July 31, 2004

by Keith Weiland

An offseason gets to be officially tedious when two of the bigger discussion topics in the final weeks leading up to training camp involve both the stadium sod growing in the parking lot and the hair growing down the neck of the team’s quarterback. Yikes.

Aside from one forgettable night in May for cornerback – er, make that free safety – Marcus Coleman, the Texans really did live a charmed life this offseason. They entered their third training camp in franchise history on Friday with a return to health for several key players and a healthy sense of optimism for all around.

And there is plenty to be optimistic about, even from just watching the first practice of Camp Capers part three. So because of that, I now let you peek into my personal training camp diary once again so we both can hope that good things really do come in threes.

July 31, 2004
Morning Practice

8:28 – The first group of players arrive at the practice fields, and among them is a healthy Gary Walker. It’s still early, and already I’m sweating. Silently, I curse my offseason workout regimen of grape juice and Fun Dip.

8:35 – Seth Payne walks onto the field wearing the same as the other players: pads, shorts, cleats, and a jersey. With him back, the defense is looking better already.

8:37 – First horn blows, and camp is in session. The offense takes one of the three practice fields, while the defense takes another. Each is walking through some plays against a mostly stationary scout unit.

On the offensive line, tight end Billy Miller starts off on the left next to Seth Wand at left tackle. Chester Pitts plugs in at left guard, with Steve McKinney at center. Zach Wiegert is at right guard, and newcomer Todd Wade, the tallest man on the roster, is at right tackle. Tight end Mark Bruener finishes off the group next to Wade.

Moran Norris is the starting fullback, but Jarrod Baxter has returned to take the spot behind him on the depth chart. The tailbacks, starting with Domanick Davis, read their blocks and shoot through the line. Most of their rushes appear to be between the tight end and tackle gaps.

On the defense, a remodeled and rehabbed crew looks ready to go. Walker is back at left end with Payne at nose guard and former Titan Robaire Smith at right end. The first unit of linebackers includes Jason Babin on the left, Kailee Wong on the right, and Jamie Sharper manning the middle with Jay Foreman. In the secondary, Aaron Glenn returns to left cornerback while rookie Dunta Robinson starts at right cornerback. Eric Brown is the strong safety, and Marcus Coleman begins his new career at free safety.

Some of the defensive reserves make their way out next. The D-line from left to right is Corey Sears, Jerry DeLoach, and Junior Ioane. The linebackers are Anthony Dunn, Marcus Bell, Travis Carroll, and Antwan Peek. DaShon Polk and Antonio Rodriguez shadow them on the inside. In the secondary, Demarcus Faggins and Kenny Wright man the corners, while Marlon McCree and Jason Simmons fall back to safety with rookie Glenn Earl in tow.

Immediately evident from the first horn is how much more vocal the coaches are in getting the players motivated. Lots of verbal “encouragement” out there, though they are doing plenty of teaching, particularly from the offensive line coaches, including Joe Pendry, and wide receivers coach Kippy Brown.

The second unit on the offensive line also gets plenty of work. From left to right, they are as follows: Marcus Spears, Milford Brown, Todd Washington, Fred Weary, and Garrick Jones.

Another line coach, Steve Marshall, makes a special effort to get Spears up to speed quickly. “Throw him with an inside arm, Marcus!” he yells. Spears then makes a false start. Aww!

8:55 – Time for some position drills. Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer works with the quarterbacks and centers on their exchanges. B.J. Symons works with Weary, Dave Ragone works with Luke Butkus, Carr works with McKinney, and Banks works with Washington. After five minutes, the centers shift down to work with a different quarterback.

Marshall is working with the rest of the linemen. He tells Brown to go with more power, then coaches him on where his eyes should be looking. He also gets with Pitts to work on getting his hands up. It’s pretty obvious that the staff has a lot of focus on getting the linemen to work on their technique and muscle memory to perform in the zone blocking scheme.

