This One Time, In Training Camp…

July 28, 2003
This One Time, In Training Camp…
by Keith Weiland

If a theme for year two of the Houston Texans can be established by just the first day of training camp, it would have to be this: What a difference a year makes! The second-year franchise has shed its new Carr smell. Gone are all the gee-whiz feelings and cellophane wrappings of an expansion team. What’s left is the burgeoning nucleus of young, hungry football team.

An overall initial impression from the team’s first open practice of the summer is that the offseason strength and conditioning program has been a success. Head coach Dom Capers did not just provide lip service when he said yesterday that everyone looked to be in good shape. They ARE in good shape.

So let’s hope the Diary is in good shape, too. One thing is certain: the quality of photography on this site has just made a quantum leap. Tagging along with me was a real photographer, Ray Perez (read: not shutter hackers like Ric and yours truly). Be sure to check out his photos, exclusive to here.

Enough of the pregame and onto the Diary┬ů

July 26, 2003

6:00 – Gates open. Good omen: the Texans Cheerleaders are back to greet fans as they enter. Not-so-good omen: my new photographer is practically frisked trying to bring in a camera with a zoom lens. “No, he doesn’t have any weapons of mass destruction┬ů”

6:15 – Some dude with a giant flagpole walks in unscathed. Where is the justice, I wonder.

6:30 – We have our first sighting of Texan players in uniform. Kicker Todd Sievers, long snapper Chance Pierce, and punters Chad Stanley and Craig Jarrett walk onto the field.

6:33 – Ed Ta’amu walks out in shorts. Ta’amu, along with Jimmy McClain and Kyries Hebert appear to be the only ones not in pads. Ta’amu and McClain are already on the PUP list.

6:34 – Avion Black, Dominick Davis, and J.J. Moses are catching punts from Stanley and Jarrett. Moses is wearing Jermaine Lewis’ old jersey number (84), and as someone listed at 5’6″ (must be on his tippy toes), it’s hard to remember that it’s Moses out there and not Lewis at times. More on Moses in a bit. Stanley punts wearing a ballcap on his head while Jarrett keeps his helmet strapped. Aren’t camp competition mind games fascinating?

6:42 – Most players have filtered onto the playing field by now. Steve McKinney and Chester Pitts share a chuckle. McKinney, by the way, is taking his ‘Inside Skinny’ gig to heart. He is one of several players that looks better this summer than they did a year ago.

6:45 – Oh. My. God. Andre Johnson really does look like a linebacker. I think twice about asking Ray to pinch me. I’m thankful he doesn’t ask me to do the same.

6:46 – Jarrett’s showing off a decent leg, but Stanley is schooling him big time. Stanley’s punts hang in the sky much longer.

6:53 – Horn blows, signifying the official start of the evening practice. Most players stick around the near field for punt practice. Black, Davis, and Moses are still catching punts from Stanley and Jarrett. The quarterbacks move to the far field to practice their footwork.

7:04 – Time for some light running and stretching. Rashod Kent looks thicker this year, especially across his midsection. I presume this is a result of a full year’s worth of dedication to football conditioning and not basketball. Fred Weary is also looking really good, more flexibility, more muscle, and less baby fat.

7:13 – The offense and defense split up. I watch the offense run through some plays. James Allen is the first back to get his reps, followed by Stacey Mack, then Johnathan Wells and Tony Hollings. The first pairing of receivers is Corey Broadford and Jabar Gaffney, followed by Andre Johnson and Avion Black. The backs later split to work on protecting the football, running through a gauntlet of their teammates, poking them as they try to strip the ball. Running backs coach Chick Harris is yelling, “Get the ball out!”

7:20 – Offense regroups. Johnson is doing a nice job catching the ball in his hands. Wide receiver Derrick Armstrong slips on his plant foot running an out pattern. Hollings makes some swift moves, then gets some coaching from Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer on a better way to cradle the ball. Tony Banks throws to Bradford on a deep post. David Carr uses play action, then nails a pass to Johnson running a 35-yard post pattern. Banks is way off the mark on a pass to Armstrong. Carr again is sharp on a pass to JuJuan Dawson. Johnson is looking crisp and sure-handed throughout.

7:31 – Time for some 11-on-11 work, no tackling, as is the norm in practice. Tight end Jabari Holloway is getting first reps, but rookie Bennie Joppru and Billy Miller seem to be getting just as many reps, if not more.

The offensive line has Pitts and Zach Wiegert at the left and right tackles, respectively. The middle three positions on the line are shared. McKinney sits out most reps, probably to allow more time for coaches to watch Ryan Schau and Todd Washington in action. Milford Brown is getting the lion’s share of time at left guard. I like his size. When Schau is at center, Weary subs in at right guard.

