August 18, 2004
Wong Moving in Right Direction by Keith Weiland
Kailee Wong is learning at a lot of new things these days.
As father to a newborn son not quite two weeks old, Wong is certainly learning the value of sleep. As a multi-talented linebacker, Wong is also learning he has value at more than one position in the Texans’ 3-4 defense.
Wong was learning much more than that at Tuesday night’s training camp workout, sliding inside and soaking in everything he could. Wong listened often to linebackers coach Tom Olivadotti, and he heeded whatever teammates like Troy Evans, Shantee Orr, and Jamie Sharper had to say to him in between plays.
After two seasons starting as the Texans’ left outside linebacker, Wong shifted to the right outside linebacker position during minicamp workouts to make room for rookie Jason Babin. The two positions aren’t exactly mirror images of each other, so Wong spent the last three months learning how to make plays from the right side of the defense.
While the Texans toyed with Wong at inside linebacker in June as a means to create depth at the position, Wong’s return to the inside is again quietly heralded by head coach Dom Capers as a way for the team to keep their best players on the field in case of injury.
What’s been left unsaid about is where all of this becomes interesting. Remember, this is the same coaching staff that elevated left tackle Seth Wand to the first team with such little fanfare that even Wand himself seemed to hardly know what was going on as it was happening.
With just three sacks last season, the team should be disappointed in Wong’s ability to rush the quarterback from the outside. While Wong’s play in stuffing the run and defending the pass has been better than average, in Capers’ 3-4 scheme success for an outside linebacker is measured by pressuring the quarterback, which is something Wong hasn’t done consistently.
On paper, Wong’s move to the right side should give him a better opportunity to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. The reality though is that Wong is just keeping the seat warm until second-year linebacker Antwan Peek proves he is ready for the full-time duty. Problem for Wong is that Peek is outperforming expectations in camp thus far and is pushing hard for Wong’s playing time.
So of course Wong is openly accepting of yet another opportunity to learn the inside linebacker position. And conveniently enough, incumbent starter Jay Foreman sat out Tuesday’s evening workout, giving Wong all of the first team repetitions to learn on the job.
Wong will still likely start at the right outside linebacker position in his first regular season action just a little more than three weeks from now, and the transition for him to become an inside player won’t be a slam dunk. Foreman hasn’t been a slouch in practice, either, and Wong clearly still has plenty to learn despite seeing that time in June’s mini-camp and what little bits and pieces he has picked up to this point in training camp.
A former middle linebacker with the Vikings, Wong does already have some experience on the inside, albeit in a 4-3 scheme. Still, the inside position in the 3-4 scheme appears to be a much better match for his skills than it is for him on the outside.
As a bonus to the Texans, the pass rushing talent Wong does possess will add a new dimension to the defense if (and more likely when) Wong does unseat Foreman. Wong will give defensive coordinator Vic Fangio new blitzing options that the team doesn’t really have or utilize now.
And Wong was already proving to be a quick learner on Tuesday. During an 11-on-11 scrimmage, Wong read his gaps and used a delayed blitz up the middle to reach quarterback David Carr untouched.
Now if he can just learn how to find a way to get more sleep…
Oh, You Again New defensive end Robaire Smith has been rarely seen by those outside national media members covering the Texans. They often mention that the front office wasn’t a major player in free agency this offseason, relative to trade happy teams like the Redskins. Of course, with the addition of Smith as well as tackle Todd Wade and tight end Mark Breuner, those locally all know that notion is a steaming load of crap.
Well, nobody probably knows this better than offensive lineman Chester Pitts. Pitts and Smith have had the pleasure of staring at one another since the first time they matched up on opposing sides of the line of scrimmage in minicamp workouts. Every practice, every day, and almost every snap, there’s Smith, staring down Pitts, and vice versa.
Even stretching during warm-ups on Tuesday, there Smith was, sitting right in front of Pitts. They see each other so much that, if Pitts were to stand in front of the mirror, who could blame him if he expected to see Smith in the reflection?
Their presence in camp has been relatively unnoticeable, as both of them are players that at the same time are in the process of really tapping into their vast potential. Both performed well against the Cowboys on Saturday, as Pitts took care of his blocking assignments from left guard and Smith took care of shutting down the Dallas running game.
Don’t Forget About Me Reserve cornerback Darick Vaughn ran stride-for-stride up the right sideline covering wideout Andrae Thurman in Tuesday night’s practice, turning just in time to break up a pass intended for the receiver. It was a standout play from a player who seems to be getting a little lost in the competition for a roster spot.
Vaughn filled in admirably for Demarcus Faggins after he suffered an injury late in the first quarter of the Week 17 match-up against the Colts last year. Lining up against All-Pro receiver Marvin Harrison, Faggins and Vaughn combined to limit Harrison to just two receptions.
Yet it is typically just Faggins that has been credited with the coverage, though Vaughn handled the assignment three times as long. For the game, Vaughn made five tackles and deflected a pass, though he hardly earned a mention by most for his efforts.
Vaughn is much more than a reserve corner. He has been active on special teams, and he even averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return for the Falcons across the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Yet the former Southwest Texas State player is not even competing for kick return duties this season, and with fellow standout special teams gunner and reserve corner Jason Bell still on the team, Vaughn’s time as a Texan could be almost over.
Random Musings DT Seth Payne was in pads on Tuesday, and he saw extensive time on the field, no less so than any other defensive starter… WR Sloan Thomas made perhaps the prettiest catch in the workout, beating CB Rober’ Freeman in man coverage to snare a 40-yard pass from QB Tony Banks near the sideline. Thomas used great body positioning to adjust to the pass and reach for it with his hands… Fellow WR Kendrick Starling would have made the best catch of the evening, beating tight coverage from Faggins, had he not been flagged for pushing off the defender. Still, in the nip and tuck battle for the fifth receiver spot on the depth chart, Thomas and Starling seem to be separating themselves from the rest… Don’t let the receiving stats from Saturday’s preseason game against the Cowboys fool you. QB David Carr found WR Andre Johnson deep a couple times in practice, including once for a touchdown to conclude a two-minute drill… Want to target an obscure rookie lineman to see if he makes the practice squad? Of course, Brad Lekkerkerker is still worth watching, but Andrew Martin, an undrafted free agent from Northern Colorado, has played well in limited opportunities. On one play, he stuffed DE Jason Davis, then later he gave up no ground when defending a pass rush from Jeremy Slechta, the man credited with the safety of Cowboys QB Tony Romo on Saturday… In addition to Foreman, a couple other Texan starters sat out of practice on Tuesday night, including RB Domanick Davis and DE Gary Walker. RG Zach Wiegert was back in pads though, having recovered from an infection in his right elbow.
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