Gaining Traction

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August 4, 2006
Gaining Traction

by Keith Weiland

Pre-Camp | Day One: July 28 | Day Two: July 29 | Day Seven: August 3

Hard to believe that Camp Kubiak is just seven days old. Usually after the first week of training camp, one can start to see several changes among the players, such as the onset of both mental and physical fatigue, a better understanding of the offensive and defensive systems, and a smattering of nagging injuries, particularly among the veterans looking to keep their bodies fresh for the long haul of an NFL season.

Check, check, and check-plus. For the Texans, there have been enough players sitting out of practice this past week to field a taxi squad capable of winning a few games on their own. A few of the latest to miss time include offensive linemen Zach Wiegert and Steve McKinney, defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker Shantee Orr, and cornerback Phillip Buchanon.

These minor ailments are to be expected, but they come on the heels of team already shelving several of its players for the entire season due to injury. In addition to cornerback Demarcus Faggins, who fractured a bone in his foot over the weekend and will miss the next two months or more, the team has lost fellow corner Chris McKenzie (shoulder fracture), as well as linebacker Wali Rainer (ankle) and tight end Ben Steele (leg) to the injured reserve list.

It is hard enough for a rebuilding team like the Texans to gain some traction under a new head coach, but I fear that traction might actually be too appropriate of a term around the Reliant Stadium trainer’s tables these days.

Charles Taking Charge

Since all this injury talk is getting me bummed out, let’s stop for just a moment to focus on a historically much more depressing subject, that being the left tackle position. I have been biting my tongue all week on this topic, but the darn thing is starting to bleed, so here goes:

I’m nervous about Seth Wand. Again.

I like Wand, I really do. He seems like a nice fellow, and let’s face it: the dude was wronged by his previous coaches. Those guys proabably meant well, but in the end, they weren’t helping him become a better pro by trashing his confidence. Wand is a guy you want to see get a second chance to succeed.

But darn it if I just don’t see it happening. At least not yet. Yes, I know we are only seven days into training camp with a brand new set of coaches, but I am getting nervous what with the first preseason game already fast approaching. I saw Wand struggle through rough night on Thursday, getting beaten and pushed like one of Naomi Campbell’s housekeepers.

Maybe assistant head coach Mike Sherman still sees Wand as a workable project. It sure seemed that way when the two of them spent more than ten minutes after practice Thursday night talking one-on-one about what went wrong earlier. Just how much will the talking accomplish though?

There is hope in the form of rookie Charles Spencer. Sherman is already giving him equal repetitions with Wand in practice. Despite Spencer’s inexperience, he appears to be outplaying Wand for the job.

Spencer still looks like he could shed another ten or fifteen pounds to handle the speed rushers, but the raw talent is there. He is massive, and he can move. I even like that he’s mixed it up a few times with defensive end Jason Babin (the two of them fought a couple times earlier this week). Babin is having a great camp in his own right, but Spencer is doing well to frustrate him, too. I can’t wait for Spencer to settle into the job and make the position his for the next decade.

“There’s no doubt he’s got the ability to be a starter in this league," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "How quickly he plays like one of those, acts like one of those, prepares like one of those, that’s going to be the telltale (sign). He’s having a fine camp.”

Well, Now That You Mention It

Poor Rick Smith. The Texans general manager rushed to sign cornerback Dexter McCleon the day after Faggins was lost for the season due to injury, and now he has to find another defensive back to fill the void left by the injury to McKenzie.

The initial returns of the McCleon signing have been good. The former Chief and Ram defensive back ought to benefit from having Dunta Robinson and Buchanon on the field with him when they regain their health. But where will Smith go to find the next McCleon?

He might not have to look past his nose, or so suggested one fan. Smith, standing on the near sideline during much of Thursday’s evening workout, made a play on an errant pass and cradled the pigskin for a clean catch. That little maneuver, coupled with Smith’s collegiate playing career as a defensive back at Purdue, prompted the quick-witted observer to shout to Smith, "Sign yourself!"

Smith, like everyone else within earshot, couldn’t help but laugh. Misery might love company, but a healthy sense of humor is nice to have around, too.

Rushing to Conclusions

The persistance of Domanick Davis’ jerked knee has some knee-jerking fans harking back to the draft and the team’s decision to wait until the sixth round to select a running back. If you are one of these fans, please stop the hand-wringing.

First, Davis has been cleared to play. The Texans are treating him gingerly in keeping him out of practice because he doesn’t need the additional wear on his knee in August. Sadly, an injury like this might be an early signal of the beginning of the end to Davis’ playing career, but at a minimum he still has plenty to offer in the short-term if he can keep from overtaxing his knee.

I know, Davis will inevitably overtax his knee at some point this season. Fear not, as there are other running backs already in camp sufficient to perform in this Bronco-styled "plug-n-play" offensive system.

Vernand Morency, entering just his second season, showed on Thursday that he has the requisite burst between the tackles and the willingness to make the one-cut-and-go necessary in this offense. Don’t write him off so quickly just because he hasn’t carried a full load in the NFL just yet.

Wali Lundy is a rookie, but give him a shot, too. He has played well in camp, and he is a good fit for this offense. Veteran Antowain Smith likely won’t replace many of Davis’ carries, but he is smart and in good shape. Rookie Chris Taylor needs to prove it in pads for my eyes to believe it, but he might even be successful here if given the opportunity.

And keep in mind that while the Texans were busy not selecting a running back on the first day of the draft, they did select some players at positions of greater need. I am already having a hard time imaging this team without Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, and those two rookie offensive tackles, Spencer and Eric Winston.

Other Random Notes

The defensive line will consist of an eight-man rotation. Considering how much the Texans coaches are asking of these guys to explode off the line and penetrate the gaps on basically every snap, they ought to welcome the occasional breather to refuel their engines for the next time… At the end of Thursday’s evening practice, the first team offense scored in a timed two-minute drill, a game-ending simulation where the offense needed a touchdown to win. It might not have been a thing of beauty, but quarterback David Carr led his troops through the air and on the ground until he found receiver Eric Moulds in the endzone with mere seconds left to play… Ryans is slowly entrenching himself at the middle linebacker position. The injury to Rainer might have accelerated his transition from the weakside, but even with weakside starter Morlon Greenwood sitting out the evening practice, Ryans remained in the middle working with the first team defense… With Steve McKinney out, Fred Weary worked with the first unit at right guard. Weary had been working behind Chester Pitts at left guard… Kendrick Starling was among those shagging kickoffs on Thursday. One on attempt, he zipped up the left side, slipped a would-be tackler to the inside, then bolted upfield for a healthy return. With Jerome Mathis sidelined until October, Starling must sense this prime opportunity to make the roster, but he is battling behind a bevy of receivers ahead of him on the team’s unofficial depth chart. I’ll give him a shot though. In his third training camp with the Texans, Starling is putting together his best camp yet.

Pre-Camp | Day One: July 28 | Day Two: July 29 | Day Seven: August 3

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