August 7, 2003
When The Sauce Hits the Fan
by Keith Weiland
Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer, known for his football acumen and not his use of the English language, once compared his quarterback, David Carr, to spaghetti sauce – – in a good way. (Note to Palmer: Let’s leave the wacky similes to amateur hacks like myself, ‘kay?) So now with the news that Palmer will likely be without veteran center Steve McKinney for the remainder of the preseason because of a strained MCL, one has to wonder if Palmer will continue this pasta analogy. Always eager, I’m here to help:
On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.
Minus McKinney, the Texans welcome back Todd Washington from the walking wounded to anchor the middle of the pocket this evening. The team will also give Fred Weary some time at the position once he returns from his neck strain to back up Washington.
So, to HoutsonProFootball.com’s favorite meatball, we wish you a speedy a recovery, ’cause if you’re not back soon, Carr really is going to look like spaghetti sauce.
Enough of the Food Channel, now onto the diary…
August 6, 2003
6:34 – This has to be the hottest evening practice to date. The first few Texan players arrive, and all of them are in shorts. The team is hosting this week’s preseason opponent, the Denver Broncos, in a series of scrimmages, and as gracious hosts, they have made their guests wear warmer dark blue jerseys while the Texans continue to don their cooler white jerseys.
6:50 – Most of the Broncos arrive, and they are intermingled with the Texan players hovering under the canopy. Riots in the streets, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! Okay, not really, but you never know…
6:55 – The Texans take the near field and split the offense on the north end and the defense on the south end to work against their scout teams. The Broncos jog off to the two far fields.
On offense, the Texans line looks like this: Chester Pitts – Milford Brown – Todd Washington – Zach Wiegert – Greg Randall. They walk through plays in a few different formations, including a standard ‘I’, a double tight end strong, a shotgun slot with twins left, and a 4-wide shotgun. Rashod Kent is working with Billy Miller as the tight ends while Bennie Joppru (groin) and Jabari Holloway (illness) sit out of practice. Many of the plays are for short yardage passes to either a tight end or fullback, depending on the formation. Kent and Jarrod Baxter see plenty of passes during these walk-thrus.
The regular faces are back as the starters on the defense, including Aaron Glenn, who doesn’t participate in much else for the rest of the practice. Defensive backs Kenny Wright (groin) and Travares Tillman (arm) sit out when the second team is in, so that unit looks like this: Jason Bell and Jason Simmons at corner, Ramon Walker and Brandon Jennings at safety, Shantee Orr and Jason Lamar at the inside linebacker, Erik Flowers and Patrick Chukwurah at the outside linebacker, Corey Sears and Shawn Worthen at defensive end, and Charles Hill at nose.
7:14 – The punt block unit is at work trying to get their hands on the ball as it leaves the punter’s foot. Seems like a drill where someone could get hurt easily, but everyone makes out okay. The defensive linemen work on shedding blocks, and the centers practice snapping the ball to the quarterbacks. The four centers doing this are: Washington, Fred Weary, Ben Lynch, and Matt Anderson.
7:20 – Time for some light running and stretching. The Texans and Broncos are still on separate fields, and this portion of the evening practice is not synchronized between the two squads.
7:28 – The Texans’ offense and defense again take to opposite sides of the near field. The offense runs through the regular position drills while the defense starts with interception returns followed by their regular position drills. Derick Armstrong makes a fabulous one-handed grab in the corner of the endzone. He’s making a strong push to claim the final receiver spot on the roster, developing a nice rapport with Tony Banks. Banks himself seems secure as the backup, while Mike Quinn’s days as a Texan appear to be numbered. The defensive backs work near the fans, and I get a close look at Matt Stevens’ arms. He has a ton of tattoos crawling all over them. I guess he’s angling for a gig touring with Motley Crüe in the next offseason. Darrick Vaughn drops a ball during a drill and has to do pushups with the playful fans letting him hear it.
7:34 – The Broncos return from the far field to crash the party amidst a chorus of boos. Both teams split up so that their offenses and defenses can face each other on either sides of the near field.
