The Texans finished their first practice since training camp Thursday in preparation for the Minnesota Vikings. With many roster spots and starting positions still up for grabs, the next two weeks will be crucial in the development of the final 53-man roster.
Re-opening old wounds: Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen's dive at quarterback Matt Schaub's left knee last season had serious implications on the Texans' season. Schaub injured his MCL and missed four games. The Texans, who entered the Metrodome with a three-game win streak, lost to Minnesota by seven points and dropped the following two contests.
Allen was fined for the hit, but many Texans players took exception to his actions. With the Vikings rolling into Reliant Stadium for Monday Night Football this week, several players shared their feelings on the controversial play from a season ago. Starting right tackle Eric Winston was the most outspoken player.
"I'm still angry," he said. "I watched (the play) the other day. That's something that never leaves you. I think when it's your job to protect someone, when it's your job to make sure that they stay healthy, and you don't get it done, whether it's your guy (who injures him) or not, that's a stain on your health. That's something that you have to live with and carry with (you). I think all of us, we take that really important. That's something that's really personal to us."
Winston was told that left guard Chester Pitts exacted some measure of revenge on Allen later in the game at Minnesota, once Schaub already left the contest.
"I hope so," Winston said. "He's on that side. (The Vikings' defensive ends) don't flip sides, so I don't get a piece of (Allen). We're not going to do anything malicious or dirty, but at the same time we're going to go out there and we're going to play as hard as we can. We're going to go after people. We're going to try to intimidate people. We're going to try to make people back down. That's not going to stop for 60 minutes."
Healing process?Rookie linebacker Brian Cushing is closer to game action. He participated in drills this afternoon at the Methodist Training Center. Head coach Gary Kubiak is anxious to get a look at the first-round pick, whose knee injury has sidelined him for the first two preseason games.
"I would like for him to be beating my door down to play," Kubiak said. "I'm hoping that tomorrow he does a little more practice with the team, a little bit more on Saturday and he's begging to play on Monday night and we make a decision. He's awful close, but we've just got to be smart in what we're doing.
Pitts went through his third practice since missing time with a shoulder injury, and he's ready to go for Monday Night Football and the Vikings.
"I'll probably play three quarters," Pitts said. "We'll come out at halftime and (play) maybe a series or two to really see where (we) are conditioning-wise."
Cornerback Jacques Reeves still is recovering from a fractured fibula and is hopeful that he'll return in time for the regular season opener against the Jets.
"We're making progress and I feel good," Reeves said. "(I'm) not having any pain and I'm bouncing around a little bit. I've been rehabbing it pretty tough and once the bone heals I'll be good."
Kubiak added that Reeves is on a faster track to a return than previously thought.
"To say that he'll be ready for New York would be a pleasant surprise for us, but he is doing pretty good," Kubiak said. "I think the plan all along was hopefully for Week 2. If he's ready Week 1, that will be a bonus."
Center Chris Myers (high ankle sprain) practiced with the team for half of the reps on Thursday. Kubiak plans to play him on Monday night.
Rookie revelations: The rookies' first training camp is now in the rearview and each player is glad it's through and ready to prove their value in regular season action. Cushing was happy to be back at practice Thursday—albeit in a limited role—and is aiming for a return to game action as soon as possible.
"I think everyone would like to see me out there, including myself," Cushing said. "But we have to be smart. It is a preseason game (Monday) and the biggest thing is being healthy for the real season. My main goal right now is to get some playing time versus Tampa, but to be ready for New York."
Defensive end Connor Barwin had an impressive camp and certainly will be counted on as a playmaker. On Thursday, the Texans' scout team ran the Vikings' offense, and it was a bit of an eye-opening experience for Barwin to see the new game plan.
"It's real different," Barwin said. "Today was the first for me as far as how they (the coaches) prepare for a real game, so there's definitely a lot more detail than what we did the last two weeks. All I'm trying to do is make the third game better than the first two, and keep building."
Barwin, who worked at times today with the first-team defense, smiled when asked whether or not he'd like to sack Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.
"I would love to do that," Barwin said. "That would definitely be a huge highlight in my career."
On the practice field today, tight end James Casey made a nifty one-handed grab in traffic on a pass from Dan Orlovsky. The former Rice Owl reflected briefly on how the pressure in the NFL is ratcheted up from the college game.
"It's almost like every practice is a game," Casey said. "You have to finish every play; there's no time to take off because everybody's battling for a spot."
Cody making a push: Defensive tackle Shaun Cody practiced with the first team on Thursday, lining up next to Amobi Okoye at times during team periods.
"I think he's pushing for a starting job," Kubiak said. "That's how well he's played. So (it's a) big two weeks for him. We'll see how he comes along and see what happens, but he's doing a good job."
Cody had one tackle in the preseason opener at Kansas City. Against the Saints at Reliant Stadium, he had two tackles, including one for a loss. He also ran a stunt with Barwin on the play that Barwin sacked Joey Harrington; Barwin credited Cody with an assist on the sack after the game.
"He's playing very well," Kubiak said of Cody. "When he's had his chances to play, he's been very effective. He's made plays. So we've got to look at a way of getting him on the field with our 11, and that's how well he's playing out there.
"Does that mean we use him with Amobi together? Does that mean he's getting more reps at the three (technique)? I don't know, but he's going to get an opportunity to play with our ones a great deal this week because he's earned that right."