Matt Schaub took the snap from center, just like nothing had changed. He rolled left and, on the move, heaved a beauty of a pass downfield for a streaking receiver, just like nothing had changed. Kevin Walter separated from his defender, caught the pass in stride and waltzed into the end zone for a picture-perfect 50-yard touchdown reception, just like nothing had changed.
At that moment, it was clear to everyone from the 'ooh'-ing players to the 'aah'-ing media at the Texans' second practice of mini-camp: Nothing had changed. Schaub was healthy, and as good as ever.
Along with tackle Charles Spencer and running backs Ahman Green and Chris Taylor, Schaub practiced extensively with the team today after missing considerable time with an injury last season. Spencer battled teammates in drills for the first time in more than 18 months, while Green and Taylor practiced without a hitch with 100 percent healthy knees.
During the morning practice session, Schaub showed he's recovered from offseason left shoulder surgery by confidently picking apart the middle of the defense time and again. His offensive coordinator and former position coach, Kyle Shanahan, explained.
"Matt didn't lose anything from his injury because it wasn't on his throwing shoulder, so it's not affecting how he throws or anything," Shanahan said. "What Matt's really just got to do is just get his size and his range back so he can take a hit and land on his shoulder. If he would've hurt his throwing shoulder, then it really would've taken some time to get his throwing motion back and his timing, but … nothing's changed."
Shanahan remarked that having Schaub lead the team added to the excitement of the first mini-camp for coaches and players alike – including, of course, Schaub himself.
"It's great to get back out here and be healthy and to be out here with the guys," Schaub said. "That was probably the worst part about being injured – just not being out there on the field practicing and in the games playing out there with your guys, especially for four games.
"That was really tough to swallow, but it's part of the game, and I had to rehab and come back so I could be out here today."
Four? Try 26Spencer, who has missed 26 games while recovering from a career-threatening knee injury, gave an all-out effort in position drills and one-on-one matchups against other linemen. Head coach Gary Kubiak held Spencer out of team drills in which he could've run the risk of getting tangled in a pile.
"He's very excited; he's as upbeat as I've seen him in the last year and a half," Kubiak said. "And I think he looks really good, too. He's got his body weight down. He's part of the team again, so to speak. He's out of the training room, so it'll just be interesting to see how he holds up.
"Hopefully, we walk out of here this weekend and we say, 'Gollee, everything went fine. The knee didn't swell.' Then, we move on to the next step."
While most players returning from a devastating injury like Spencer's – if they should return at all – would be apprehensive about another injury, Spencer looks forward to becoming more involved with the team as soon as possible. In fact, he already has his eyes on reclaiming the starting position he earned as a rookie.
"(Mini-camp) is huge, because I went from a starting role to not playing to playing behind guys right now, so I've got to work hard to get back in that starting lineup," Spencer said. "I can't sit on no bench."
If he does move back into the starting lineup soon, it likely would be at guard instead of tackle.
Runners back to normalTaylor finished his 2006 rookie season strong, but injured his knee on the first day of offseason workouts in 2007. He made it through Day 1 this time around, thanks to his vigorous year of rehab alongside Spencer with the Texans' training staff.
A self-described "one cut, then get north" runner, Taylor says he's a perfect fit for Alex Gibbs' zone blocking scheme. He has been the target of endless praise from Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith, and the third-year back welcomes the expectations that come along with it.
"That's great to know that they have a lot of confidence in me," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself, and I've been working hard this offseason to get back 100 percent and I'm just ready to play. I'm glad to be back out here playing football again with the fellas, and I'm just hungry. I'm ready to play."
Taylor is in a crowded competition at running back this offseason with three other rushers behind Green, the Texans' number one option if he remains healthy.
"I thought (Green) looked really good," Kubiak said following afternoon practice. "He went twice today. I'd like to work him. He's had a good offseason; he hasn't missed a day. He's worked very, very well, so I was encouraged by today."
It was an all-around encouraging day for injured Texans on the mend. Here's a quick update on others on the recovery trail:
- Cornerback Dunta Robinson is clearly anxious to get back in uniform. He spent the morning practice pacing the field with a ball in his hand and couldn't stay in one place as he chattered with coaches and players. He said his main focus is adding strength to his weakened left quadriceps.
"(I'm) pretty much running pretty good now; still got a little pain that I'm trying to kick, but I feel good," Robinson said. "I'm a lot further than I was when I first reported back probably last month. Every day is progress, so it's coming along well."
- Guard Fred Weary was at practice in a jersey and shorts, but without a helmet. He did not participate in drills yet, but anticipates being fully healed from his broken tibia soon.
"The doctors have been surprised how it's healed up," he said. "I'm probably a month away from getting out and doing all the stuff that I was doing before. That's good because I'll be prepared by the time training camp comes around."
"We've got to get Fred totally healthy right now. That's the key, and he's very close. Training camp is what we're looking for, but we feel good about the idea that he will be 100 percent very quickly… We're expecting him to be back."