The Texans’ first team offense executes short pass patterns and inside runs. The first play is quick pass from Carr to Andre Johnson followed later by a pass from Carr to Baxter. Carr then throws an ill-advised pass to Corey Bradford, who is double covered, but the ball falls harmlessly to the ground. Stacey Mack makes a nice run behind Wiegert for decent yardage.
The first team defense is highlighted by Gary Walker’s pass deflection and good pressure. When the second team subs in, DeMarcus Faggins intercepts Steve Beuerlein on a 30-yard pass attempt. Sears jumps offsides, and then the Broncos fumble consecutive center exchanges. Vaughn breaks up a pass. With the first team back in, the defensive line stunts, and Clinton Portis shoots through a big hole up the middle for a probable TD run. Faggins has his second stellar play of this session when his breaks up a pass intended for former Aggie Chris Cole.
7:46 – The Broncos punt to the Texans. J.J. Moses makes a slick cut on his first return for double-digit yardage. Avion Black jitter steps for a shorter return, but credit the Broncos’ punt coverage unit for getting downfield quickly. On Moses’ next live return, he uses his speed to cut behind a blocker and get to the sideline, then dekes Cecil Sapp out of his shoes to breakaway.
7:56 – The two squads work against each other in 7-on-7 drills.
On the south side where the Texans’ defense works, Jake Plummer has to throw away his first attempt. Merit for the good coverage belongs to Stevens and Bell. Orr later intercepts the Broncos’ QB a few yards from the line of scrimmage. Lamar plays tight man coverage on fullback Mike Anderson. Marcus Coleman is flagged for holding, then Stevens plays his coverage too loose to let a Bronco receiver score. Jennings, not Curry Burns, continues to work as the second team free safety.
On the north side, Johnson is jammed at the line of scrimmage by 6’4" corner Lenny Walls, but he breaks free and beats him to get open. Bronco rookie corner Brandon Williams sufficiently locks up Black so he can’t make a move to catch a pass from Banks. Banks does connect with Baxter for a short gainer. Carr returns, and Jabar Gaffney is caught lining up on the wrong side. Once in position, Carr completes a short pass to Mack. Carr then throws too low to Baxter and is incomplete again to Kent. Jonathan Wells lines up as a wing receiver and Carr hits him on a short route.
Whoa! Gaffney just made a spectacular diving catch in the back of the endzone.
8:14 – The linemen return for 11-on-11, and both teams’ offenses work with a play clock running. On his first play, Plummer bootlegs right for a 13-yard gain. Wong continues to have a stellar camp, getting into the Bronco backfield to stuff a run, then later pressures Plummer on pass attempt. Troy Evans also gets into the act, batting down a Plummer pass. Terrance Martin lets a Bronco running back blow right by him, showing a lack of run-pass awareness. Vaughn is beaten by receiver Damon Hodge, despite excellent pursuit by Chukwurah. Charlie Clemons and Stevens stop Portis in his tracks for a short gain. Antwan Peek speeds into the backfield, falls to the turf when he pulls up shy of the quarterback, and stays down for a few seconds. When he gets up, he’s okay, but his shorts are halfway down his butt. Reserve strong safety Glenn Sumter plays a bad angle on run defense.
The Texans’ red zone offense gets things started with a short run to the left by Mack. Wells stops flat-footed at the line of scrimmage while he reads the defense, then cuts right for a nice gain. Johnson beats Walls on a flag pattern to catch a TD pass from Carr. Sweet! Miller also catches a low bullet from Carr for a score. Too bad he’s still a liability when it comes to blocking. The second team offensive line looks like this: David Pruce at left tackle, Carey Clayton at left guard, Lynch at center, Ryan Schau at right guard, and Roger Chanoine at right tackle. Not exactly a Who’s Who of linemen, but Pruce does look much better tonight in pass blocking, keeping his feet moving. Wells is able to make a deep run wide to his side during this session, too.
8:30 – Desperation drill time. There’s 1:20 remaining on the clock and the first team Bronco offense lines up against the first team Texan defense at the Bronco 30. The Broncos complete their first pass with Coleman in coverage. Sharper is there to make the stop. First and 10 with 0:56 remaining, the Broncos go to the no-huddle offense with the clock moving and complete a short pass. On second down, Shannon Sharpe beats Eric Brown for a first down gain. With 0:36 remaining and the ball spotted at the Texans’ 37-yard line, Wong penetrates for an apparent sack, but the refs let play continue as Plummer rolls right and scrambles for a first down. 0:28 left, and the Broncos in field goal range, they run two yards off right tackle to position the spot for a field goal attempt. After spiking the ball to stop the clock on second down, Denver trots out Jason Elam for a 40-yard field goal attempt. It’s good.
