Linebacker Brian Cushing participated in a morning practice for the first time in training camp on Wednesday.
Cushing had been relegated to afternoon walkthrough practices since the start of camp while recovering from offseason knee surgery. The 2009 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year did individual drills and one red zone period on Wednesday morning as the Texans wore shoulder pads, helmets and shorts in front of thousands of fans at the Methodist Training Center.
"It looked like he hadn't done anything in a long time," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said after practice. "He got worn out pretty quick. He's way behind. He missed a great deal of time last year. He's missed what we're doing so far this year. We need him. He's a great player. We're going to bring him along the right way. He's got to do his part and work his tail off to get back out here. He's got a ways to go."
Cushing, who's expected to be a tackling machine as the Mike linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4, said he did not experience any pain while running, cutting or jumping in the morning practice.
"I think the plan originally was to do a little individual (drills) Thursday, and I did two periods Wednesday, so I guess I'm ahead of (schedule)," he said. "I felt pretty good, and there was no setback, which is the most important thing, and I look forward to building upon that every day."
Cushing does not expect to miss any time in the regular season.
"Preseason is his season"
Because the Texans' starters are expected to play a quarter or less in the preseason opener, backup quarterback Matt Leinart could wind up in the spotlight on Monday Night Football against the Jets.
"He's going to play a great deal, obviously," Kubiak said. "Preseason is his season, so to speak, so he will play a great deal. He's going to play against one of the top-three defenses in the game, and they're very active from that standpoint, but he needs to play. Matt needs to get back out there and get in the fire, and we all do, but it's a big couple of weeks for Matt."
Leinart signed with the Texans after the preseason last year, so whatever reps he gets on Monday will be his first game reps as a Texan.
Wide receiver watch
The Texans have 10 wide receivers on their 87-man roster. All of them are first- or second-year players aside from the established trio of Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones.
"I know who three of them are, and after that, I'm trying to figure out what's going to be next," Kubiak said. "I told (the players), 'Just because you line up fourth in line or fifth in line, that doesn't mean a darn thing. You're going to have to play your way onto this football team.'… I couldn't tell you who's ahead of who right now. I know we're going to find out, but there's a long way to go."
Kubiak did single out undrafted rookie Jeff Maehl from Oregon as a player who impressed him on Wednesday.
"He didn't get many reps, but he made a couple plays," Kubiak said. "We have a turnover, he hustles and knocks the ball out of Brooks' (Reed) hands. Those are things like that, that show you a guy's a player. That's one heck of a battle. That receiver deal will work itself out in the preseason."
Wide receiver Jacoby Jones and defensive end Antonio Smith left practice early on Wednesday morning, Jones with what Kubiak called a "sore foot" and Smith for being "underweight." Jones had X-rays around lunch time, but Kubiak did not know the results as of Wednesday afternoon. Kubiak said that Smith received IVs and should return soon.
Running back Ben Tate once again was sidelined by a hamstring injury, but Kubiak is hopeful he can practice on Thursday. Tackle Rashad Butler tweaked his hamstring Wednesday morning and is day-to-day. Undrafted rookie receiver Lestar Jean could miss Thursday's practice after getting nicked in the head on a route on Wednesday morning.
Arian Foster is still a couple of days away from returning from a strained hamstring, putting his availability for Monday night's game in question.
"The further we go, the bleaker that looks from that standpoint, but yet we're dealing with just a tweaked hamstring, so there's no doubt that he's going to be back," Kubiak said. "We're taking it day-to-day. I'd like to think he'll be ready Monday but I'm not going to do anything crazy with him, so we'll see."
"I'm 30, but you know what, I feel young, I feel fast, I feel fresh. I feel like this is going to be my best year I've ever had in my career, and that's the way I approach things. You don't know how many balls you're going to catch and what's going to happen out there, but I'll be damn ready when it comes my way."
- WR Kevin Walter, on what's different about him this season
"I guarantee he gets respect from his teammates. He's just a warrior. He goes all day long. Today is a great example. I don't know if Kevin caught a ball until the last period, and when he caught it, he had the biggest smile on his face. He finishes further than anybody else. I stood back there by our DB coach Vance (Joseph) during practice. It was interesting: He said to me a couple times, 'Boy, that guy's an impressive football player.' It's just what he stands for all the time. You get your money's worth out of Kevin Walter every day."
-Gary Kubiak, on why Walter doesn't get more respect from the fans or media