This Other Time, In Training Camp…

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


Alright, I had to be the first to say it before this becomes any more cliché than it already has, but return specialist J.J. Moses is 66 inches of TNT. After failing to catch on with the Chiefs and the Packers, Moses is making the most of his chances with the Texans, failing to disappoint again on Monday night. After fielding a long punt and making some flashy speed moves in traffic, he burned up the sideline. On his way back, walking near the 2,000-plus fans in attendance, Moses pleaded with the crowd to shower him with praise. No pleas were needed. He earned it.

But Moses was just one of many highlights at Monday’s camp practice, so let’s get on with it…

July 28, 2003

6:26 – Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer is the first recognizable face to make his way onto the field.

6:33 – Punter Chad Stanley arrives next, again in a ballcap. Will the mind games never cease? Ah, but fellow punter Criag Jarrett follows him, and he, too, is in a ballcap. Touché, Stanley, touché.

6:41 – Running back Tony Hollings is getting some one-on-one coaching from special teams coach Joe Marciano. Looks like the team might want to utilize Hollings’ speed as a gunner in coverage at some point.

6:48 – Quietly, linebacker Kailee Wong distances himself from the pack of players that have made it to the practice field. He’s off by himself, near a lamppost, facing away from the fans. His legs spread slightly… oh my god. The man is taking a leak. Where is his decorum? Of all the coaches the Texans have on their payroll, can’t one of them be in charge of reminding the players to wee-wee before they leave for practice? Maybe call him the Urine Evacuation Specialist or something? (Note: if the Texans are looking to hire someone for this position, just you remember who came up with it first…)

6:53 – First horn blows. The punt teams work about half-speed. Back with Moses, Avion Black, and Dominick Davis to return are Jabar Gaffney and Darrick Vaughn. Jarrett is kicking the ball every bit as far Stanley, but his are mostly line drives. With the wind coming from behind, both punters are getting good yardage.

7:02 – Time for some 40-yard jogs to start the blood flow. Center Steve McKinney is in full pads, but he sits out of the jogging to protect his groin injury.

7:04 – The team lines up for stretching. Cornerback Aaron Glenn is in shorts and no pads after tweaking his hamstring on Saturday night. Tight end Rashod Kent is also in shorts and no pads.

7:10 – After a few jumping jacks, the players split up by position for some of the regular drills. On the far field, the defense is practicing interception returns while the backs and receivers run the gauntlet. Afterward, they each respectively run through basic hand-offs and pass patterns. Black looks like he has wasted motion in his routes. The linebackers work on bull rushing a sled. Jamie Sharper knocks the crap out it when it’s his turn.

One of the best parts of the evening’s practice was the one-on-one blocking the running backs did with the outside linebackers, fending off their pass rush. Lots of quick-hitting battles here with definite winners and losers.

Erik Flowers abuses fullback Laurence Nolen. Patrick Chukwurah gets by Jonathan Wells, then out-maneuvers Davis. Stacey Mack puts Shannon Taylor into the turf. Antwan Peek schools Hollings. Hollings practically whiffs on him, giving faint hope that he can provide the quarterback any extra protection. Peek has a lethal spin move. Charlie Clemons goes so hard he knocks off Nolen’s helmet. Chukwurah speeds past Jarrod Baxter, who needs to keep moving his feet. Baxter later is able to hold up Flowers and stay strong after a headslap from Clemons. Wong bulldozes Hollings and later gets by Mack. Wells shows enough quickness to stay with Peek, but he later lets Flowers get around him.

7:27 – Some 11-on-11 work for the offense and defense. McKinney sits out, so the offensive line has the Plan B look with Schau at center, Fred Weary and Milford Brown at guard, and Chester Pitts and Zach Wiegert at tackle. Running back James Allen is still getting first reps, but he’s not impressing. Brown looks strong holding up nose guard Seth Payne at the point of attack. Wells runs full steam into a crowd and falls backward. Not pretty. Wells comes back on the next play to hit the hole then make a cut, and he is gone up the middle. One of the coaches offers some constructive criticism to backup free safety Travares Tillman for being out of position on the play. Davis also has a similar run on the next play. Hollings shows again that he is able to turn the corner with his speed, but on his next play, strong safety Eric Brown gets him at the line of scrimmage.

A hard count by quarterback Dave Ragone draws defensive end Terrance Martin offsides. Schau is struggling at center. He has to hold defensive end Keith Wright to slow him down. Chester Pitts ends the session by pulling from his position at left tackle to drive block linebacker Jason Lamar and spring Hollings for a big gain.

7:39 – The offense and defense split up to walk through plays against their scout teams. I’m still seeing plenty of double tight end formations from Palmer. McKinney is back at center briefly for the low-contact activity. The offense also works on a wide receiver screen to Andre Johnson, no doubt hoping to take advantage of his size and ability to break tackles. Finally, Carr works out of a shotgun to practice middle screens to Allen. Schau bounces a snap to Carr, and Weary does something to draw the attention of the line coach. On the defense, coordinator Vic Fangio has them walking through a few blitzes, mostly from a dime package. The six defensive backs are Marcus Coleman, Kenny Wright, Eric Brown, Matt Stevens, Jason Bell, and Jason Simmons. A little surprised not to see Demarcus Faggins. He’s had good a camp thus far.