8:36 – Now it’s the Texans’ first team offense getting their shot. Same starting conditions, as the ball is spotted at their own 30-yard line with 1:20 to play. On first down, Carr’s 10-yard pass attempt to Bradford is incomplete. The offense is running a four-wide formation, with Miller lining up as the fourth receiver. On second down and ten, 1:16 remaining, Bronco defensive end and Humble native Bertrand Berry sacks Carr for a 10-yard loss. Clock ticking down to 0:52 on third and long, Carr goes deep to Johnson, incomplete. A late flag bounces in, as safety Sam Brandon is called for interference, giving the Texans new life. So with first and ten at Denver’s 42 and 0:47 remaining, Carr completes a pass to Miller for a 6-yard gain. Carr’s second down pass is out of bounds, intended for Johnson. On third and four with 0:25 left, speedy end Bryant McNeal beats Pitts to sack Carr. Out of field goal range on fourth down, Carr rolls right to avoid pressure and spies Gaffney open in the back of the endzone. The pass is complete, but Gaffney is out of bounds. Game over.
8:41 – The Broncos’ second team offense battles the Texans’ second team defense. With 1:20 to play and starting from the Denver 30, they complete their first down pass for six yards. Flowers, playing end, bats away the second down pass attempt. With 1:00 to go, a Bronco receiver gets the necessary yardage for a first down reception in front of Faggins. In a hurry-up mode with the clock ticking, the Broncos make another 6-yard completion on first down. Second and four with 0:39 left and the ball on the 50-yard line, Coleman plays tight coverage to force a third down attempt, in which Beuerlein is then incomplete to his backup tight end. Now wait, instead of fourth down, the ball is marched back ten yards and the third down attempt is repeated, this time with the Broncos converting for a first down. After spiking the ball on first down the clock stops at 0:14. The Broncos run for two yards on second down, then spike it again on third down. With 0:02 remaining, Elam comes in to attempt a 56-yard field goal. With the wind, he has the distance, but it sails wide right.
8:47 – The final matchup has the Texans’ second team offense battling the Broncos’ second team defense. Tarlos Thomas is in at left guard now instead of Clayton. Banks can’t complete his first pass, though the line does give him a better pocket than any pocket Carr had earlier. Banks then completes his next two passes to Armstrong to get a first down. After spiking the ball to stop the clock at 0:44 at the Texan 44, Banks finds Armstrong getting good separation deep, but he overthrows his target. 0:39 remaining, third and ten, Banks completes a 10-yard pass to JuJuan Dawson for a first down, then spikes the ball to stop the clock at 0:23. Second and ten from the Denver 44, the Broncos show blitz but Banks again is able to hook up with Armstrong, this time for a 7-yard gain. Third and three with 0:17 remaining, Lynch’s snap is low and outside, and Banks can only fall on it to retain possession. The field goal team is ready and hurries on the field with the clock winding down so Kris Brown can attempt a 58-yarder. They’re well organized and get the kick off in time. With a little wind at his back, Brown splits the uprights. Three points!
8:53 – Cool down stretching.
8:55 – Team huddles around Capers.
8:56 – Right after the team breaks the huddle, Seth Payne and Gary Walker corral rookie end Keith Wright and tape him up like a rodeo calf. Hill and Stevens pour buckets full of ice water onto Wright, then leave him alone at midfield to struggle out of the tape until a security officer cuts the tape off of him five minutes later.
Though the practice ended on a high note, the hole at center is a serious concern for this football team. Injuries on the offensive line in general expose the team’s dire lack of depth, something that is especially disappointing this year given that, when Carr has the time, there are some very talented receivers to catch the ball.
Up next for the Texans are a couple more practices with the Broncos at Reliant Park, followed by the first preseason game on Saturday night. The next entry into the diary will follow Monday evening’s practice. Steve McKinney Home