Defensive end Antonio Smith showed his pass rush skills Wednesday morning.
The Methodist Training Center was abuzz Wednesday as the New Orleans Saints paired up with the Texans for a pair of joint practices. 3,212 fans were in attendance for the public morning session, three days before the teams will meet in a preseason game at Reliant Stadium.
Although there were no fights to report on between the two teams, the tempo of play was fast-paced and physical. The Texans and Saints will practice together once more Thursday morning in helmets and shoulderpads.
Pick up the pace: With the Texans and Saints wearing shoulderpads and mesh shorts during their morning practice, light contact was encouraged between the two teams with knocking players to the ground clearly off limits. Despite these restrictions, Texans quarterbacks Matt Schaub, Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman and Alex Brink all sported new, bright red practice jerseys to make sure that they were off-limit to contact.
With contact fair game for lineman and skill position players, the Texans' offense may have been caught a bit by surprise when the Saints came out hard and physical, leading to some mild concern from head coach Gary Kubiak.
"I thought we were a bit sluggish, to be honest with you," Kubiak said. "We need to pick up the tempo, but it's good to work against somebody else. We've been seeing each other now for two weeks, so we'll go back and evaluate it. But we can practice a lot faster than we practiced this morning."
The afternoon's practice session, which began outdoors but was shifted inside about 15 minutes in due to thunderstorms, was more to Kubiak's liking with a faster-paced tempo. Kubiak attributed the sluggish morning practice in part to the need to adjust to a new opponent as well as the logistical difficulties of running a practice with over 150 players participating.
From the perspective of Texans players, the chance to go up against real opponents in practice Wednesday was like a breath of fresh air to a team that's only practiced against itself for the past two weeks.
"We're getting different defenses, fronts and with plenty of different guys, so it's pretty realistic," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "We were going into it full-go, so we just have to come out here this afternoon and get better."
No Fight, Yet: Tensions were high the last time the Texans joined the Saints for a joint practice at the Saints' Metarie, La. facility.
The teams didn't come to blows after their first practice on Wednesday, which was more than fine with left tackle Duane Brown
"Everybody is trying to feel each other out right now," Brown said. "When we come back out here this afternoon, it'll be a bit hotter. That always changes things up a little bit. Everybody is out here competing. But at the same time we want to be professionals about it, and try not to do anything cheap."
With the teams transitioning into a low-contact, shorts and helmets practice for Wednesday afternoon, no scuffles are expected. But with the pads back on Thursday morning, all bets are off.
"It might happen, we still have time," Schaub said. "There are always a few little tiffs, but we know these guys pretty well and they know us so it's good work."
"U"nited: With 49 players currently playing across 23 different NFL teams, the University of Miami has been a pipeline to the NFL in recent years. So when eight of those players play for the Texans and Saints—a practice between the two teams is like a virtual college reunion.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson, tackle Rashad Butler, wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, tackle Eric Winston and center Chris Myers are all former Hurricanes on Houston's roster, while linebacker Jonathan Vilma, tight end Buck Ortega and tight end Jeremy Shockey each play for the Saints.
"Every time we get together, it seems like we talk more about what we did in college rather than what we're doing now on the football field," Johnson said. "Those are the moments that you really cherish."
Johnson feels a special tie to the teammates he played with on the 2001 National Title team, when Miami defeated Nebraska 37-14. Johnson, who was co-MVP of that game with Hurricanes quarterback Joey Dorsey.
"We won a national championship together, so that's something you'll never ever forget," Johnson said. "That's a bond you will always have."
Texans Notes: The Texans defense did not face off against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was not present for either of Wednesday's two practice sessions...Fred Bennett caught a huge intercerception during the two-minute drill exercise in the afternoon practice. Saints quarterback Joey Harrington overtrhew a ball to wide receiver Robert Meacham, and Bennett ably tracked the ball down and snagged it for a pick...Defensive end Mario Williams had one of the highlight reel plays of Wednesday's morning practice when he manhandled Saints left tackle Jamaal Brown in one-on-one pass rush drills. During his first rep, Williams got Brown off-balance and tossed him aside, knocking the former Oklahoma tackle to the ground as he reached the pocket…former Texans linebacker Jamie Sharper was in attendance at Wednesday morning's practice. Sharper, who played for the Texans from 2002-2004, also has strong family ties to the Saints, as Jamie's younger brother, Darren, plays safety for New Orleans. Sharper also was visiting practice as a member of the Texans Ambassadors program, where fans can interact with former Texans and Oilers players.