Wanted: Free Safety

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August 14, 2003
Wanted: Free Safety
by Keith Weiland

The Texans seem to routinely field injury reports at their most depleted positions, so it should come as no surprise that next huge gaping hole is at free safety. How big of a hole, you ask? Let’s just say the Texans are really, REALLY hoping that Matt Stevens’ MRI results on his injured right knee show nothing serious and that he’s able to return to the field shortly. Yeah, it’s that serious.

Backup Travares Tillman, hopeful to challenge Stevens as the starter, broke his arm earlier in camp and is still out at least a couple more weeks. Brandon Jennings saw his chances of making the team slip away when he was cut on Tuesday. The Texans drafted Louisville rookie Curry Burns, but he’s nowhere near ready for first team duty. So who lined up with the first team on Wednesday night?

Better read the diary to find out…

August 13, 2003

6:15 – I learn that the Texans, in a show of love (or is it mercy?) for their fans, have decided to euthanize the fight song recorded by the Spring High School Band and Choir. Is it just me, or does it seem that too many fans are more interested in the tune played after a touchdown is scored rather than the player actually making the score?

6:30 – The kickers and punters walk out onto the field. They, like the players that follow them, are in shoulder pads and shorts for this workout.

6:50 – I spy Tony Hollings on the field, ready to play. The team has been really limiting him in practice of late.

6:52 – Special Teams coach Joe Marciano is coaching his heart out with both the kickoff coverage and return teams. Both units are working half speed getting ready for a later special teams session.

7:03 – Time for some light running and stretching. There’s a whole list of players that are sitting out tonight, most of whom I’ve mentioned for the same ailment previous diary entries. Some of the newer names this evening include: Troy Evans (groin), Fred Weary (leg), Howard Green (knee), Jonathan Wells (toe), and Stevens. Wells is limping slowly. Even with the surprise retirement of James Allen and the broken hand of Dominick Davis, this is not a good time for Wells to be missing practice.

7:12 – The offense stays on the near field and the defense trots out to the far field. Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer barks out a play and the offense runs it unopposed into the endzone. Hollings lines up in the wrong spot when his unit is up, and Palmer lets him have it. Afterward, the players split up by position for drills. The backs run through drill protecting the football, and coach Chick Harris is yelling for the players to carry it “high and tight”.

The quarterbacks and receivers work on completing passes through a variety of patterns. Derick Armstrong drops a ball that hits both his palms, so he has to drop to the turf for push-ups. Atnaf Harris also makes a mental error in dropping a pass, so he’s doing push-ups, too. I don’t think Harris drops another ball all night. Davis, still mending his broken hand, is working in pass receiving drills now, making catches with one hand. (Yes, his good one). The tight ends are working in the other endzone, hauling in fade passes in the corner. Rashod Kent makes a nice one-handed leaping grab. He has become quite the prospect. On the far field, the defensive backs are taking turns intercepting deep passes.

7:30 – The defense returns to the near field for a little 11-on-11 work. The first team offensive line is as expected, going left to right: Chester Pitts, Milford Brown, Todd Washington, Zach Wiegert, and Greg Randall. New running back Jonas Lewis fumbles the handoff on one exchange, and defensive end Keith Wright is there to pick it up.

Kenny Wright has returned from the list of injured players, and he’s back to keep Aaron Glenn’s spot warm at left cornerback. With Stevens out, dimeback Jason Simmons is today’s first team free safety. Lewis misses another handoff, again breaking the rhythm of practice. Burns and linebacker Antwan Peek are all over a weakside toss off tackle to Hollings.

7:43 – The offense takes to the north end of the field while the defense moves to the south end. It’s time for work against the scout teams. Starting from an I formation, the offense runs some basic running plays, including a fullback lead block to the left side, between the tackle and guard, as well as a short hook pass to Corey Bradford. They later mix in a singleback formation with three wideouts, followed by a shotgun formation. Jabar Gaffney is always in the slot when the first team plays with a third wideout. Andre Johnson is usually split left, and Bradford takes the right. Milford Brown inexcusably jumps offside against the scout team. David Carr fakes a handoff, rolls right, then hits Billy Miller who’s running an out pattern parallel to him.

7:53 – Special teams time, and it’s the kickoff coverage unit at work once again. For the first couple run-thrus, only half of the unit works on the coverage, first the left half, then right, then left, etc. Johnson is working with the kick coverage team on right side containment. Kris Brown ends the session with a surprise onside kick, but strong safety Glenn Sumter is alert enough to capture the ball for the return team.

The quarterbacks are on the far field, trying to throw footballs from fifty yards away into a garbage can resting near the goalline. Carr hits the side of the can with one of his attempts, but most of everyone’s passes are too deep. Mike Quinn is the only one I see who gets a pass into the can.

8:02 – 11-on-11 work, with the first team offense against the third team defense. Bradford eludes Darrick Vaughn on a quick hook pattern and breaks away for a good gain upfield. Carr finds Harris on a 12-yard curl. Stacey Mack picks up nickleback Vaughn blitzing so that Carr has the time to complete a pass to Johnson for first down yardage. Harris then catches a 30-yard pass from Carr, but one of the referees watching the sideline says Harris is out of bounds. Bradford catches a pass in stride on a slant. Tony Banks comes in and completes his only pass to Johnson.

8:08 – The first team defense gets their turn against the backups on offense. The starters are still Jerry DeLoach, Seth Payne, and Gary Walker up front; Charlie Clemons and Kailee Wong at outside linebacker, Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman at inside linebacker, Kenny Wright and Marcus Coleman at cornerback, and Simmons and Eric Brown at safety. Several players sub in and out, including Jason Lamar and Shantee Orr at inside linebacker.

