Welcome to the Insider Report. Thanks for stopping by.
My name is Nick Schenck, and I'll try to provide as many updates and inside information regarding the team as possible.
While we try to cover as much as possible in our practice reports, features and other coverage on HoustonTexans.com, there invariably are items worth mentioning that fail to get reported.
So far, the Texans have had 21 total practices during training camp. Although some have been dedicated to special teams, most of the workouts have been full-team training sessions. In that time, I've come up with a few mid-camp awards based on my observations.
Feel free to debate.
Team MVP: Wide receiver Andre Johnson. Coming off a season well below his expectations, Johnson has been on a rampage in camp. Not only does he catch everything thrown his way, but his routes look crisp and he's never looked stronger or faster.
Between plays, he's always in Eric Moulds' ear, picking up tips and learning from the three-time Pro Bowler. Head coach Gary Kubiak said he feels obligated to get No. 80 the ball. That should be music to the ears of Texans fans.
Biggest surprise: Offensive tackle Charles Spencer. I almost gave Spencer my Team MVP award because I love* *his nasty side so much, but he is still a rookie, so I tempered my enthusiasm a bit.
While Spencer could improve on his conditioning and continues to adjust to the speed of the game—as Kubiak often notes—it's hard not to enjoy watching him play.
The former defensive tackle is a ferocious hitter who takes defenders on rides when he gets his hands on them. His ferocity reminds me a lot of former Texans outside linebacker Steve Foley, even though they play on different sides of the ball. While Foley was more vocal, Stanley's stoic nature can be equally as intimidating.
Spencer's competition with Seth Wand to start at left tackle will be interesting to watch as training camp develops.
Top rookie:Mario Williams. A close call, given how well linebacker DeMeco Ryans and Spencer have played, but anyone on the practice field can tell that Williams is in a league of his own.
Williams towers above everyone on either side of the line, and he's quicker than everyone as well. The fact that he can run past an offensive tackle, or run over an offensive tackle, shows a level of versatility that any defensive end would covet.
It's a thing of beauty when Williams chases down David Carr from across the field on a bootleg. More impressive is to see him make first contact with an offensive lineman on a pass down.
Best sign of change:The noise level on defense. Give defensive coordinator Richard Smith credit. The Texans are talking more than they ever have on defense. Whether it's shouting assignments, formations or just encouragement, everyone is getting involved and excited in the Texans' new 4-3 scheme.
Let's hope that the communication leads to some results. By the looks of it so far, it will.
Best quote: "I told y'all you should've punted." – free safety C.C. Brown said with a swagger after the first-team defense stuffed the second-team offense on a short fourth down conversion during practice Wednesday.
The stop was a promising sign for the defense, given how opponents were 13 for 20 against the Texans on fourth down (65 percent) last year, which was the third-highest percentage in the NFL.
Toughest player/coach: Gary Kubiak. For continuing to wear that grey sweatshirt out to practice in the heat, Kubiak has proven to be unflappable. While everyone else on the practice field is drenched, Kubiak barely has a drop of sweat on his brow. His reasoning for wearing the sweatshirt in 100-degree heat? He wants to feel like he got a workout, and it serves as a good-luck charm.
Honorable mention has to go to Seth Payne. Kubiak gave the veteran defensive lineman the opportunity to work only once a day during training camp, but Payne refused. He likes to practice. Good for him.
Biggest feel-good story:Wide receiver Derrick Lewis.* *I wrote a feature story on him when I worked for the NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy in 2004. This guy is remarkable.
Since his stint in NFL Europe, Lewis' story has gotten only more interesting. He was cut by the New Orleans Saints (2004) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2005), and played some Arena football before landing with the Texans this past offseason.
It gets better. Last year around this time, Lewis was searching for his children, who lived in New Orleans and were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Now he's the fourth receiver on the Texans' depth chart and could be the team’s starting kickoff returner. It's easy to root for a guy that has experienced so much adversity and continues to fight.
Biggest disappointment: Injuries to key players. The team looks so much better than last year. But it's hard not to imagine how good the team would look at this point in training camp if everyone were healthy, including Demarcus Faggins, Steve McKinney, Wali Rainer, Phillip Buchanon, etc.
The flip side is that the coaching staff has gotten a lot of good looks at players lower on the depth chart. We'll see how that pays off during the preseason schedule.
*As an added feature of this blog, I'll answer one fan question every few days. Click here to send me an e-mail.