The Texans practiced in shoulder pads for the first time in their 2011 training camp on Wednesday morning. With the temperature rising above 100 degrees by 10 a.m., they wore shoulder pads and helmets for most of the two-hours-plus morning session.
"If we're in our shells or full pads, we practice the same way. so it's good to get going," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It's the first time they banged in a while, so we'll do that here for a couple days and then we get those other guys back here sometime soon, sometime Thursday. So we'll just keep going."
The Texans have 12 players – including new signees Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, Brad Maynard and Lawrence Vickers – who are still unable to practice because they were free agents after the lockout. Those players are expected to be cleared to practice on Thursday if the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified by then.
"That's still up in the air, believe it or not," Kubiak said on Wednesday afternoon. "We hope to get them back on the field. As of now, we're not sure. It could be later tomorrow afternoon, so things could change. We're hoping that they do come back tomorrow."
Running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, quarterback Matt Leinart and guard Mike Brisiel are among those who also have not been able to practice because of the free agency rules.
"They're all key players," Kubiak said. "They're all guys that have been very big contributors to this football team and in battles for jobs, obviously. I feel bad for them. They're upset. They want to practice. They want to play, but there's nothing we can do They've been sitting here trying to learn everything they can learn and when we turn them loose, I'm sure they'll be eager to get going."
Earl the Pearl
With young players taking more reps as free agents sit out, Kubiak was asked if any young players have jumped out to him so far in training camp.
"A guy jumped at me today," Kubiak said on Wednesdsay morning. "Earl Mitchell jumped at me today. I was just telling the players I think good players make their big jump in this league from year one to two. It's just fun to watch a guy come out in his second year and be so much more comfortable in what he's doing. He made a lot of plays today. It's one practice, but it was evident."
Mitchell, a third-round pick out of Arizona in 2010, is competing with Shaun Cody for time at the nose tackle position. Defensive line coach Bill Kollar also singled him out as a surprise player so far in camp.
"I'd say Earl Mitchell has looked real good, even though it's the first day in pads," Kollar said in the afternoon. "He's been a pretty good surprise."
Wide receiver Andre Johnson did not practice one day after dislocating the index finger in his left hand during practice. The five-time Pro Bowler is expected to return within a few days.
Inside linebacker Brian Cushing (knee) again sat out of the morning practice. He continues to rehab with team trainers on side fields and also is expected to be able to return soon.
"First day in pads is always a little bit of a struggle. I'm kind of wondering who stuck the weights in front shoulder pads; I kept falling on my face a few times."
- T Eric Winston