Wong blankets Kent running a pass pattern but is flagged for interference. Reserve tight end Justin Swift makes a superior diving catch on a play where Orr blitzed up the middle, practically untouched. Foreman comes back in and also has no problem getting to Dave Ragone. Jason Bell subs in for Wright and overplays John Minardi, who catches a pass from Quinn. Bell is at times all over his man, then at other times, his coverage is blown. He has the talent but lacks the consistency.

8:15 – The lineman lumber to the far field so the rest of the team can perform 7-on-7 drills. Steve McKinney stays behind to snap the ball for the backs and receivers. How’s that for a somewhat encouraging sign?

Mack drops a very catchable ball, but far more disturbing is a yelping sound of disbelief he emanates from somewhere in his throat. Gaffney catches a couple of passes running slant patterns. Baxter also gets into the act making a few receptions of his own. Banks underthrows Minardi, but Minardi makes the proper adjustment with Vaughn covering.

8:24 – The 7-on-7 work continues, but the offense and defense switch directions. Banks overthrows his intended receiver this time, and Eric Brown is there to capitalize on the mistake and make the interception. Ragone completes a high pass to J.J. Moses, who uses full extension of his 5’6” frame (in shoes and a helmet, no doubt) to make the catch. Coleman is lagging in his coverage on Minardi, who is running a deep post pattern. Coleman has to resort to that playground technique of yelling to scare the receiver from making the catch. Well, it works. Minardi drops a rather catchable ball. Ragone is then complete to Gaffney running a similar pattern. Avion Black makes an impressive catch with Bell in tight coverage.

Capers yells “Red zone! Red zone!”, and everyone runs from midfield to the 6-yard line. Kent runs a flag pattern in double coverage, but Quinn throws to him anyway. Coleman makes the interception. Armstrong then runs a pattern into the endzone and Foreman steps in front of him to intercept Ragone’s pass at the goalline. Bradford drops a Ragone pass at the back of the endzone. Blech. So much for the red zone.

8:34 – Back to 11-on-11 as the play clock starts ticking from 18 seconds once the huddle breaks. Mack rushes power left. Gaffney makes a first down reception on a 15-yard out pattern. Vaughn then breaks up the next pass intended for Gaffney. Carr runs a simulated third down QB keeper to the sideline for a new set of downs.

With the first team defense in, Eric Brown lets a tipped ball slip through his hands. Ragone misses Kent. Kent then fends off Clemons on a play where Kenny Wright intercepts a Ragone pass intended for Armstrong. The second team D subs in and Erik Flowers stays home on a reverse to Minardi. Black makes his second nice catch of the evening on a pass from Quinn. Peek whips past left tackle David Pruce to bring some serious heat at Quinn. Eric Brown blitzes up the middle and stops Hollings in the backfield. Patrick Chukwurah uses a nifty spin move, which is far too much for Pruce to handle.

8:50 – Late game situation, first team offense trying to move the ball against the second team defense. From their own 45-yard line and 1:10 to play, Carr completes a pass for negative two yards to Mack, then connects to Miller for a 5-yard gain. Clock ticking on third and 7, Carr is complete to Miller for six yards, one yard short of the first down. Thirty seconds left on fourth and one, Carr is incomplete to Miller, but Vaughn is flagged for pass interference.

With a new set of downs and 0:26 left on the 39-yard line, Carr again throws incomplete to Miller. On second down with 0:22 to play, Lamar blitzes and Carr has to throw the ball out of bounds. Lamar was Mack’s responsibility, and Palmer lets him have it. “You gotta be kiddin’!” he yells at him. 0:17 left, third and ten, Carr misses Bradford on a 10-yard out pattern. Stuck with just one play left on fourth down from the 39-yard line, the offense lines up trips right and all receivers head for the endzone. Carr launches the ball into the night sky, and Johnson comes from the far side of the field to pull down the hail mary pass in heavy traffic. TOUCHDOWN! A ref threw a flag on the far side of the field, but he quickly calls it off. Hooray!

8:56 – The second team offense works against the first team defense in the same situation. Banks throws his first down pass complete to Baxter, who loses the handle on the football at the end, but play continues anyway. Second and three, clock ticking under a minute left, Banks is complete for two yards to Jabari Holloway. Third and one from the 46, Banks finds Armstrong for the first down at the 39-yard line. First down now with 0:26 remaining, someone bats down the pass near the line of scrimmage. I think it’s Clemons on the far side of the field. 0:22 left now on second and ten, Banks completes to Baxter, barely enough for a first down. The offense doesn’t hurry to the line of scrimmage fast enough to the coaches’ liking, and Banks is only able to spike the ball with eight second remaining. So on second down from the 31, Banks tries his own hail mary pass into the endzone, but dimeback DeMarcus Faggins is there to knock it down to the ground.

9:00 – Cool down stretching.

9:02 – The team huddles around coach Dom Capers.

9:04 – Huddle breaks, and position coaches get in their final words.

With only one more practice between this evening and the next preseason game in Dallas, tonight’s session was noticeably run with less impact at a slower pace. Camp is certainly beginning to get tiresome at this point, as most of the players seem to have lost that little bounce in their step they had two weeks ago.

On the whole, it was another good night for the defense, and they appear ready for the clash with the Cowboys. And even more encouraging, the first team offensive line is becoming less of eyesore as they appear more and more capable of giving Carr the time and protection he needs to run the offense.

Matt Stevens Matt Stevens Home

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