Defensive end Victor Degrate takes a moment for a water break during a hot and humid Monday morning practice.
No pain, no gain: Another hot Houston day awaited the Texans this Monday morning, as the team suited up in full pads for a long workout at the outdoor fields of the Methodist Training Center. Under a blazing, cloudless sky, the team ran through a long team practice, red zone drills and one-on-one pass rush drills. In the afternoon, the team moved to indoors for a 55 minute special teams practice.
Coach Gary Kubiak said that he was pleased with his team's effort during the morning practice, which could be the team's longest workout the entire camp.
"There's a lot of guys that stood out today, because at practice (we were) bouncing around so much," Kubiak said. "It's so competitive. (Jamar) Fletcher stood out on the defensive side of the ball, had a couple of big interceptions today. Offensively, we had a couple of guys who stepped up at the end of practice today. Ahman Green, Vonta Leach continues to get better as a football player, and it's very impressive how he's working. It was just a good overall practice, just some good things going on a very tough day."
With the team's first practice dedicated solely to the kicking game Monday, Kubiak said that he expected to integrate more special teams time into the regular practice schedule.
"Once we get to today, we'll start going to special teams in the afternoon," Kubiak said. "It helps us get the big guys off the field, so they can stay in their room or lay around in the green room there and get more rest. So rest your big guys, devote time to special teams, and let your team know how important it is."
The added rest may help out many of the rookies and the players new to Houston that are struggling through hot and humid weather. The sultry conditions continued to trouble am number of Texans, particularly rookie defensive tackle Amobi Okoye.
"It's getting to everybody, it's pretty hot out here, but he's working through it," Kubiak said of Okoye. "His condition level will get to where it needs to be."
Kubiak mourns loss of Walsh: Like many in the NFL community, Kubiak was saddened by the passing of former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, who passed away Monday at the age of 75 after a prolonged battle with leukemia.
"I had heard that he wasn't doing very well yesterday, and it's a very sad day for the National Football League," Kubiak said. "He was probably one of the most influential people in this business, and when I think of him I think of how many coaches he's impacted that are still coaching in this league today."
Kubiak actually was offered his first coaching job by Walsh in 1991, when the former Stanford coach returned for his second stint as head coach at the school. Although Kubiak did not accept the offer and instead went to Texas A&M to begin his coaching career, he was deeply influenced by Walsh's philosophy during a stint in San Francisco as a quarterbacks coach during the 1994 season.
"The way that they taught me (in San Francisco) was that they handed me tapes of Bill teaching the West Coast system," Kubiak said. "I got to go in a room, and that's the first guy I studied, teaching me that West Coast book. Then I watched how he went about it, how Mike Holmgren went about it, how Shanahan went about it, and it's amazing."
Walsh's "West Coast Offense" featured an innovative passing game focused on running short, quick routes that positioned receivers to gain yards after the catch. His offense proved to be more efficient than previous pass-oriented offenses, and numerous NFL teams, including the Texans, still run variants of Walsh's original system today.
"It's held for so long," Kubiak said. "Today, we're out here calling plays the same way he called them, with a lot of the same terminology. So his impact is tremendous, and it will continue to be."
Welcome back, Walker: Running back Darius Walker, who was cut by the team on July 23, only to be resigned after the loss of running back Chris Taylor, participated in today's practice. Receiving numerous reps at running back, the former Notre Dame star believes that the call he received from the team late Saturday night inviting him back to camp was practically divine intervention.
"I got a call from my agent, then I got a call from Rick Smith saying that they wanted to bring me back, and I said definitely," Walker said. "It was almost like a call from God, so to speak. They had me on the plane at 7:00 the next morning."
Walker, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in May and participated in summer mini-camp and OTAs, seemed to be suffering from the disappointment of going undrafted during his summer stint with the team, according to Kubiak. However, Kubiak feels that the young back has turned a corner and is ready to contribute on the field.
"The kid had a tremendous career at Notre Dame, and last year he was one of the top backs in the country," Kubiak said. "He enters the draft, and doesn't get drafted. That can be devastating for guys. I think it was disturbing for him."
"We were fortunate enough to get him here, and when he came here in the offseason, I think that was still bothering him. I think whatever he did from the time we let him go before training camp opened to the time we brought him back, some light went on and I think he understands what he's got to do. In the small window there is to become a pro football player, I see a kid that's back ready to do it the right way."
Halfback pass: Running back Patrick Pass, who won three Super Bowl rings during a seven year stint with the New England Patriots, joined the team late Sunday and participated in Monday morning's practice. With fullback Jameel Cook currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, the addition of the 5-10, 217-pound Pass will provide added versatility at the halfback and fullback positions, plus inject the team with championship experience.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Pass said of the Super Bowl. "I think there are a lot of guys on the team that are hungry to get there that I can kind of explain (to) and show them the way."
Proud 'backers: Although he has been on the squad for only a few months, linebacker Danny Clark knows that the Texans linebacking corps is in good shape with second year stud DeMeco Ryans anchoring the group.
"We have a guy in the middle who is special," Clark said. "He's beyond his years, as I said earlier. He's mature and he knows how to conduct the whole unit, and the guys around us are getting better every day, so I'm excited about it."
Playing in the middle of a defense that finished in the bottom third of NFL in total defense rankings last year, Ryans feels that the addition of veterans like Clark and Shawn Barber will play a role in a defensive upswing this year.
"We brought in a lot of veteran guys so they gave us a little bit of knowledge," Ryans said. "It's always good when the older guys pass down knowledge to the younger guys. You just take that and use it out on the field to your advantage."
Whether it is the young mainstay at middle linebacker or the addition of experienced veterans that will make the largest difference on defense this season, Ryans knows that the sky is the limit for his unit.
"Everybody is comfortable with the system," Ryans said. "Everybody knows each other, knows the system and knows how to play it. We are just looking forward to getting out there and putting it together."
Miscellaneous: There were a number of spectacular plays during the team portion of the Monday morning practice. Tight end Mark Bruener made a spectacular one-handed grab on a corner route for a touchdown during one play, while running back Ahman Green flattened linebacker Trent Bray as he attempted a tackle during an interior run a few plays later…Kubiak also announced after the morning practice that wide receiver Terry Richardson has decided to leave the team.