METAIRIE, La. - The Texans conducted the third of three joint practices with the New Orleans Saints at their practice facility in Metairie, La., on Thursday. A skirmish between the teams briefly halted the morning session, but once play resumed it ended up being perhaps the Texans' most competitive practice of the offseason.
Small rumble in Metairie: With the Texans and Saints in shoulder pads and shorts in their final practice together, a fight erupted between the New Orleans' offense and Houston's defense in the early goings of Thursday's first 11-on-11 session. The two teams had made it through two joint practices on Wednesday without any skirmishes.
"It was too peaceful the first day," cornerback Fred Bennett said with a laugh. "Things kind of picked up today, but it was all in good fun.
"(With) adrenaline flowing and (players) just out there competing, there's a bunch of competitors on the field and sometimes those things happen, but we all have to be professionals out here."
Defensive end Earl Cochran was one of the Texans at the center of the scuffle, which occurred after a carry by Saints running back Pierre Thomas. Thomas had been hit hard on his previous run a few plays earlier, creating escalating tension that peaked with the brief scuffle in which no players were injured.
Neither Saints head coach Sean Payton nor Texans head coach Gary Kubiak seemed particularly bothered by the fracas, which died down quickly and was followed by an extremely competitive and productive practice.
"I just think they got tired of each other," Kubiak said. "It was the third time and they were banging heads against each other for a couple of days, so tempers flare a little bit. We got it under control, and that's usually something you worry about when you practice against another team if you do it too much.
"It's kind of like playing a game. If you stayed out there for about five or six hours, sooner or later someone is going to get real mad. We just started to wear a little thin there in the third practice."
Brown pining to go: Kubiak confirmed today that running back Chris Brown, acquired from the Tennessee Titans as a free agent this offseason, will start against the Saints on Saturday.
Brown is anxious to get his feet wet in his first game action as a Houston Texan.
"I was really looking forward to last week (against the Denver Broncos), but coach held me out, and hopefully we can get it going this week," Brown said.
Brown said he wasn't worried about testing his back, which had cramped up and kept him out of the Texans' preseason opener against Denver, in physical practices against the Saints this week.
"I felt good about it, didn't have any setbacks," he said of his back. "It wasn't stiff at all, so I felt really good."
Starter Ahman Green was exercising on the sidelines at practice on Thursday, but the veteran back will sit out Saturday with a strained groin. Rookie running back Steve Slaton sees an opportunity to make up ground in the running back competition with Green on the sidelines.
"Yeah, it's definitely something like that," said Slaton, who ran for 39 yards on 10 carries in the preseason opener against Denver. "When one guy goes down, more guys have to take reps. That means you have to fight through during practice and perform when you get your extra reps."
Slaton said that he feels 100 percent better about his reads and picking up his blocking. That comfort level should allow him to use his blazing speed even more to his advantage in the coming weeks.
Starters to get more reps: With the regular season approaching, Kubiak said the Texans' first-string players probably will play for a quarter-and-a-half against New Orleans. At quarterback, backup Sage Rosenfels will sub for Matt Schaub and play through the third quarter. Then, rookie quarterback Alex Brink will finish out the game, seeing his first action since being drafted in the seventh round out of Washington State.
At running back, Kubiak said the rotation after Brown will be Chris Taylor, Slaton and then Darius Walker.
In addition, Kubiak said that several players, including wideout Mark Simmons, stood out during the joint practices and will receive added repetitions on Saturday.
"It would be hard to say this guy was the best this week or that, but I think what you found out is when you work against each other, the guys know each other so well and you know each other's system so well, sometimes there is a little cheat element there in practice," Kubiak said. "The competition as a game was there in practice between two teams.
"I look at a kid like this Simmons kid, this receiver. He's not gotten a lot of reps back home. All of a sudden we come here, I rested Kevin (Walter) this morning, he gets a lot of reps, played very, very well. So he's going to get some reps this Saturday night."
See you next year: Kubiak said his team benefited from the game-like practices against a different opponent in the Saints.
"I liked the way we competed," Kubiak said. "That's a very good football team. There's a lot of people talking about them being one of the better teams in the NFC this year. It's a challenge from the first day we stepped on the field against them.
"We had some young players that I think we found out a lot more about by working against another team other than ourselves. We feel like we know our team a little better."
Happy with the results of the trip, the Texans' head coach said he looks forward to repeating the process in years to come.
"We still have a few days to go, but our work has been good," Kubiak said. "Our guys have handled it. Our accommodations have been excellent. It was a well-thought-out process before we came here, and now we have a chance to get fresh here this afternoon, tomorrow, before we play.
"I like the way it worked out. I think it's something we'll definitely look at doing again."
Glenn gets nostalgic: Saints cornerback Aaron Glenn, a member of the original Texans who played with Houston from 2002-04, still has fond memories of his days playing for Texans owner Bob McNair in Reliant Stadium.
Glenn, who was the third pick in the 2002 Texans Expansion Draft after playing with the New York Jets, is tied for the Texans' franchise record with 11 interceptions. He was one of the first two players to represent the Texans in the Pro Bowl when he went to Honolulu with Gary Walker in 2002.
"For the guys that were there – the original eight guys that Mr. McNair picked – we have a common bond," Glenn said. "We were the guys that came here as the guys that really helped start this franchise going, so that's something I'll never forget.
"I still have all of the memorabilia from that day. It was a day that I didn't think was going to be that big of a deal, but still, to this day, when I talk to Mr. McNair, I thank him for allowing me to be a member of the Texans then. I'm appreciative for all of the years that I've been in the league, but just being one of the original guys on the Texans, it's always been a fond memory to me."