The Texans began their mandatory three-day mini-camp on Monday. It will be the final set of practices for rookies and other young players before the team breaks for training camp.
Most of the Texans' veterans will not be practicing this week, although they must report to Reliant Stadium for morning workouts with strength and conditioning coach Cedric Smith.
"It's a big difference," rookie defensive tackle Earl Mitchell said after practice. "A lot of guys aren't out here, so we just have to show our own work ethic and we have to come out here to try to work hard and just do what we know."
The mini-camp is a chance for Mitchell and other players to become more familiar with the Texans' playbook and, in some cases, to fight for a spot on the roster.
"We've got about five or six big decisions to make before we go to training camp as far as finalizing our 80 and what we do," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've got some situations with our team. We'll probably make a few cuts towards the end of the week and set our roster and go. We're trying to catch up these young guys more than anything, but also trying to make those last few decisions."
Kubiak said he's keeping things "very simple" during mini-camp to give players a chance to show their natural talent.
"There shouldn't be any problem mentally," he said. "We're just really trying to look at their skill level and what they can do and how they practice. Those guys separate themselves when they practice against each other, whether they're showing they can do it or some of them showing you that they can't. We just want three days of competition with just the young players."
Texans coaches met with players on Monday morning for two hours, longer than usual, to go over extensive film from organized team activities (OTAs).
"I noticed in meetings this morning a lot more input from players," Kubiak said. "When they're around those vets, they tend to clam up a little bit. We're just trying to get them as comfortable as we can before July."
Kubiak had high marks for Mitchell, the Texans' third-round draft pick out of Arizona.
"First off, he's an effort player," Kubiak said. "He's all about going to the ball and working hard. I think Earl's going to be a part of our rotation if he continues what he's doing in pads and what he's done throughout these OTAs. For him to become a part of our rotation, then that's pushing somebody's job, so he makes us very competitive within that group."
Guard Shelley Smith, the lone offensive lineman in the Texans' 2010 draft class, also has shown well during his first few weeks with the team.
"He's very athletic young man," Kubiak said of the sixth-rounder from Colorado State. "He's got all the tools you're looking for. He's in a very competitive situation because of us going out and getting Wade Smith and (Kasey) Studdard really coming on as a player and (Mike) Brisiel coming back. He's in the mix of a very, very tough battle."
Kubiak was familiar with Smith before the draft because his two oldest sons, Klint and Klay, played with Smith at Colorado State.
"I know what he stands for and I know what I'm going to get, and I think he's going to play in this league a long time," Kubiak said.
That's what he said
"Every day. Every time I wake up. Every time I see my family. Everything that I do, I just can't believe that I'm here. It's a blessing and it's just a privilege to play in the NFL, so everything's been good."
- DT Earl Mitchell, on if he ever has to pinch himself when he realizes that he's playing professionally in his hometown
"I'm going to continue to stay away from that one, but I hope they play every year. I don't know what's going on. I know they'll do what's best for both schools. But boy, I sure hope Thanksgiving Day we all get to sit down and watch it for a long time to come."
- Kubiak, on the possibility of his alma mater, Texas A&M University, playing in a different conference than rival University of Texas