Palmer himself even gets going with the direction. As his QBs take snaps, he barks out things like “Cover Two! Keep your eyes downfield!” Showing that the love goes all around, Palmer refuses to let Carr slide when he thinks his star is going in slow motion. “Do it again,” he says, “just so you know I was watching.”

9:05 – “Let’s go to work!” someone yells, and the team hustles together toward an endzone to begin running light, 40-yard jogs. The group then stretches for about seven minutes before finishing with a few jumping jacks.

9:16 – The offense and defense take separate fields once again. I follow the offensive side, as players get in a long line, then pair up for strip drills. One half of the pair carries the football in his right hand for about thirty yards while the other tries whatever he can to take it away from him. Palmer jokes at the pairing of wide receivers Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford, saying “Don’t hurt him Corey!” Only one player loses hold of the ball, and it looked to me like it might have been Kendrick Starling.

9:20 – The quarterbacks lob some deep, lofty throws for players to run underneath. Baxter can’t adjust in time to a poorly thrown ball and is well out of reach of his first attempt. Davis makes a textbook catch in his hands when it’s his turn. Jonathan Wells also makes a grab, but the ball hits him in the pads first.

The receivers split into to two groups to run 5-yard hook patterns. The group on the left of the passer includes the X’s – Andre Johnson, Derick Armstrong, Sloan Thomas, Jermaine Lewis, and Andrae Thurman. On the right are the Z’s – Bradford, Gaffney, J.J. Moses, Albert Johnson, Chris Taylor, and Starling.

Ragone is launching rockets at them, too. Andre Johnson drops a pass that hits him square in the stomach. Armstrong lets another hit his hands before it falls to the ground. Brown is livid. “What’s your problem?” he asks. Armstrong can only shake his head and jog away, but Brown isn’t finished. “I don’t want to see any more body catching!”

Taylor does use his hands, then Thurman spins to grab a pass that Carr threw behind him, making a pretty catch. Andre Johnson loses his feet catching another pass from Carr near the sideline. Thomas has a rough go in this session, and Brown knows it, too. “The ball hasn’t hit your hands yet!”

9:34 – Time for punt drills. The focus of the coaching staff is on the line of scrimmage. They’ve even got some referees tossing flags down there.

I keep an eye on some of the guys shagging the punts. Albert Johnson lets a high punt drop in front of him but is told he got too close to ball after he made the decision not to catch it. Vontez Duff fields his punt cleanly. Rober’ Freeman earns some praise from coach Chick Harris. Jason Anderson makes a nice, backpedaling catch and turns upfield. Faggins does well to catch up to and block Darrick Vaughn in pursuit of Anderson.

9:44 – 11-on-11 work. Robinson has tight coverage on Andre Johnson. The coverage is a little too tight, as one of those refs throws a flag at him. Welcome to the bigs, rook.

Tony Hollings rushes up the gut and face plants hard into Foreman’s chest for a gain of three yards. Banks then hits Baxter for a tidy 7-yard gain. Peek blitzes and gets into the backfield in a hurry as Banks waits to long for something to develop downfield. Anderson makes a great run off right guard. He has some surprising quick legs and a nice burst through the line. Ragone uses play action, then dumps the pass short in front of Hollings’ feet. Weary later blows open a huge hole for Anderson, who scampers away with a big gain.

9:55 – Coaches call for some 7-on-7 work as the linemen exit the field. The secondary plays zone through this part of the practice. Babin starts off covering Breuner, then deftly switches to Gaffney when they cross their patterns. The pass is complete to Hollings up the right sideline, though it’s not Babin’s zone. Robinson covers Bradford running a deep route. He stays with him step for step and tries to time his dive to make a spectacular pass breakup. As soon as he leaves his feet, he already knows he leapt too soon. Bradford watches the ball into hands, and the rookie looks at turf. Andre Johnson shakes off a little rust, running a good slant route in front of Faggins for a catch.

Safety Curry Burns comes in to help defend a deep pass from Banks and nearly makes the interception. Hollings goes in motion on the next play, but cuts his 6-yard out route short by at least two yards. Palmer expresses his displeasure with his pattern.

