Each and every day I walk down to my office on the 2nd floor of NRG Stadium, I pass a countdown clock that ticks down to the beginning of training camp. I've seen that clock every day since they flipped it over from "countdown to the draft" to "countdown to training camp". Double zeroes seemed so far off in the distance that I couldn't really get excited, it seemed.
Then, I walked by it today and it read "one day, 15 hours and some amount of minutes and seconds." I got excited. Okay, okay, my excitement has been ramping up each and every day but just seeing "one day" left before Coach O'Brien and the players take the practice field put a little giddy up in my step.
Why? Well, there are a number of reasons, but keeping with my top five training camp primer theme, here are my top five things about training camp that excite me the most.
NFL teams, well, heck, football teams at every level, to be honest, don't hit in practice quite like they back in my day. Yeah, I just went all "old man, get off my porch" style, but it's true and with good reason. So, when the players put on the gear and hit for the first time since the last game of the previous season, I get excited. There's always a two day acclimation period so the first practice in pads is going to be Monday night under the lights.
During minicamp and OTAs, there isn't a ton of information to obtain about the offensive or defensive fronts, so when the pads go on, it's the first time to see how much those guys want to mix it up, which guys love the contact and which ones are exposed by it.
Even though training camp is a grind and a half, every player I knew loved putting on pads for the first time that season. That day is coming.
**4. The trip to Richmond, Virginia
This one, unfortunately, most of you won't be able to partake with me and trust me, I'm sad about that. Imagine a bunch of Texans fans up in Richmond to watch those workouts. RG III might have to go to the silent count in practice like Cowboys' QB Tony Romo was forced to do in last year's game against the Texans.
That said, the trip to Denver for a week with the Broncos last year was seemingly a turning point for the team. The opportunity to get away, leave the distractions behind and form a bond on the road really made the week worthwhile as it broke up the monotony of training camp. Then, the team went out and competed well against Peyton Manning and the Broncos throughout the week and on into the game on Saturday night.
This year, though, it's Richmond, VA, a beautiful 90 minute drive from the University of Virginia where I lived for two summers, obtaining my masters degree. My daughter was born our second summer there so it holds some tremendous memories for me, personally. That said, it's an opportunity for EVERYONE on the trip to think about nothing but football for three or four days straight and that's not a bad thing.
3. Hard Knocks cameras and the first show on August 11th
Around the building, there's trepidation as to the impact of Hard Knocks and I can't say I blame anyone for feeling that way. Cameras and mics are everywhere.
But, as Coach O'Brien has said many times, this is an opportunity for the country to see what a hard working team this is in Houston, what kind of character these players possess and how this whole squad competes in training camp. The one hour weekly show won't give everyone the full view, but those outside Houston and outside the building will get a glimpse of what we see every day.
I love the show and always have, so I'm pumped to see how NFL Films tells the story of this organization throughout the rigors of training camp.
**2. New Orleans on national television on Sunday August 30th
The third week of the pre-season is typically the one in which we see the starters play more snaps, sometimes even on into the second half.
Now, I can't remember the last time the Texans played a national televised pre-season game, one that takes place only a few hours away from home. I'd expect the Traveling Texans to hop in their rigs and make the short jaunt over to New Orleans.
That also means another trip for chargrilled oysters at one our favorite spots - Dragos. Last January, we took a detour on our way to the Senior Bowl to scarf down three or four dozen amongst the four of us. I'd expect we'll do the same when we arrive and then wash it down with an impressive showing on Sunday afternoon in SuperDome.
1. The hopeful return of Jadeveon Clowney
The Texans aren't starved for must-see personalities. There are Pro Bowlers, fan favorites and well known, veteran stars everywhere you look. As such, we tend to know what to expect from Watt, Hopkins, Foster and company.
What none of us really know is what a healthy Jadeveon Clowney looks like.
Well, as a Texan.
I watched nearly every single one of his games at South Carolina, so I know his potential. I'm not alone. This coaching staff had to be salivating at the thought of a healthy Clowney with Watt et al in 2014. Alas, it never came to be. It was a shame that his entire year was taken from him due to his knee injury but he's rehabbed to a point that we could possibly see him on the field before the end of training camp. Perhaps we don't see him much. Perhaps we don't see him at all. But, if he's ready by the end of training camp, we'll all want to be there to see it.
Take a look at the top 100 photos from Houston Texans OTAs and minicamps.