Greg Randall works with the second unit at right tackle, and he looks good in his run blocking on backup defensive end Terrance Martin, freeing up Wells for a nice run. Mike Quinn steps in at quarterback and hard counts to draw nearly the entire defense offsides. Hollings rips off a nice run to the right side for a touchdown. Seth Wand, getting a little time in at right tackle, makes a good block to seal, but comes up a little gimpy. He’s fine and returns later. Mack cuts twice in traffic and makes his own TD run to the left. Joppru looks good in locking up linebacker Shannon Taylor to create some rushing lanes.

7:42 – Offense and defense separate to either side of the near field and run plays against their scout teams. The O-line is Pitts-Brown-McKinney-Schau-Wiegert. Brown nods as Capers comments. Carr runs a flea flicker pass play to Bradford twice then to Gaffney a third time. The three tight ends – Holloway, Miller, and Joppru – all get involved in double-tight end sets. One formation has Miller playing more of an H-back position. The running backs having a similar, but more crowded, rotation with Allen, Mack, Wells, Hollings, and Davis all getting time. Wells is looking more and more like the odd man out. Allen is getting first reps all night, but little else. Davis is surprisingly adept.

7:55 – Special teams stay on the near field, while the rest of the players work in position groups on the far field. Jason Simmons, Jason Bell, and Darrick Vaughn are getting in work on the ends chasing down punt returners. I’m a tad puzzled not to see Curry Burns among them, but he is working on the edge rush of the punt block unit.

Moses makes a gutsy fair catch, then shows off some flashy moves to break a big return, drawing a bunch of oohs from the fans. On a later return, Moses breaks free, points at Stanley, then burns right past him. With Davis also serviceable as a returner, might Black’s days be numbered?

8:04 – More 11-on-11 work. Aaron Glenn is noticeably absent from the reps. Kenny Wright takes his place and plays well. McKinney also sits out, letting Schau get more work at center. Carr, however, fumbles his exchange from Schau.

Newcomer Charlie Clemons makes a huge tackle for a loss, wrapping up Allen in the backfield. Marcus Coleman does well covering Gaffney. Schau appears to be struggling at times. Carr runs another play action and finds Bradford running an inside-out pattern for 35 yards. Jarrod Baxter makes a nice 10-yard reception.

The second team is in next. Linebacker Jason Lamar is all over a 5-yard dump pass complete to Wells. Hollings runs untouched for 8 yards. He always breaks outside, never back in. Dave Ragone has appeared out of sorts most of the night. Quinn looks okay on a pass to Gaffney running a curl pattern, but he could end up on the practice squad if Banks doesn’t blow it.

8:20 – 7-on-7 work. Clemons is looking like a pass-rushing fiend out there. Posey who? Go ahead and put Clemons down for double digit sacks this fall. Mack drops a bullet from Carr that hit his hands. Dawson catches a 7-yard pass in zone coverage. Bradford makes another nice grab from Carr in the slot. Bradford has been on top of his game all night. Black drops a pass from Banks. Banks then throws an interception deep into double coverage. Is he blowing it? Demarcus Faggins comes down with the ball and makes a nice return. Banks is way off target on his next pass. Carr throws really hard at Joppru only three yards away, and Joppru can’t handle it. Allen and Dawson each make nice catches next, but John Minardi maybe makes the catch of the day when he pulls in an ugly pass from Quinn for 30-yards before getting popped.

8:33 – 11-on-11, first teams going at it, though Aaron Glenn sits out again. The offense runs that flea flicker play, but Kenny Wright nearly picks off Carr’s pass. Carr later fumbled another center exchange with Schau. Wells is unimpressive making his cuts long before he even reaches the line of scrimmage. Randall makes a foul start, but few seem to notice.

On defense, rookie RDE Keith Wright penetrates the line, working past Washington, who’s seeing a little time at left guard. Kenny Wright is doing a fine job in coverage in place of Glenn. Kailee Wong whips past RT David Pruce big time, using an outside-in move. Pruce is big and slow, but he pancakes LDE Corey Sears on the next play. At safety, Matt Stevens and Eric Brown see time with the first team, and Travares Tillman and Ramon Walker work with the second team.

8:48 – Cool down stretches.

8:50 – Team huddles around Capers.

8:54 – Position coaches give their units some final words. As the linebackers walk back to the locker room, rookies Antwan Peek and Antonio Rodriguez carry the pads of veterans Jamie Sharper and Clemons.

A good practice to be sure. The receivers did a great job all night, highlighted mostly by Bradford and Johnson, and Hollings gives the offense a speed dimension it lacked last season. Though Weary didn’t work with the first team much tonight, I’d look for him and Brown to man the guard positions by week one. Pitts and Wiegert were steady at tackle all night. The defense showed that it has a new star in Clemons, and Moses could part the seas returning punts.

But best of all, tonight marked the beginning of a new season of Texans football.