August 10, 2004
Wells in the Running
by Keith Weiland
Forget what you’ve seen of Jonathan Wells before this year. Misplace those thoughts of him as a rookie running back struggling on an expansion team. Disregard his sophomore campaign in which he was buried on the depth chart and seldom used.
Forget about Wells’ last two years and watch what he is doing in his third training camp because this is not the same running back this time around. This running back is hitting holes quickly and rushing with power. This running back has not given up.
It would not have been a surprise had Wells faded further into oblivion in his third year. More unimpressive than his 2.7 yards per carry average in his career has been the way in which he ran to gain those yards.
A big man for a tailback at 6’1” and 245 pounds, he looks like he should flatten anyone who stands in his way, similar to his fellow Ohio State alum Eddie George. Yet Wells ran timid as a rookie, failing to hit his hole with any aggression. By the time his second season rolled around, Wells wasn’t even third string after having been passed up by three newcomers, including Stacey Mack and a pair of rookies, Domanick Davis and Tony Hollings.
So maybe if we tried to forget the last two years on Wells’ NFL resume, we wouldn’t be so surprised by how well he has been running in camp workouts so far this year. And Wells was at it again at Monday night’s practice, running without fear and perhaps running from his past two seasons of mediocrity. He is actively staking his claim to what might be the final active roster spot reserved for a running back.
Wells probably had much higher aspirations for his NFL career when he was drafted 99th overall in 2002, but he accepted his new role on special teams last year and kept his spot on the roster by doing so. Considered by some to be “on the bubble” for that same spot entering this year’s camp, Wells’ intensity for special teams work has not wavered.
The competition at running back is still crowded, and for Wells to get any significant number of carries this season, he’ll need to wait for someone else to falter or get injured. While the former seems unlikely, the latter is a definite possibility. Davis has yet to prove he can remain healthy carrying a 16-game burden, and Hollings is two-years removed from a serious knee injury.
If the first week of training camp is any indication, Wells is ready if that unfortunate time should come. He is stronger than ever and hitting the line of scrimmage at full speed. Wells isn’t looking back, so maybe we shouldn’t either.
Weary Worn Speaking of catching up with 2002 draft picks, Fred Weary spent all of Monday night’s practice getting work with the first team at right guard in place of the ailing Zach Wiegert. Weary was a third round pick of the Texans two years ago out of Tennessee. As a reserve like Wells, he’s also had a bumpy career, but optimism has remained high for his long term development.
Weary had a rough go of it on Monday night though. Working on his pass blocking skills, Weary was beaten by defensive end Gary Walker. Weary’s feet were too slow to adjust to Walker’s bull rush pursuit. In an 11-on-11 scrimmage later in practice, outside linebacker Jason Babin faked his rush to the tackle side, then stunt blitzed to Weary’s zone. The rookie beat the third-year player like a rented goalie and ran untouched to quarterback David Carr. Line coach Joe Pendy quickly took Weary aside to share some words with him. Weary then capped off his disappointing evening by jumping offsides near the conclusion of the intrasquad scrimmage.
While Weary is probably not in any immediate danger of missing the final roster cut, he will need to keep showing progress to make the decision much easier on the coaching staff. A center in college, it is a bit perplexing that Weary isn’t challenging Todd Washington as the backup to Steve McKinney. That kind of versatility would certainly seem to increase Weary’s chances of sticking around Reliant Park for at least one more season.
Depth Charge As for the offensive line, the Texans have more talent there than ever before. Okay, that may not be saying much, but trust me when I say that there will be a few promising players cut later this month that should have little problem catching on with another team, if not the Texans’ practice squad.
One of the most intriguing linemen thus far in camp has been right tackle Brad Lekkerkerker. Working with the third unit behind the Todd Wade and Garrick Jones, Lekkerkerker has shined. On Monday, he used his strength to blow open some huge holes for his backs, notably a big gainer for Hollings up the right sideline. He also showed some nifty feet picking up the speedy Babin on a blitz, something even the nearly-infallible Wade had trouble doing at least once on Monday night.
The battle for one of nine or ten roster spots on the offensive line is going to be a tight one, and as an undrafted rookie, Lekkerkerker won’t be given many favors along the way. He’ll need to first supplant Jones for the backup spot behind Wade, then hope to dodge the Turk on cutdown day.
Random Musings No need to worry about the Texans’ newly converted free safety. Marcus Coleman is a natural out there for the defense. Don’t be surprised if he leads the conference in interceptions for the second year in a row this season… The sequel may be better than the original, especially in the case of wide receiver Jermaine Lewis. This newer version is a sinewy strong 6’4”, and he is a big time redzone threat. He pulled a high one from the Monday night sky for a scoring catch and could be someone to watch late in preseason games… How’s this for optimism? The Texans’ first team offense, working a version of the two-minute drill in which they were protecting a fourth quarter lead, actually practiced their kneel downs –- twice. Here’s hoping we see that play more often this fall. Jonathan Wells Home