Defensive end Mario Williams dominated during pass rush drills against the Saints.
METAIRIE, La. - The Texans' first day of practice against the Saints was began as a reunion for players tight end Billy Miller and cornerback Aaron Glenn who both played in Houston. The workouts, however, were all business with defensive end Mario Williams showing off his speed during pass rush drills.
Brown to start:Texans running back Chris Brown, who sat out the preseason opener with a sore back, will be in the starting lineup on Saturday against the Saints. It will be Brown's first game action in a Texans uniform since being signed by Houston from the Tennessee Titans this offseason.
"He'll definitely start the game," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He hasn't had any problems since he's come off his back, and looks good."
Kubiak has yet to determine how long he'll leave Brown in the game, but he looks forward to seeing Brown in action as the sixth-year running back continues to prepare for the regular season.
"He's a real pro, very smart," Kubiak said. "He's handled protections well. He understands what we are doing. He's really been in a zone system for a while. We just need to get him some reps, get him tackled, all those things that are involved in getting ready to play."
Red zone a red flag, again:The Texans struggled to find the end zone against the Broncos in the preseason opener, scoring one touchdown and settling for three field goals in four trips to the red zone. In Wednesday's afternoon practice, those struggles continued.
The first team scored a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Matt Schaub to wide receiver Kevin Walter. The second team, however, committed two turnovers – one a fumble by running back Chris Taylor, the other an interception in the end zone thrown by backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
"We've got to find a way to make that play," Kubiak said of Rosenfels' interception. "I've been disappointed in how we performed last week in the red zone, and I was disappointed in how we practiced in the red zone today.
"We've got another period tomorrow, that's something we are going to have to do a better job with."
The Texans' defense, which held the Broncos to one touchdown in four red zone trips last Saturday, continued to excel on a short field. Cornerbacks Derrick Roberson and Jamar Fletcher, despite slick conditions due to intermittent rain showers, both came up with interceptions in the end zone against the Saints' backup quarterbacks.
No fighting:When the Titans and St. Louis Rams practiced together last week in preparation for their preseason matchup, several fights erupted as tempers flared in the physical practices.
While the intensity was high in the Texans and Saints' first two practices, no fights broke out. And with the teams planning to practice without pads tomorrow, it seems unlikely any will occur in the final scrimmage.
"Hopefully, we'll save our intensity for the game," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We don't need to get any fights out here. It's not productive at all."
Guard Chester Pitts explained that the Texans are far too disciplined a team to start skirmishes at the Saints' practice facility.
"We are all professionals and we are just out here trying to get better," Pitts said. "It's about a common respect for the men across from you. We're at war and it's football, but at the end of the day, we are playing a game."
"There is a lot of respect – coaches that know each other, a lot of the players know each other," Kubiak said. "I think our work habits are the same, how we practice with shoulder pads on or without the pads. I think that's all under control. We've got a lot of respect and we just work good, and we are trying to get better."
Familiar faces in Metairie: Before practice began Wednesday morning, the scene at the New Orleans Saints' practice facility resembled a class reunion.
Texans defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina jokingly yelled, "Hey, old man!" at Saints backup quarterback Mark Brunell, who is sporting a salt-and-pepper mop of hair. With a combined 29 seasons of NFL experience entering this year, Zgonina and Brunell have crossed paths on many occasions.
Most of the good-natured ribbing, though, involved Texans players and their former teammates in Houston.
Tight end Billy Miller (2002-04), cornerback Aaron Glenn (2002-04), linebacker Troy Evans (2002-06), safety Curome Cox (2007) and linebacker William Kershaw (2007) currently play for the Saints. Meanwhile, Saints assistant secondary coach Tony Oden held the same position with the Texans from 2004-05.
Miller, who caught the first touchdown in Texans' history, made sure to catch up with tight end Mark Bruener and coach Gary Kubiak after practice. Still as talkative as ever, Miller was happy to see his buddies.
"It's great, because not only do you practice against the guys that were there when you were there, but then a lot of other guys that you either played with or played around in the league now have joined the Texans," he said. "It was great. It's good to practice against somebody else, because going against each other every day for three weeks can get a little old."
Asked about his time in Houston, Miller says he has no regrets.
"People ask me all the time what I thought about my experience (with the Texans), and it was great," he said. "The organization treated me phenomenal. The team was great. The coaching staff was great. I have nothing bad to say about Houston. Me and my family just reminisced the other day about living down there. After what's going on in California (with the housing market), we wished we would've kept our house in Houston."
After the Texans released Miller in August 2005, he had a brief stint with the Cleveland Browns before landing in New Orleans in June 2006.
"It was a blessing," Miller said of joining the Saints. "To leave there (Houston) and then come to a team that went to the NFC Championship was a phenomenal experience. We didn't get to the final game, but to get in a situation with a team that was up-and-coming and get a winning attitude and go there was great. We didn't do the same last year, but hopefully with these practices we can get back on track." ---Nick Schenck
Jones feeling at home: Wide receiver Jacoby Jones got a little nostalgic Wednesday. It was only a few years ago as a member of the Marion Abramson High School football team that Jones attended a Saints' practice at the same facility.
Growing up 15 minutes away from Metairie in the Lower 9th Ward, Jones was a die-hard Saints fan.
"It's a dream out here practicing against them and we're playing against them Saturday," Jones said. "It was fun (this morning). You want competition. You see different defensive backs. Your own team knows how you run your routes, so it was good competition."
Jones described what it was like growing up in his neighborhood.
"A lot of little bad kids running around playing football on the streets," he said. "That's the way it is."
Jones (6-2, 207) certainly beat the odds, especially since he was 5-7 coming out of high school and attended tiny Lane College as a walk-on to the football team.
"What I did when I was a youngster is instead of making it a dream (to play in the NFL), I made it as a goal," he said. "So eventually I would accomplish my goal, and I'm here."
Jones made a huge splash last preseason by tying for the league lead with four touchdowns. But a separated shoulder that he suffered versus Indianapolis slowed his progress. This year, Jones was hampered early in training camp with a foot problem, but he's begun to pick up steam. He had a game-long 41-yard catch in the preseason opener versus Denver.
"I am gradually getting back in my rhythm where I was last year in the preseason," Jones said. "So I'm starting to feel good covering my plays and trying to stay more consistent."
With wide receiver Andre Johnson likely to rest his groin again this weekend, Jones will have more opportunities in the passing game this Saturday. He only can imagine what it will be like walking into the Louisiana Superdome.
"My flesh might be crawling," he said. "I probably won't sleep." ---Nick Schenck