Tight end Jeb Putzier tucks away a touchdown pass during practice Tuesday.
Change of plans: On a day where the schedule called for a morning full pads practice, coach Gary Kubiak decided that the risk of losing more of his team to injury outweighed the benefits of practicing in full gear Tuesday morning. The team instead practiced in jerseys and shorts with no shoulder pads for a lighter hour-and-a-half long practice. With injuries threatening team depth at wide receiver and on the offensive line, Kubiak felt that it was important to tailor his daily practice routine to the current needs of his players.
"We took the pads off really in a lot of ways to allow some of these guys that were nicked up to still be a part of practice, and still get our reps in," Kubiak said. "I thought it was good."
Guard-ed optimism: Texans guard Chester Pitts, who was carted off the field Monday morning with a lower back injury, underwent an MRI later that afternoon that revealed a sprained lower back. According to Kubiak, Pitts' prognosis is positive, with a low likelihood of missing significant time.
"Chester sprained his lower back, and that's probably about the best news we could get," Kubiak said. "We feel he's going to be fine, he's day-to-day. Listening to (Texans head athletic trainer) Kevin (Bastin), we're probably talking about a week hopefully, but we're going to get Chester ready to play, and do what's right for him. It's going to be a day-to-day situation."
Even as early as Monday evening, Kubiak said that Pitts was mobile and moving around the team's facilities at Reliant Stadium.
"He's doing much better," Kubiak said. "He was up and walking around yesterday and in the meetings last night, he was his normal self. We were fortunate there, very fortunate."
LG replacements: With Pitts likely out for much of this week and possibly for the team's first preseason game versus Chicago on Saturday, the Texans' coaching staff has been forced to consider a variety of replacements at the left guard spot. Center Steve McKinney was shifted over to first-team left guard Tuesday morning, and offensive linemen Drew Hodgdon, Kasey Studdard and Mike Brisiel all were identified by Kubiak as players who would receive additional reps.
Even in a fill-in role, McKinney performed well enough to draw praise from his head coach after practice.
"He's a pro, and he's been very, very sharp this camp," Kubiak said. "He's had a great offseason and I think his body is much better conditioned than it was last year. He's going to play well for us this year, whether it's at center or it's at guard."
Kubiak said that his decision to move McKinney one spot to the left reflected the type of calculus he would use to make a decision if a similar injury situation appeared during a game.
"When things like this happen to us in camp, what we try to do as coaches is make decisions in camp like we would make them if we were playing Kansas City this week, so that's our mindset," Kubiak said. "Now, do we approach things differently after we make those decisions for various reasons? Yes, we will. Our approach today was, 'If this happened to us, Steve, you're going to left guard. Let's go to work.'"
Although center is his preferred position, McKinney said he was satisfied with his temporary move. McKinney has significant experience at left guard, as he played the position for four years with the Indianapolis Colts as well as during college at Texas A&M.
"I'm probably a little bit rusty," McKinney said. "I hadn't done it quite as much in the past five years, but it's just like riding a bike. You get back on and go to work."
Punting positional battle: Incumbent punter Chad Stanley, who is in the midst of a neck-and-neck position battle with 14-year veteran Matt Turk, hasn't made any wholesale changes to his routine due to the new competition. Still, the pressure has ratcheted up on the ninth-year pro out of Stephen F. Austin.
"I would be lying if I told you that it's not a little bit more intense," Stanley said.
Even though Turk is challenging for his job, Stanley sees benefits in practicing with a seasoned pro, particularly with one whom he considers a friend. Stanley and Turk first met about seven or eight years ago at a workout in Seattle, and the pair socialized whenever their respective teams would cross paths.
"Everyone wants a job, and I can't blame Matt for wanting a job," Stanley said. "I'm trying to keep a job. It's nothing personal, and Matt is a heck of a guy. In a way, I'm glad he is here. How many chances do you get with a guy who's got twice as much experience as I do in this league? I can learn a lot from him, and he is just a great guy to be around."
In terms of the team's plan for splitting punts between the pair during preseason games, Kubiak said that Turk and Stanley would each be given an even amount of similar punting opportunities.
"We will try to make sure their punts are competitive from the standpoint of where they're punting from and what's going on in the game, so that it doesn't come out uneven from the standpoint of one guy is getting all of the balls that are going to the coffin corner and the other guy's punting the big ball out of one end," Kubiak said. "We're going to try and make sure that's consistent."
Miscellaneous: Linebacker Shantee Orr, who has been sidelined with a lower back injury since the opening day of training camp, was suited up and participated in drills, but not the team workout. Defensive lineman Anthony Weaver was also on the practice field but only participated in unit drills…wide receiver Kevin Walter, hoping to solidify his grasp on the number two wideout position, pulled down an impressive reception along the left sideline off of a nice deep ball thrown by quarterback Matt Schaub…quarterbacks coach Kyle Shanahan, who missed part of practice on Monday awaiting the birth of his first child, was absent for much of practice Tuesday. Although the baby has not been born, Kubiak said that Shanahan's mother was in town, leading him to believe that Shanahan would be a proud new papa by the end of the day…Kubiak said that he has made no decisions involving game plan or how long his starters would play in Saturday's game versus the Bears, and that any decisions in that area most likely would be delayed until later in the week.