Tuesday practice **
HOME TURF: The close of the NFL Europe regular season brought some new faces to Texans practice today. Six players were allocated to play across the pond, including WR Lavell Boyd, who will play in the World Bowl this weekend for the Rhein Fire. Playing for Scotland was WR John Minardi, TE Rashod Kent and WR Anthony Bright. Spending the spring with the Amsterdam Admirals was FS Glenn Sumter and LB Terrell Washington.
A handful of the Europeanized players spent the morning becoming familiar with the schemes they will see in next week's full team mini-camp as well as in training camp in July. The group watched practice in their t-shirts and shorts from behind the line of scrimmage and on the sidelines.
Sumter, who spent some time on Cleveland's practice squad last season, led the Admirals on defense with 51 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery.
He returned to Houston last evening and caught his first glimpse of what training camp has in store for the newcomers.
"I'll probably get the playbook today," Sumter said. "They just wanted us to come out today and watch practice."
The group will have the weekend to study the Texans schemes and will join the squad on Monday for the three-day mini-camp.
"I don't know how much they're going to let us participate in the mini-camp but I just want to try and learn as much as I can so I don't come in blind to training camp," he said.
Spending the spring in the NFL Europe definitely kept Sumter from getting rusty at the safety position. Because he didn't accrue game action last season, it was a chance for him to re-introduce himself to the fast-paced game environment.
" I benefited a lot," Sumter said about playing for the Admirals. "My awareness, tackling again, that whole aspect of the game, I think I got better overall.
"I'm looking forward to training camp because I'm just looking for the opportunity. I'm just happy to be back."
Also making a name for himself was Minardi, who hauled in five touchdown receptions during his time in Scotland.
ANALYZE THIS: Nine-year veteran DE Gary Walker has been doing some evaluation of his own during the Texans 14 coaching sessions. He's been checking out the young crop of players and he's been impressed so far. They must be doing something right because Walker is a tough nut to crack.
"We have some young defensive linemen and they're really coming around," Walker said. "We definitely added depth."
He likes the chemistry and mix of new and experienced players on both sides of the ball. In comparison to starting from scratch last season, Walker sees a vast change for the better early in 2003 season preparations.
"You've got a lot of older guys in there with a mix of younger guys where you have a lot of people who know the system and can teach one instead of teaching five that don't know it," he said about the difference this off-season. "Everything's smoother."
Walker doesn't seem to mind the extra practice time that the squad is putting in. In fact, he's looked forward to each day on the field.
"I like being out here working with the guys," he smiled. "This is what I do, this is what I love, it's peaceful out here to me and I enjoy it."
DOUBLE-DUTY: After 14 days of practice, the players will take a four-day weekend before reuniting from Monday-Wednesday for their first full-team mini-camp.
By NFL rules, clubs cannot surpass 14 days of coaching sessions. But next week's get together will blueprint July training camp with a challenging two-a-day schedule.
While mental preparation has been the focus this spring, the coaches will switch gears and really put the microscope over physical stamina.
"A lot of this has been mental, timing, conditioning and just trying to have countless repetitions to where guys know what to do," head coach Dom Capers said. "Hopefully it enables you to come back and put the pads on and do it with precision."
Once training camp rolls around, rookies are expected to step into the fire and react without thinking. The learning process took place during May, in five weeks, the end result is what matters.
"We're going to have to depend on many of these rookies so they're going to have to do everything with a sense of urgency," Capers said. "It's a big challenge to them because they have to get caught up in a hurry because we don't have a lot of time to wait."
There's no better way to test urgency and endurance then to expose the squad in the Houston heat with two, two-hour sessions per day.
"We will have back-to-back two-a-days and that will be a challenge for these guys physically," he said. "We'll get a better feel conditioning-wise."