The Texans participated in 11-on-11 team drills for the first time this offseason on the second day of organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson was once again not with the team after missing Monday's practice because of contract issues. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and rookie running back Ben Tate both sat out with hamstring injuries for the second consecutive day.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak said that he "won't take any chances" with Ryans, the two-time Pro Bowler and defensive captain. Ryans could be out until the end of the week as the team continues to be cautious with him. Tate, a second-round pick, will be out longer – likely at least until next week.
Sleep apnea surgery for Williams, Caldwell
When asked why defensive end Mario Williams looks like he's lost a few pounds, Kubiak said that Williams had surgery for sleep apnea about a month ago.
"He and (Antoine) Caldwell both had that," Kubiak said. "So I think that's why Mario's a little light."
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It affects more than 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Kubiak also had surgery for sleep apnea earlier this offseason.
Both Williams and Caldwell have participated in the first two days of OTAs.
Serious speedIt's tough to read too much into non-contact OTA practices, but speed is speed, and Jacoby Jones and Trindon Holliday flashed plenty of it in a punt return drill on Tuesday. The drill involved three or four defenders running down in kick coverage, with no blockers back for help.
First, Jones fielded a punt in the middle of the field and was quickly surrounded by the defenders. He sprang away from them all with a lightning-quick spin move and picked up a substantial gain to the left side. That prompted special teams coordinator Joe Marciano to run on to the field yelling, "He got 80 yards with no blockers! He got 80 yards with no blockers!"
On the very next punt return, Holliday was forced to the right side, seemingly heading out of bounds. The 5-5, 165-pound rookie from LSU used a hesitation move to freeze the defense, and it gave him just enough room to explode for 30-40 yards down the field.
"Coach Marciano just told me to try to make something happen with no blockers," Holliday said. "So I just tried to make something happen and get to the sideline."
Aside from Tate, who's injured, and fifth-round cornerback Sherrick McManis, who's still in school at Northwestern, the Texans' rookies are getting plenty of opportunities in OTAs.
First-round draft pick Kareem Jackson continues to practice with the first-team defense. Kubiak has been impressed with the young cornerback, but Jackson still thinks he needs to improve in many areas.
"It's a lot different," Jackson said. "Guys are a lot faster, like Jacoby Jones. You've just got to speed up the pace. It's fun and exciting. It's an opportunity, and I'm having fun."
Tight end Garrett Graham, a fourth-round pick, also has seen plenty of chances with veteran tight ends Owen Daniels, Anthony Hill and Joel Dreessen limited or sidelined by injuries.
"He reminds me a lot of O.D. (Daniels) when we first got him," Kubiak said. "Very smart, knows what he's doing. He's fixing to get a chance for this next month to basically be like a starter with the number of people we're working with at tight end. He'll get a chance. We'll see."
Hometown heatAs a Houston native, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell is no stranger to heat and humidity. But after two days of practice, the North Shore High School grad is still getting re-acquainted with the local weather.
"I've got to get used back to it," the third-round draft pick said. "I haven't been here in about four years. It's different weather than Arizona, so just getting back used to it. But everything's going alright."
Mitchell's high school in the east Houston suburb of Galena Park is less than 15 miles from Reliant Stadium.
"It feels really good," he said when asked what it feels like to put on a Texans uniform. "It feels like I accomplished something. This is a thing that I worked for during college and in high school, so it's a great feeling to be a Houston Texan."
While Johnson sits out OTAs, Jones is taking starters' reps at wide receiver. The fourth-year receiver is coming off a breakthrough 2009 season in which he scored six touchdowns on just 27 receptions and averaged a team-high 16.2 yards per catch.
"It's a great opportunity for him," Kubiak said. "I think everybody knows Jacoby has starter ability in the National Football League. It's about consistency, and he's going to get a chance to show that right now. Business is about opportunity, and boy, is he getting one right now. So we'll see."
Jones added about five pounds of muscle this offseason, bringing his weight up to 214. Kubiak has been impressed with his maturity level and approach ever since the team suspended him for the Week 13 game at Jacksonville last season for disciplinary reasons.
"I thought he kind of changed on me after we had our little get-together in Jacksonville," Kubiak said. "I think he really has gotten better – on, off the field, everything. All of the ability's there, so it's just about consistency with Jacoby."
A helping handAfter practice, the Texans presented a check for $100,000 to KIPP Academy, a school for early childhood/elementary school, middle school and high school students. The funds will be used to build athletic fields at the school.
"This means that our kids wake up out of bed in the morning and not just be excited to come to school to learn math, reading and writing, but also now can be excited to come to school and play football and play soccer and have a great athletics program as well," Mike Feinberg of KIPP Academy said. "That's what the Texans are supporting, and we're so appreciative."
Quotable"The hardest part about it has been looking at the playbook, seeing all the different things they're throwing at you the first couple of days. You just have to be focused and learn what's going on."
- KR Trindon Holliday, on the hardest part of OTAs so far
"I mean, it doesn't take much to show me quickness – I'm not the most fleet-footed guy. But no, he's looking fast. He's looking good."
- QB Matt Schaub, on if running back Steve Slaton's quickness has impressed him after Slaton lost 10-15 pounds this offseason
"You know what? I think we all have a lot of confidence. And I think with the confidence that we have, we're building. We're trying to build this team up. We're trying to set things up for the season. You look at our schedule, we can't slack off. I think everybody has that mindset of greatness, and we have one goal – and that's the Super Bowl."
- SS Bernard Pollard, who's entering his second season with the team, on the Texans coming off of a 9-7 season
Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at ****twitter.com/NickScurfield*** or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at ***imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/***.*