McCardell joins Johnson and Walter in the receiving corps
First practice: The players reported to the first practice of training camp Friday morning with helmets on but no pads under their jerseys and shorts. The focus was on technique, with a variety of 1-on-1 pass rushing drills for the defense and passing skeleton and 7-on-7 drills for the offense.
Happy to be back on the field again, the players were positive after practice.
"I feel good," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "It's kind of like when you go into a game and you've got to get that first hit to get the butterflies out of your system. It's kind of the same way. You come in, you get that first practice out of the way and you feel a lot better after that."
Quarterback Matt Schaub was pleased with the effort and attitude of his teammates.
"We're going to be a hard-working football team," Schaub said. "You come out the first day and guys are competing and working hard. They're not going through the motions trying to test the waters, they're just jumping in and getting after it."
With the outdoor practice field wet due to rain, the practices were held inside the Methodist Training Center.
"We would have loved to have been outside, but the weather of course has been an issue," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "But we're bouncing around good, so we're just excited to get going."
Signed, sealed and delivered: The top story Friday morning was the signing of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the Texans' first-round choice out of Louisville and the team's final 2007 draft pick to sign. The move ensured that all Texans draft picks reported to camp in time for the first practice for the second consecutive season under general manager Rick Smith.
"There was an amazing amount of work that Rick (Smith) and them have had to do over the last 24 hours to get that done," Kubiak said. "Really, it's a credit to the kid, too. To be able to get up this morning and get all these things signed that we need to get signed for him to get out here. We're just glad to have everybody."
"It was very important to me," Okoye said of signing before camp. "I'm a team player and I wanted to be with my teammates and gel and get started from day one."
Relieved to have his contract taken care of, Okoye hopes to contribute to the team as soon as possible.
"It was all business out here today," he said of practice. "I was ready to come out here and go straight to work. We came out here focused on getting better. I'm just kind of trying to stay calm and relaxed – take it one day at a time, actually one practice at a time, one minute at a time. And just get better."
McCardell's homecoming: The other big news today was the arrival of free agent wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who signed with the Texans this morning after playing with the San Diego Chargers the past three seasons. A Houston native, McCardell will be entering his 16th NFL season and adds tremendous experience and skill to a young receiving corps.
"I always tell guys that you never stop learning," he said. "The day you stop learning in this game is the day you need to get out of it. You always can learn something and I hope to help Andre (Johnson) any way I can. All of the young guys, they can ask me anything. Even the coaches can come up and ask me things."
McCardell arrived a little late this morning and hasn't yet had a chance to dissect the playbook. But he knew the importance of being at practice today and for the entirety of camp.
"If I'm going to come in here and contribute, I have to win over the 63 guys in that locker room," he said. "This is when you win them over is right here, when they see you in the trenches with them and doing the things you are supposed to be doing with them. That's when you gain their trust."
He won't have to worry about winning the respect of his new head coach, who already holds McCardell in high esteem.
"I know what he stands for as a person, and the success that he's had as a player in this league," Kubiak said. "We have to fit him in with our football team. He'll get in there and compete with everybody else, and we'll see how it works out."
Andre Johnson and…?: McCardell may ultimately crack the starting lineup as the wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson. But for now, Kevin Walter seems to have a leg up on the competition. Walter saw plenty of action as the second wide receiver this morning, consistently lining up with the first-team offense in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
But with speedsters Jacoby Jones, Jerome Mathis and Bethel Johnson all in the mix, the battle for the second starting wide receiver spot should be hard-fought all camp.
"It makes you feel good about going out there and really competing when you have every guy out here really wanting it," Bethel Johnson said. "It makes you feel good, makes you want to go out there and really compete and want it just as bad as they do."
Andre Johnson will be watching the competition with interest to see who develops into his running mate.
"I think we have a great group of guys – probably the best group we've had since I've been here," he said. "The competition is there."
Schaub's first day: Opening training camp as his team's starter for the first time in his pro career, Schaub started practice well. But he had some rhythm and communication issues with his teammates during the full-team 11-on-11 drills.
"We were pretty sloppy," Kubiak said of the 11-on-11 drills. "We put the ball on the ground a couple times, but we're here to have a good month and get ready to play. We have to come back this afternoon and be better."
"It definitely frustrates you," Schaub said. "We had a great practice up until that point and then had a few mishaps. But that's part of football – the ups and the downs and you just handle them, you learn from them and get better and keep going."
Schaub doesn't think it will take long for him and his teammates to get back on the same page as they were during OTA's and the mini-camp.
"It's just a matter of during the team game when it was 11-on-11, getting that timing down, the rhythm with the defenders in their face and everything," he said. "We'll get that down as quickly as possible in the next couple days."
Strongside linebacker competition: Shantee Orr sits atop the depth chart, but backup Charlie Anderson also saw extensive playing time last season. Kubiak noted that with the addition of veteran free agents Danny Clark and Shawn Barber, he expects a lot of competition at the strongside linebacker position.
"To me, we've got a heck of a competition going on to see who's going be those final three guys," Kubiak said of the linebackers. "We're going to rotate them all. They're all going to work. They all have a lot of athletic things that they do – Shantee made a great play out there this morning (a leaping interception). We're just going to let them compete."
McNair speaks: Texans owner Bob McNair was in attendance for practice Friday. After the players finished, he spoke with the media and shared his outlook for the upcoming season.
"I think there is more excitement," McNair said. "We all want to win and we want to win every game. There is nothing unusual about that and we'll never change that. But I think we see that there is a better opportunity this year than we've ever had. So that makes it exciting and I'm excited about the season."
Much of this year's potential success will hinge on the decisions of Kubiak, who McNair lauded for his approach to coaching.
"He has a real feel for knowing when to push them harder and when to back off," Kubiak said. "That's just a sense that some people have and some people don't, and he has it, and the players recognize it."
Switching sides: The odds of earning a precious roster spot are long for any undrafted free agent, so when Kubiak presented rookie linebacker Jon Abbate the option of switching positions to fullback, the former All-ACC player from Wake Forest jumped at the chance to make an impact on the other side of the ball.
"I thought it was just a great opportunity," he said. "(I) came to it with open arms and just said, 'Coach, whatever it takes, whatever to help the team, and whatever I can do to make the team.' So I just felt it was a great opportunity. "
In light of a knee injury to fullback Jameel Cook, who today was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list, the need for additional depth at the fullback position was a necessity. Abbate, who played as a fullback in a ground-oriented offense during high school, hopes that the common ground between his old and new position will lead to success.
"I'm just trying to adjust to it and learn the offense," Abbate said. "I like the move. It's definitely good for my career, and it's going well so far."
Rookie responsibility: In a typical rookie rite of passage, quarterback Jared Zabransky was left with the chore of carrying the shoulder pads of three veterans back to Texans locker room after the evening practice.
"I guess I have to be a rookie and do my part," Zabransky said.
Indeed, training camp has returned to Reliant Stadium.