The Texans participated in their first practice of 2009 training camp on Friday morning in front of 3,027 fans at the Methodist Training Center.
Daniels and Ryans report: After a summer negotiation period in which the Texans were unable to reach long-term contract agreements with tight end Owen Daniels and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, there were no firm guarantees that either of the Texans' cornerstones would be in attendance for the first practice of 2009 training camp Friday morning. But when the opening horn blew at 8:30 a.m., both Ryans and Daniels were on the field and participating in team drills.
Daniels, who signed a restricted free agent tender back in June, is under contract for the upcoming year. But he is still disappointed that he couldn't get a deal done before camp started and that talks are now at an impasse. Daniels said that he never seriously considered skipping camp, but the recent negotiations have driven him to make hard work a priority during camp.
"I kind of feel like a rookie again," Daniels said. "I've got my blinders on. I worked my butt off my rookie year to earn my spot, and I'm taking that mentality again, because I guess I haven't proven enough thus far these first three years. I'm just going to bust my [butt] every day during camp and throughout the season."
Ryans expressed some disappointment that he was unable to reach a long-term deal with the team, but the Texans' Pro Bowl linebacker took a pragmatic viewpoint of the negotiation process.
"It's nothing that I can control," Ryans said. "The contract will take care of itself. We're here to play to ball. That's what we signed up for and that's what we're here to do. I'm focused on leading the guys so that we can be the best that we can be this year."
Texans general manager Rick Smith called for understanding about the complexities of bargaining a long-term deal. Smith declined to place any timetable or schedule on signing players to extensions, but he did affirm that signing players like Ryans and Daniels is core to the Texans' future plans.
"These deals are complicated at times, but we're going to be fair to our players," Smith said. "We're going to build this football team with guys that are important. And all the guys that we talked to this offseason are important. That's the reason we sat down to discuss long term contracts. Now, we weren't able to get some of those deals done. We were able to get some of those done, and we'll keep moving (from there)."
Rain check for Robinson: Cornerback Dunta Robinson also spent part of the summer engaged in contract negotiations with Texans brass. Although the team applied its franchise tag on Robinson in February, he has yet to sign his contract tender and was not in attendance for the start of training camp.
Smith would not elaborate on the status of his talks with Robinson and his representatives, but he did assert his viewpoint on the cornerback's holdout.
"I think Dunta needs to be in camp, and that's my opinion," Smith said. "I think he needs to be here with his teammates. When he's coming in, that's a decision he's going to have to make."
Barwin used to big opponents: In his first day at training camp, newly signed rookie defensive end Connor Barwin talked about his days on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, when he matched up with one of the college game's top post players in recent memory—Ohio State center Greg Oden.
Oden's Buckeyes and Barwin's Bearcats faced off in December 2006, and although Ohio State won 72-50 and Oden rolled up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, Barwin held his own against an opponent nearly a half foot taller than him. That kind of experiences can translate to one-on-one matchups against massive left tackles on the football field, as well.
"You can't be scared going against these trees out here," Barwin said. "You just can't worry about it. You have to use what you're good at—speed, then work on technique. I don't try to go through these guys. I try to go around them."
Slaton developing in second camp:Head coach Gary Kubiak has high expectations for running back Steve Slaton, who is coming off a tremendous rookie season where the West Virginia product set the team rushing record with 1,282 yards on the year. This season, Kubiak hopes that Slaton's superb physical skills can be melded with further instruction of the team's offensive system to produce even better results in Year Two.
"It was a lot of raw ability that took over last year and there's a lot of it, and a great deal of speed. Now he's another year in the system, listening to John and Alex coach the running game, and Kyle coach the passing game, so he's just become more of a pro. Understanding a little bit better should help him reach another level."
Slaton does have some areas that he needs to work on, with blitz protection the most notable cited by Kubiak. Still, the Texans head coach feels that Slaton's comportment will go a long way in leading him to success on the field.
"He's just a very mature young man," Kubiak said.
Injury report:Running back Clifton Dawson appeared to injure his leg during the morning practice, but Kubiak was uncertain about the extent of the injury.
"I really don't know," Kubiak said. "They think he has some type of sprain. Just running a route, went down. We're going to go take a look at it at lunch."
During the afternoon practice at the indoor facility of the Methodist Training Center, Kubiak withheld a number of veteran players, including running back Chris Brown and linebacker Cato June, in an attempt to keep veterans fresh and injury-free throughout the grind of training camp and also to give younger players additional reps in practice. Kubiak also pointed to defensive lineman Shaun Cody, who did participate in Friday's afternoon session, as a candidate to be held out of some afternoon practices.