Bethel Johnson brings in a pass on Sunday.
Hot, hot practice: The mercury already was rising when the Texans hit the field for their first full pads workout of training camp Sunday morning at the outdoor fields of the Methodist Training Center. In front of 2,042 fans, the coaching staff ran the team through a number of contact drills and team period. After a heavy rain right around noon washed out the open afternoon practice, the team moved indoors for its second practice of the day.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans was excited for the first day of real contact.
"Oh yeah, once you get the pads on everybody is geared up and ready to go attack," Ryans said. "Especially on defense, we were looking forward to laying a hit on somebody. I hadn't done it in a while, so it is good to loosen the pads up."
Sunday's temperature, which hovered around the low 90s during the morning, was coupled with humidity that made the conditions quite uncomfortable. Many players had trainers place wet towels dipped in ice water on their necks to help them cool off, and water breaks were frequent. Still, head coach Gary Kubiak noted that his team maintained a business-like attitude during practice, despite the heat.
"We work through it," Kubiak said. "It's a grind, and it's hot, and it's a long day, but the one thing you saw is you just saw them keep going, and even end pretty good. The first offense ended the day pretty good on the field making some plays. The first defense got off the field at the end of the day, and then our third defense made a great play here at the end of practice, so even though you're tired and sluggish, the football was still good."
Injury update: Unfortunately for the Texans, more bad injury news came out of Texans camp on Sunday, as the extent of knee injuries to running back Chris Taylor and cornerback Roc Alexander was revealed by Kubiak.
After announcing yesterday that Taylor suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee, Kubiak announced today that he likely would miss the season. Although surgery to repair the knee was successfully performed this morning, the recovery time will be three to six months. Kubiak does believe, however, that Taylor will recover fully from his injury.
"(It is) very unfortunate, but Chris is going to be back, he'll play in this league a long time in my opinion," Kubiak said. "We're just going to support him and get him healthy."
Alexander, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear last year, reinjured his same knee in a different spot during Sunday morning's practice. Kubiak also expects him to miss the entire season.
"The surgery that he had held up fine," Kubiak said. "He did not reinjure the knee in any shape or form from that standpoint. Basically, he cracked his kneecap on the same knee, so he will be done for the year."
Kubiak noted that he will miss Alexander's physical play and versatility, but he expects him to return to the gridiron in the future.
"He's an excellent special teams player," Kubiak said. "A very physical corner, I think he would have played well in our scheme, and I think he would have pushed for a spot on our team. That's part of the game, you hate losing guys, but there's two good kids right there that I think will make it back."
Roster Replacements: In an effort to replace Taylor, the team added free agent running back Darius Walker, who was cut by the Texans on July 23. The team also added running back Patrick Pass, who most recently played for the New England Patriots.
"We have some relief coming in this afternoon with (Darius) Walker coming back," Kubiak said. "We gotta get some guys out here to make sure we get these other guys some training camp (experience)."
Bennett bests wideouts: Rookie cornerback Fred Bennett already has made an impact in the first few days of camp with a number of spectacular plays, including an impressive interception of a Sage Rosenfels pass during the morning practice Sunday. Bennett was near the middle of the field when he broke to cover a pass on the sideline. Leaping above wide receiver David Anderson, Bennett snagged the pass and came down with a pick.
"I had good position on the receiver and good leverage," Bennett said. "Once the ball was in the air, I just had it in my mind that it was mine."
At 6-1, Bennett has above average size compared to many at his position, a factor that grants him the versatility to handle some of the taller, more physical receivers on the team.
"Me being a bigger corner, that's a major advantage," Bennett said. "I can be a lot more physical, but it's also a little disadvantage because of my long, lanky legs. But my coach has been working with me to get my steps and my backpedaling down."
Dueling punters: The addition of punter Matt Turk, a 12 year NFL veteran, to the training camp roster has led to a position battle for the starting punter spot. Along with incumbent punter Chad Stanley, Turk had an opportunity to show off his skills during the team's practices Sunday.
Each of the two got an entire practice with all of the punting reps to themselves. Stanley started the day during the morning practice, averaging a healthy 50.3 yards per successful punt in thick, humid air with little wind. The disclaimer 'successful' is in use, however, because Stanley did have one punt blocked out of the back of the end zone. Turk got all of the time in the afternoon session, averaging 51.5 yards with a long of 64 yards indoors at the Methodist Training Facility. Expect the pair to continue their duel into training camp.
Graduating gridders: Following in the footsteps of teammates Mark Bruener and Charlie Anderson, who both earned their college degrees this summer, linebacker Shantee Orr also hopes to finish where he left off in the classroom. Orr left the University of Michigan just a few credits shy of a degree in physical therapy, but he already is gearing up to satisfy his final degree requirements after the season ends.
"I've been working this winter getting ready for the winter semester at Michigan, to finish up," Orr said. "I had a longer program than most people, so I need to go back and take a few classes."
Orr said that he is in large part inspired to finish up his degree by his father, who established high academic standards for his son during his high school years.
"It was my sophomore year, and I brought home a 3.875," Orr said. "I had all As and one B, and I showed it to my dad. He said he was going to give me a car. He said 'What's this?' I said, 'It's all As, and a B.' He said, 'No, this B on your report card.' That set the tone right there. I really wanted a car, and that was as much incentive (as I needed)."