Anderson shows off more slick moves in traffic. He has been a nice surprise this morning. Ragone makes a poor decision to throw a deep pass to Thurman, who is blanketed by Coleman and Glenn… a rather odd sight, I think, seeing them work together on the same side of the field in coverage. Glenn is the one to break up the pass. Ragone tucks and runs the next time he doesn’t see a man open. Tight end John Frieser then drops the next pass from Ragone after it hits him in the abdomen.

10:09 – More 11-on-11. Wade creates a nice hole for Davis. The running back is showing the same cut and burst he had a year ago.

Whoa! Babin just kicked in an awesome speed blitz. Hollings was too slow to pick him up, but it’s tough to blame him. Babin’s got some jets.

Hollings then runs into traffic on his next carry, losing his helmet on his way down. The intensity is definitely up by this point of the practice.

Robinson breaks up a pass intended for Armstrong. The ball was in the receiver’s hands and Robinson pops it right back out. Norris clears the way for Davis on the next play with a key block on a downfield linebacker. Wright then nearly picks off Carr. Tight end Jabari Holloway makes a good catch downfield near the left sideline, but he fumbles it two steps later.

Banks throws into double coverage this time as Duff and Jammal Lord prevent a completion. Corner Jason Bell is late to cover Taylor, then he also misses the tackle. Dunn finishes off the set with sack of Ragone.

10:25 – Field goal practice. Only Todd Sievers is attempting kicks. Reserve punter Steve Cheek is the holder. Sievers boots all of his attempts through the uprights, which are each about 32 yards.

10:30 – Time for some cool down stretches. Bradford and Wright have a good time jawing at each other.

10:32 – Team huddle around Dom Capers.

Now, you’ve heard enough from me. Time for what the players and coaches were saying after this morning’s practice.

In Their Own Words

Sloan Thomas:
“It’s great to be in my hometown. The humidity, that’s always great. Hot as I-don’t-know-what out here. Kinda rough here the first day. I dropped three passes early. That was my fault. It was just a lack of focus, but I can’t use that as an excuse.”

Seth Payne:
“Anyone who’s had an ACL (injury) is doing the same thing I’ve been doing. It’s a matter of staying consistent with weight training and running. And being smart.”

David Carr:
“I think our offense is coming together real fast. It’s really all you want at the quarterback position to know the other ten guys know what they’re doing and do it real fast. It felt great, nice and cold out here (laughter). Throw the ball around a little bit, sweat a little bit. I went through four hand towels. It’s no big deal. That was the first time that’s happened.”

Domanick Davis
“(The new zone blocking) is great for a running back. I can pick from three to four holes. (A defense) won’t know where the ball is the going to go. It’s great. (Regarding whether he can handle a full 16-game workload) It’s just up to me and how I prepare myself before the season comes. I think I can handle it. I’m sure there is going to be doubt just because no one has seen me do it before. I just wasn’t given the chance to do it, so now we’re going to find out everything.”

Aaron Glenn
“Every year I come out here excited, ready to go to work. We have to gel as a team, gel as a defense, and make an improvement. Last year I think we underachieved for what we wanted to do. We have all our guys back this year. Our first year we did well. Last year we didn’t. We just have to pick it up. We have the players to do it, and now it is up to us. The top players have to make plays. (Regarding Dunta Robinson) He’s mentally tough. As a corner, that’s one thing you gotta have. He’s not gonna shy away if he gets beat. I’m gonna talk to him, continue to let him know that it happens. I was a rookie and started. I didn’t get beat, but… (laughter) it happens. You just have to continue to work hard.”

Dom Capers
“No one in particular stood out today. I did like seeing David Carr hitting Corey Bradford downfield. That didn’t happen enough last year. We don’t know a lot about our defense right now. (On whether he prefers David Carr with long or short hair) “My personal preference is to win enough games so he can cut it.”l.c