August 20, 2004
The Sloan Supremacy?
by Keith Weiland
Head coach Dom Capers pulled a fast one on everyone when, just fifteen minutes before Thursday’s morning practice, he told his team they were headed to the movie theater instead of the practice field. He then gave his players three films to choose from, among them being Collateral, Alien vs. Predator, and The Bourne Supremacy.
Capers himself has a handful of wide receivers to select from when completing his 53-man roster. The top four spots are set with Andre Johnson, Jabar Gaffney, Corey Bradford, and Derick Armstrong. There’s a dogfight for fifth, but it appears as though rookie Sloan Thomas is separating himself from a pack which includes Kendrick Starling, Jermaine Lewis, Albert Johnson, and others.
Listed at 6’1” and more than 200 pounds, Thomas has that rare combination of size and 4.4 speed. As a seventh round selection though, nothing is guaranteed to Thomas outside of the reported $40,000 signing bonus he received earlier this summer.
At Thursday’s evening workout, Thomas found himself practicing the one thing he must do in order to make the final roster: special teams. As the fifth man down the totem pole, Thomas likely won’t see too much time on the field once the regular season starts, barring significant injury to one of the four men ahead of him on the depth chart. As such, he will have to earn his NFL paycheck this season as a member of the special teams unit.
So Thomas was hard at work yesterday learning to block on kickoff returns and learning to be a flier on kickoff coverage. And this is where his speed becomes a real asset. On one kick, Thomas was the first man downfield to get a hand on returner J.J. Moses.
That type of ability, coupled with the progress he has made since the start of camp at his "real" job of wide receiver, will earn him supremacy over the rest of the pack.
Armstrong, but Hands Stronger Derick Armstrong has arguably the best hands of anyone on the team. As the fourth receiver on the depth chart though, he struggles many times to aim the spotlight in his direction. Training camp workouts, however, are different because Armstrong consistently shines.
The team has been so impressed with Armstrong’s hands that they used him during Thursday’s practice to recover an onsides kick. Makes sense. Armstrong has made some of his best grabs in a crowd of other players.
Armstrong’s path to the Texans was not a traditional one. To make it from junior college, to Arkansas-Monticello, to Saskatchewan of the Canadian Football League, it is nothing short of a miracle that Armstrong even had a chance to compete for an NFL roster spot.
But since signing with the Texans in 2003, Armstrong has made the most of his opportunity, mostly through what he has accomplished in practice. With just seven receptions for his career, Armstrong isn’t likely a household name, even among many Texans fans.
Expect that to change this season.
The Texans have shown more of a tendency to use four receiver sets in this year’s camp, and if that trend continues into the regular season, it will mean more chances for Armstrong to use his hands and make the kind of big plays he does in practice.
While he may remain fourth on the depth chart, a more patient David Carr in the pocket will mean more passes to the receivers who are able to get open and make plays in traffic.
And that suits Armstrong just fine, as he did just that on Thursday, running deep post patterns to get open and catching a pair of passes from Carr between defenders.
Random Musings Might as well keep talking about the receivers. Jabar Gaffney had one of his better workouts on Thursday, catching everything thrown his way, including a couple passes from Carr in a simulated two-minute drill. Gaffney has always had soft hands, but he appears to be taking the next step in his development as a pro receiver. More mature, he’s finding ways to get into the seams of a zone defense, and Carr is rewarding him often with the football… J.J. Moses was back returning kickoffs on Thursday, and he is expected to get his shot at keeping his job against the Steelers on Saturday. While he has stepped back in camp to let others like Vontez Duff and Albert Johnson make their case for the job, the position still appears to be his to lose. While returning one kick during Thursday’s workout, Moses flashed and danced his way through the coverage unit, previewing what could be quite a show on Saturday in Pittsburgh… Tight ends Jabari Holloway and Matt Murphy sat out of most of Thursday’s practice, meaning undrafted free agent John Frieser saw more than his usual share of reps in their place. He also took on a bigger workload with the scout team. Frieser, who was an Academic All-American at Colgate last year, is a big target at 6’4”, and he has adequate blocking ability. He could be a real keeper for the practice squad this season. Sloan Thomas Home