Training camp has arrived

Day 1 of the Texans' 2008 training camp finally has arrived. No more trudging through, in my opinion, the dullest few months in sports. It's time for football. Time to see the Texans flesh out those playoff aspirations on the practice field. Time to get ready for the most exciting season in franchise history.

The first day of camp is usually the day on which optimism is at its peak. All teams around the NFL are on equal footing at 0-0. Injuries that inevitably occur before the opening week of the season haven't had a chance to quash teams' spirits (except for teams like the Redskins who reported early in preparation for their NFL season opener against the Giants). For each team, the low points of 2007 are looked upon as questions that the team has hopefully solved with offseason acquisitions and another year of experience. The high points represent promise for the season to come.

For the Texans, the reasons for excitement are plentiful. Defensive end Mario Williams is coming off a franchise-record 14-sack season and wowed all onlookers - coaches, teammates and media - with a dominant performance in OTAs. Twenty-one-year-old defensive tackle Amobi Okoye was named by head coach Gary Kubiak as the Texans' most improved player this offseason; Okoye will now look to carry his early rookie success (an AFC-high four sacks in his first month as a pro) through an entire season. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is coming off his first Pro Bowl. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is ready to return to the Pro Bowl after he led the NFL in receiving yards per game (94.6) in 2007.

The special teams are just that - special. Kick returner André Davis (with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and a 30.3-yard per return average) and kicker Kris Brown (perfect on five field goals from 50 yards) enjoyed Pro Bowl-caliber seasons last year. Punter Matt Turk turned in one of the best campaigns in team history, and rookie Jacoby Jones averaged more than nine yards a punt return. If Jones can get back in his 2007 preseason groove, which he showed signs of doing this offseason, the Texans easily could have one of the top return tandems in the league.

The Texans' offensive line gave up a franchise-low 22 sacks in 2007, and now the running game is almost certain to improve with the addition of offensive line guru Alex Gibbs as assistant head coach/offense along with a healthy Ahman Green and Chris Taylor and new backs Chris Brown and Steve Slaton.

The secondary, an area of concern even before six Texans defensive backs ended the season on IR last year, will have to deal with the absence of its best player, Dunta Robinson, for at least the first few games of the season. But with former NFL Coach of the Year Ray Rhodes helping to mentor the group, Fred Bennett should continue to blossom and new arrivals Jacques Reeves and Antwaun Molden should contribute immediately.

The team hopes that improving the pass rush - specifically, finding someone to help Williams and Okoye, who accounted for 19.5 of the team's 31 sacks last season - has been accomplished with the addition of veteran sack specialist Rosevelt Colvin and with the return of a healthy Anthony Weaver.

Saving the first for last, rookie left tackle Duane Brown (who just signed in time for the first practice of camp) will have all eyes on him as he battles Ephraim Salaam for the starting spot. As right tackle Eric Winston so aptly said on Thursday, it's a great situation for the Texans: Either Brown wins the job and the Texans have a veteran with 10 years of starting experience as the team's backup and swing tackle, or Salaam wins the job and the Texans have the luxury of having a first-round pick as their swing tackle.

Training camp, you couldn't have arrived soon enough.

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