That's a wrap: The Texans' first mini-camp of 2008 concluded Sunday on a pristine Mother's Day morning. Head coach Gary Kubiak rewarded his players for three days of hard work by sending them home after only an hour of practice.
It was the first time in Kubiak's tenure in Houston that the team met for a mini-camp before OTA's, which start Monday, May 19.
"It was a good weekend," Kubiak said. "Like I said, the whole philosophy behind changing the schedule up a little bit, to me, was that I wanted all these young guys to have an idea after today of the way we do things so when we get started on the 19th, we don't waste two or three days getting in the right mode.
"2008's well on its way. It's fun to get started."
The mini-camp served as a mental and physical wakeup call for rookies, who now have a week to dive into the team playbook and prepare for OTA's. Kubiak hopes that by training camp in July, the young players will be able to focus on competing instead of constantly trying to digest new information.
Already, rookie tackle Duane Brown noticed an improvement in his game with each practice.
"This is as bad as it gets, just throwing a lot of stuff at you in three days," Brown said. "The rest of the offseason, I think it will slow down for me and I'll be able to digest the information at a slower pace."
Mario looking super: A large part of Brown's accelerated learning curve has been 6-7, 291-pound defensive end Mario Williams, who faced off against the rookie each day of mini-camp.
"Mario was impressive in this camp," Kubiak said. "I tell you, he's an impressive young man right now. And y'all can see it, watching him practice and how he's going about it, and if Duane has to see him on a daily basis, he can't help but get there."
The third-year defensive end looks even stronger and more aggressive than he did last year, when he finished third in the NFL with 14 sacks. Kubiak confirmed what most of the Texans' mini-camp observers suspected: Williams is a man on a mission.
"That light went on for Mario somewhere last year about Week 7 or 8," Kubiak said. "Everybody saw it, and if you watch practice right now you see him at another level. I think the sky's the limit for him. I don't want to sit here and say too much; I just love the way he works. I love the way he handles himself. Football is very important to Mario, and he's working his way toward a big, big year."
'Dre can't wait:Heading into his sixth season, Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson could be on the verge of a career year after leading the NFL with 94.6 receiving yards per game in 2007. He demonstrated a great rapport with now-healthy quarterback Matt Schaub in the first two games last season before spraining his left knee, which forced him out of action for the next seven weeks.
Johnson has one stated goal this season: making the playoffs. But he can't help getting excited about the new opportunities the running game will open up for him with the help of assistant head coach Alex Gibbs.
"The run game plan he's putting in, I love it," Johnson said. "I think it's great. I think guys on the team love it and I think it'll make our team better. But at the same time, it's not just making us better because he's here. We have to work at it and keep going forward."
Rookies show well: The Texans' draft class had a solid showing during the three-day mini-camp. Linebacker Xavier Adibi was limited over the weekend by a pulled hamstring, but draft picks one through seven performed well on the whole.
"We felt good, looking at all of them," Kubiak said. "What we thought we saw when we drafted them is exactly what they are, so now we've just go to get them to fit in with this football team. And they can all help this team. That's the key, so we've just got to get them going."
Mammoth defensive tackle Frank Okam (officially listed at 6-4, 322) got extra reps during mini-camp with Travis Johnson excused from practices for his wedding. Okam used that opportunity to make a big impression on his new coaches.
"We're impressed with him," Kubiak said. "I mean, he's a very big man. He's 345 pounds. You normally don't find guys that size that are athletic, too, and he's got a lot of ability. He's very smart, so he picked up what we're doing real quick. Local kid, so it's very exciting for him to be playing in the state of Texas. We're counting on him. Travis's wedding was his gain."
Running back Steve Slaton demonstrated his distinct ball-carrying style, holding it high near his shoulders. He flashed great quickness and edge speed on several runs, but also fumbled the ball a few times in the five mini-camp practices.
Kubiak was asked whether Slaton's manner of holding the ball was a concern.
"No, he carries the ball correctly," Kubiak said. "He's got the pressure points and stuff. He's small in stature, and a lot of the contact with him is around the ball, whereas some guys it's around the legs.
"It's been a rude awakening for him these last few days. We're constantly trying to strip the ball. But I have confidence in him that he'll try to protect the ball. I thought he did some very good things this weekend."