Bethel Johnson catches a kickoff before heading upfield. Johnson was one of three Texans to workout at kick returner Wednesday.
Eliminating mistakes: When things weren't going well for the Texans' offense during the two-minute drill segment Wednesday morning, coach Gary Kubiak saw an opportunity to get an important point across to his players.
When quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw an interception and had two more passes dropped by defenders, and quarterback Matt Schaub made a mistake early in his turn at the helm, Kubiak stopped the entire drill to call a team huddle, where he emphasized the importance of minimizing mistakes in practice.
"We're trying to put them through a bunch of situations today, and we made some big mistakes in those situations," Kubiak said. "If we make those mistakes, they're going to cost us football games, so that's why we're out here. We've got to correct them as quarterbacks, as players, as coaches. That's why we're out here, and we've got to get them fixed."
Kubiak said that during at least two games last season, he noticed slip-ups that cost the Texans victories. By emphasizing a culture of accountability, Kubiak hopes to prevent similar situations this season.
"A couple of situations last year, we could have found two more wins out there," Kubiak said. "That's the team we're trying to build, everybody being accountable. I want some hard-nosed, hard-working guys that are here 16 times this year, not four or five. We're going to be accountable and play hard for each other and be a smart football team.
"We've got to be able to do that, and to do that you've got to do it on the practice field."
Besides the hiccups in the late-game situational drill, Kubiak generally was pleased with his team's effort on Wednesday morning.
In the afternoon, the team practiced indoors at the Methodist Training Center, beginning their preparations for the Bears. In a light walkthrough where players wore jerseys with hats instead of helmets, both offensive and defensive scout teams ran plays similar to Chicago's, in order to familiarize the team with their upcoming opponents.
A little yelling goes a long way: Even though he already has been tabbed as his team's starter at quarterback, Matt Schaub knows that he isn't immune from occasionally catching an earful from the coaches.
"You know as a player, everyone is good to get yelled at and be expected to be at a high level every play and be on top of their game," Schaub said. "I knew that coming in. That's what it's like having a coach, there are no favorites out here."
For Kubiak, yelling at his quarterback today during practice was just a sign of "tough love." As a former quarterback himself, the Texans' head coach knows that opposing teams won't be nearly as kind as he is to his signal-caller on gameday.
"I know he's not coddled on Sunday," Kubiak said. "He's the one in the fire. It's my nature to coach those guys hard, and he knows that. I expect a lot out of him, his teammates do, and they have to see him handle that situation correctly. I promise he'll do it the next time."
Petey's positive practice: One of the day's standout performances came from cornerback DeMarcus Faggins, who intercepted a Sage Rosenfels pass two plays after missing an earlier opportunity for a pick. Faggins, who started in 10 games for the team last season, was elated to get his hands on the second-chance interception.
"A lot of times it's unfortunate, because if you drop one, you come back and you never know when you're going to get that next opportunity to get one," Faggins said. "So, I just took advantage of that second one and made sure I caught it."
With a stalwart pass defender like cornerback Dunta Robinson playing on the other side of the field, some second cornerbacks like Faggins might feel slighted that teams would perceive them as "weaker," and thus throw more often in their direction. Faggins, however, looks forward to any challenge.
"I like to be out there and have some action coming at me," Faggins said. "That's the only way you can get better. If you test yourself, one day it'll be where they don't throw it at all."
Zabransky throwing zingers: Quarterback Jared Zabransky did his best Rex Grossman impression Wednesday, and he may have performed even better than the oft-criticized Chicago starter. Zabransky looked excellent as he ran the offensive scout team, throwing tight spirals across the field. On his most impressive play, Zabransky threw a perfect 35-yard pass to Harry Williams.
"I threw the ball well," Zabransky said. "You've gotta do something when you have the chance. We don't get many reps with the team, so when you get a chance to get with the scout team, you've got to (take advantage). It's different from what you do, so sometimes you have to improvise."
With Zabransky in a fight for the third quarterback spot, his practice squad eligibility plays in his favor. Quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, on the other hand, is only eligible for the active roster.
"I can give a lot of looks; pretty much any quarterback in the league I can duplicate, and I'll try to give them the best looks possible," Zabransky said. "That's the goal with practice squad guys: What can you do to help the team?"
Houston's own singing celebrity: The players on the field weren't the only stars in attendance at practice Wednesday, as performing artist and Houston native Robyn Troup visited the Methodist Training Center during the team's workout.
Troup, who will sing the national anthem before Saturday's game against the Bears, rose to national prominence when she sang on-stage with Justin Timberlake at the 2007 Grammy Awards. Although she places that moment at the top of her career list, Saturday's pregame performance doesn't fall far behind.
"This would be number two, under the Grammys," Troup said. "I've wanted to sing the national anthem here, for the Texans, for a long time. I kind of never thought that I would get the opportunity, so I'm just so honored that they'd ask me to come and open the season."
DeMeco's fan club: Linebacker DeMeco Ryans had his own cheering section at Wednesday morning's practice – a group of about 40 members of his church, the Fifth Ward Church of Christ. Many in the group brought signs in support of Ryans, who spoke to the group and signed autographs after practice.
"It was great to see them out there, and see the signs in practice," Ryans said. "But this is big for the kids who actually get to watch us practice. A lot of them probably don't get to come to the games or see an NFL team practice, so it's pretty big for them. I'm just grateful to be in my place where I can give them an opportunity to come out and be able to do this."
Miscellaneous: Wide receiver Kevin Walter again had an excellent practice, at one point hauling in a beautiful deep pass from Schaub for a touchdown. Schaub fooled the defensive backs with a convincing play-action fake before hitting a wide-open Walter for the score…Bethel Johnson, Andre' Davis and Jerome Mathis took turns returning kickoffs during the special teams portion of practice, with none of the three looking discernibly better than the others...Quarterbacks coach Kyle Shanahan came to practice a proud new father, as his wife Mandy gave birth to their first child, a baby girl, on Tuesday.