* Two down, three to go:* The Texans wrapped up their first two practices of mini-camp Friday afternoon at the Methodist Training Center. The first reaction many observers had was how well-conditioned the team appeared.
Players have been working out for five weeks at Reliant Stadium, and many players began their offseason training a month before that. For a team that led the NFL in injuries in 2007, the Texans are focused on reversing that trend.
"I think the thing I was most impressed with today is the physical condition of our football team," coach Gary Kubiak said, crediting the team's strength and conditioning staff. "About the only guys that really got winded today were the young kids that just got off the plane. So I think we're a lot further along from that standpoint."
General manager Rick Smith was eager to see the team take shape for the first time in 2008.
"I was pleased," Smith said. "This is my favorite day of the year. It's like Christmas for me. I was pleased. I thought we looked like a football team. Athleticism was apparent, the speed was different and I thought we were fairly clean in practice."
One apparent change for the team relates to the players' wardrobe. A glimpse at the back of the players' shorts reveals clear red lettering emblazoned from side to side. For the offensive players, it reads, "Protect the ball." The defense, meanwhile, sports the motto "Take it away." The same messages are draped on the walls of the team meeting rooms inside Reliant Stadium.
"I told you guys last year I was screaming and hollering it every week and I thought if they had to look at it every day, maybe it would help," Kubiak said of the two slogans. "It's all over the locker room, it's all over their pants and if we've got to put it anywhere else, we will. But if our team protects the ball better, we're going to be a better team."
Weary in the fold: Fred Weary was a welcome addition to the Texans' mini-camp roster. The long-time Texans guard re-signed with the team Friday morning and attended both practices later in the day.
Recovering from a broken tibia, Weary is happy to return to the team that drafted him out of Tennessee in 2002.
"It feels really good. It feels great," he said. "This has been home for me for the past six years, and going into my seventh year I'm excited about coming back here. And when they called with the opportunity to come back, I couldn't say anything because I was so excited."
Smith was pleased with Weary's dedication to rehab and believes he can return to action shortly.
"It's good to have him back," Smith said. "He works so hard. He's been working extremely hard in his rehab process. So we expect him to be healthy pretty soon and back here with the rest of the guys."
Weary has had two surgeries since suffering the "segmental fracture" at Tennessee on Dec. 2.
"I just really started rehabbing toward the end of February," Weary said. "The doctors have been surprised how it's healed up. 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.
"Talking with the doctors, they were telling me that it's not your ordinary football injury. It's more like being in a car accident."
Passing the torch? Don't let the practice reps fool you. Just because first-round pick Duane Brown is receiving the majority of snaps with the first-team offense doesn't mean he was handed the starting job.
Kubiak clarified that following the second practice Friday after Brown lined up at left tackle alongside guard Chester Pitts for most of the day.
"No, we have not made any decisions," Kubiak said. "We're lining up, working reps. We have a long way to go before we play, but we think it's very important that this young man gets every possible rep he can get. Ephraim has seen a few reps in his day. This kid needs all he can get."
That being said, Kubiak wasn't surprised at Salaam's disappointment.
"Heck, you should be disappointed," Kubiak said. "(Ephraim) started 16 games for us at left tackle last year and did a great job. This football team is counting on him doing a great job for it again. It's strictly a decision on my behalf as a coach of wanting to get this young kid as many reps as I can and get him going. Hey, I understand that. That's part of being a pro. Ephraim and I had a good talk. If he reacted any other way and wasn't disappointed, I'd be disappointed. So we're fine. We'll work through that."
Kubiak further explained his thought process for putting Brown with the starters right away.
"That's the only way we're going to find out if this kid's going to get to where we want him to go and how quick he can get there," Kubiak said. "You draft these kids in the first round to come in and play and that's nothing against Ephraim, as I said, and we've had this conversation. But I understand the difficulty in that, but we as coaches feel like we have to put this kid to work right away."
Welcome to the NFL, rookie: Speaking of Brown, the Virginia Tech product matched up with defensive end Mario Williams during a pass-protection drill Friday morning. It was the first time they faced each other since college when Williams attended North Carolina State.
"It's a way different Mario than I lined up against four years ago," Brown said. "He's a beast out there. Like I said, it's good going against him. It can really help you out on Sundays."
To Williams' credit, the third-year pro looks like he's raising his game to another level. His speed off the snap appeared faster than ever Friday, and his strength continues to improve under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley.
"I'm just trying to start fast," Williams said. "That's our motto, basically, is to get out here and start fast for 2008, and there's no better way to do it than amongst your teammates, trying to push one another."* *