The Texans had a two-hour practice on Tuesday before breaking for their bye week. Much of it was spent on special teams, with young players getting a bulk of the work.
Special teams is perhaps the biggest area of concern for the Texans amid their 6-1 start, the best seven-game record in team history that has them alone in first place in the AFC.
"We've got to get a lot better special teams-wise," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Tuesday. "Probably the two most disappointing things have been covering kicks and kickoff return, which that boils down to your field position as a team and where your average drive starts. That's something that we really spent a lot of time on as a team with (special teams coordinator) Joe (Marciano) (on Tuesday).
"We're going to start from scratch. We've got to get it improved, but we're going to start over here when we come back from the break. Hopefully, we do some things that can help us out."
The Texans are tied for last in the NFL in kickoff return average, 18.4 yards per return. Just three of their 15 kick returns have been 30 yards or longer. The Texans have allowed two returns for touchdowns, one kickoff and one punt. They're 22nd in kickoff return average allowed (26.4 yards) and 23rd in punt return average allowed (10.6).
Kubiak said the Texans may have to get starters more involved with special teams in the second half of the season.
"The backup players should be your top special teams players," Kubiak said. "That's what they should be doing. I think there comes times throughout the course of the season where, hey, Kevin Walter has got to go play a special teams play or Brooks Reed has to. I think that comes up all the time as you go through the course of a season. You hope it doesn't come up too often because you're trying to stay healthy throughout the whole thing, but as we move forward and as you get deeper and deeper in the season, I think it's something you have to think about."
Asked why the Texans have struggled on special teams, Kubiak said "it's a lot of things."
"I think I let our returner bring the ball out of the end zone too deep," he said. "I think that's on me as a coach, trusting us to come out of there seven or eight yards deep. That's something that we've got to assess. Do we hit a knee or do we give our guy a chance? Some of our blocks up front and our technique and how we engage and where we engage, we think that's a problem and something we're working on.
"Covering kicks is different against a lot of teams. We have a lot of positive, a lot of inside-the-20 plays, but… it boils down to big plays. I think there are just a lot of things that have to get better – me and Joe coaching it, and players doing it."
There have been positives on special teams. Linebacker Bryan Braman has emerged as a special teams ace with nine tackles, a blocked punt and an onside kick recovery. Punter Donnie Jones and kicker Shayne Graham, veterans signed to one-year deals before the start of the season, have been rock-solid.
Jones is on pace to shatter the Texans' records in average yards per punt (46.9 – record 44.4) and net punting average (40.6 – record 39.4). He has landed 13 punts inside the 20-yard line. Graham is 13-of-14 on field goals (92.9 percent), with his lone miss coming from 52 yards in Week 1. His long on the season is 51 yards.
"Donnie has punted very well," Kubiak said. "Shayne has one miss; otherwise, he'd be perfect. He's about a yard-and-a-half from perfect, missing that 52-yarder. I think those two guys have been bright spots. They've held their own."
Still, Kubiak said the Texans' average field position is his biggest concern through seven games. The Texans rank last in field position after kickoffs, starting on average at their own 18.5-yard line. They rank 30th in opponent starting field position after kickoffs, which has been on average at the 26.
"We're losing that battle in this league but yet we're still finding a way to win games," Kubiak said. "We're a team that's built if we can play the game on your side of the field, defensively throughout the course of the game, we ought to be pretty successful. That's the one thing that's bothering us right now and something we got to improve on."
The Texans will continue to work on it when they return from their bye week on Monday.