7:50 – Live punting. It looks like the second unit is on the punt coverage team, at least I hope so because they basically sucked. Made for good theater though, as Black, after backpedaling ten yards to field a deep punt from Jarrett, returned it up the gut for an apparent touchdown. Moses was next, and he does the same, pointing one way and running the other. A heated challenge to be sure because Davis is more than just a viable alternative.

7:56 – 11-on-11. The defensive starters are again the usual suspects, minus Glenn. Weary jumps offsides. Eric Brown plays the run well, stopping Mack for a minimal gain. Gary Walker bull rushes Greg Randall all the way to Carr, then makes his way to Carr again on another play, this time meeting Wong in the backfield. Pitts is not to blame as he’s doing well, even keeping Corey Sears off balance and off his feet.

The second team D-line rotates frequently, but Keith Wright, Charles Hill, and Sears are getting a good number of reps tonight. Hill beats Schau like a rented mule. Not looking good for Schau. It is time to end his experiment at center. Reserve inside linebacker Troy Evans plays undersized, but active. Tight end Bennie Joppru has been hot-and-cold all night, but this time he contains Peek. Left tackle Seth Wand does some nice blocking to seal off Peek on another play to create a break for Hollings. Ragone looks a little more comfortable. He draws Martin offsides a second time with another hard count. Martin is later stood up by Weary, who is pass blocking.

8:09 – 7-on-7 again, with McKinney back at center. I hearken back to 2002 when Palmer used to have those 7-foot ladders and wonder why they aren’t used this year. I conclude that Carr doesn’t need (or want) them anymore, but I still miss them all the same.

Jay Foreman is playing tight man coverage on Joppru. Carr is able to drill the ball to just the right spots. Ugh… Johnson had an ugly drop and is hearing the fans yell “Rookie” at him. Harsh, man. Johnson then runs a 30-yard fly pattern and drops another pass that hits his hands. Atnaf Harris, on the other hand (so to speak) is making catch after catch. Billy Miller also shows off his hands. Joppru makes a nice catch, but safety Curry Burns strips the ball from him. Capers is not pleased, and Joppru walks off in disbelief.

The offense finishes up with a four-wideout formation, with Johnson and Corey Bradford split wide and Gaffney and JuJuan Dawson inside. Hollings lines up on the wrong side of Carr. Banks’ passes are low and off-target. John Minardi and Anthony Bright make frustrating drops. Eric Brown nearly picks off Ragone.

8:25 – 11-on-11. Eric Brown continues his good practice in grabbing Mack by the ankles to stop him for a 1-yard gain. His namesake, Milford Brown, jumps offsides and has to run around the field. Carr throws to Johnson on that wide receiver screen, but the D is all over it. Mack turns in a big run between the blocks of Randall and Joppru. Defensive end Jerry DeLoach breaks up a pass intended for Allen. Walker gets past Weary, and Sears finds a way into the backfield. Kenny Wright has a nice pass break-up covering Dawson. Minardi has another ugly drop. Coleman is flagged for pass interference, but the other ref calls it off. “Tell him,” Coleman says pointing the ref who threw the flag. I laugh, but he looked guilty to me, failing to turn around for the ball.

Nice! Mack makes a nifty power run up the middle for a big gain. Johnson makes a good catch on a crossing pattern underneath the coverage. Faggins is playing some nice, tight coverage on Bradford.

8:41 – Field goal practice. Kris Brown is making 39-yard attempts. The first two are good, but Chance Pearce bounces the third snap. Kris Brown recovers the ball and somehow finds Joppru for a 20-yard gain. With apologies to Moses, this might be the most miraculous play of the practice. With a rookie as a long snapper, I hope this isn’t a trend.

8:45 – Cool down stretches.

8:48 – Team huddles around Capers.

8:50 – Huddle breaks, then the kickers and punters fall into a circle to do a series of crunches. The other players walk right over the weirdos off the field. The tight ends coach must not have been happy with tonight’s practice. He has them doing that exercise where you run in place for 10 seconds, drop, get up, and run in place for another 10 seconds. Jabari Holloway looks wiped when they finish. Can’t blame him. Joppru sticks around afterward to catch passes from Ragone, who’s being coached overtime by Palmer.

8:56 – Capers confers with general manager Charley Casserly and his scouts at midfield.

An uneven effort for the offense tonight, but you knew there would be days like this. Hopefully, McKinney’s injury won’t linger and the line will develop a rhythm that sets the tone for the entire unit. The nagging injuries are beginning to mount, however, as Schau dislocated a finger, interior lineman Todd Washington injured his ankle, and Wiegert battled turf toe. Time to put that depth and flexibility on the line to the test.