The Texans announced it had happened before the episode aired, and well, some don't think mediocre QBs deserve the "breaking news" label.

Both quarterbacks put up paltry stats in the second preseason game -- Hoyer completed 7 of 11 passes for 52 yards while Mallett was 5 of 7 for 23 yards -- but O'Brien decided that Hoyer deserved the nod for being the most consistent. That Hoyer, a regular Old Faithful. Unless, that is, he starts struggling like he did last year with the Browns. Then O'Brien won't hesitate to yank him and put in Mallett. So although the Texans have a starting QB, the competition isn't quite over.

Mallett did at least get a victory in swennis, the Texans' soccer/tennis locker room mashup.

Mallett Top Gun

In an homage to Top Gun, and maybe to offset some of the boredom that comes whenever one of the QBs shows up on camera, we were awarded a "Playing with the Boys" montage. Sorry, Mallett. Your onscreen presence doesn't quite compare to Tom Cruise's. Or even Anthony Edwards'. Or hell, even the actual volleyball in that Top Gun scene.

Now that the Texans have settled on a quarterback (for now), will it make a difference in their next preseason game against the Saints? At this point, all we know is that we'll still be waiting for Clowney.