On the third day of Texans organized team activities (OTAs), the team participated in 7-on-7 and individual drills.
A few constants from this week remained unchanged: wide receiver Andre Johnson was not with the team, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans and running back Ben Tate continued to sit out of practice with hamstring injuries.
Tate has yet to practice with the Texans, but the second-round draft pick has been on the field with his new teammates and taking mental reps at each practice.
"That's something you have to do, because when I do come back, I don't want to be behind," he said. "So I'm definitely taking mental reps and staying after and watching extra film so I can understand what's going on."
Tate, who had four offensive coordinators in four seasons at Auburn, said that the biggest difference he's noticed so far between college and the pros is the thickness of the playbook.
"I've just got to take it one step at a time," he said. "I'm just learning what I'm supposed to do as a running back, what my job is first before I can learn the ins and outs of the whole offense."
Wide receiver Kevin Walter, who sits next to Johnson in the Texans' locker room, spoke about his missing teammate on Wednesday. He said that he kept in touch with Johnson this offseason, although contract matters never came up in their discussions.
"He's going to take care of it," Walter said. "That's 'Dre. He's going to come back and he's going to have a great year like he always has. He's going to put up numbers. He's going to work hard. He's going to be better than he was last year.
"All of us are getting good reps right now. We've got some good receivers. When 'Dre's not here, we're still making plays, we're still connecting, we're still moving the ball, so that's the exciting part."
Walter has been the Texans' No. 1 receiver with Johnson sitting out of OTAs, and he's been catching everything in sight. He had one of the highlights of Wednesday's practice with an over-the-shoulder deep catch past cornerback Glover Quin and safety Bernard Pollard.
"We got the coverage that we wanted, and they just tossed it up," Walter said. "I always tell them, 'Hey, I can, run, too. I'll tell you what, I can chase down a deep ball.' I don't get many opportunities, but as you see, if they throw it up, I can make some plays down the field."
With Owen Daniels, Anthony Hill and Joel Dreessen still recovering from injuries, James Casey is the lone tight end from last year's squad who's healthy enough to fully participate in OTAs.
The second-year player from Rice has made the most of his opportunity thus far, as evidenced by Kubiak's response to a question about what he's hoping to see from Casey this offseason.
"I'm already seeing it," Kubiak said. "He's gotten tremendous reps because of our situation at tight end. James is showing right now what you should see, a second-year player who is hungry for some more time on the field and a chance to be a dang good player. I always tell you guys the good players usually make their biggest step from year one to two, and if this offseason's been any indication, he's heading in that direction."
Man in the middle
Xavier Adibi has been impressing the coaches with his reps with the first-team defense at middle linebacker, where he's been helping to fill in for Ryans.
"The thing that's been exciting for me is that he's worked at SAM and worked at WILL (in 2008-09), and now he has to come play MIKE because of some of the things we've got going on," Kubiak said Tuesday. "If you're a good pro, you can do all of that, so it's been fun to watch him step in there yesterday and today and work."
Adibi weighed in at 242 pounds for OTAs. The 6-2 linebacker was about 20 pounds lighter as a rookie in 2008, in part because of a persistent illness that caused him to lose weight during the season.
"That's nice," Kubiak said. "He hasn't been able to carry that in the past. He's got a great opportunity to become a pro right now and earn a starting job and get his career to take off, so we'll see how it goes."
Corner competitionKubiak called the competition at cornerback "very wide open" after practice on Wednesday.
"It's so competitive," he said. "What (defensive backs coach) David (Gibbs) has is a group of young, hungry players. There's no tenured guy back there. They're just all guys battling their tails off. It's very competitive, and I really like it."
Kubiak also said that it's a "very important" offseason for cornerback Antwaun Molden, who's 100 percent healthy after playing in only four games because of a quadriceps injury last season. Molden also suffered a season-ending ankle injury 14 games into his rookie season in 2008.
"He's just missed so much time," Kubiak said. "Every time he's ever been out here, he's shown that he belongs and has the ability to start in this league. It's just about him holding up. It's been a good offseason for him, but I could say the same thing for all of them. It'll be very competitive."
Quotable"Man, he's quick as a jitterbug, I tell you what. I think he's the fastest guy in the league right now. He's impressive. He's definitely going to help us out returning the ball."
- WR Kevin Walter, on rookie KR Trindon Holliday
"It's usually 'Dre (Andre Johnson) down the field, or the other 'Dré (André Davis) down the field, or Jacoby (Jones). But Kevin, though, he's a little sensitive about people underestimating his speed. So for him to do that, he was like, 'I told you so; I told you so.'"
- TE Owen Daniels, on Walter's deep catch in Wednesday's practice
"Since I've been through this before, I think it's about time, but the coaches are doing a good job of giving me a break and not forcing me to be out here before I'm ready. It's all about being ready for the season, really."
- Daniels, on his rehab from knee surgery