A day after cornerback Jacques Reeves suffered a fractured fibula that will cause him to miss 6-8 weeks, the Texans took the practice field using a rotation of young cornerbacks on Wednesday morning. They had their second special teams practice of camp in the afternoon.
Back on track:Head coach Gary Kubiak called Tuesday morning's practice the Texans' worst of camp, but he was much more pleased with the team's effort on Wednesday.
"We practiced really well today," Kubiak said. "It's what you've got to be able to do, got to bounce back. Good news is that they understand, they understand the difference in what we got done yesterday and what we got done today, so it's what it's all about."
On every rep, Kubiak gave a shouting reminder to players to "Stay up, stay up, stay up" off of the field. Reeves and starting center Chris Myers were injured a day earlier while falling to the ground.
Cornerback shuffle:With Reeves injured and Dunta Robinson not in camp, the competition is wide open at cornerback opposite starter Fred Bennett.
"You have all young players other than Fred," Kubiak said. "There's a lot of good things going on, and basically what's going to take place is you're going to see reps for them like first and second teamers, so there's so much to evaluate. But it's a great opportunity for those young men. It's a little bit of a scary situation for us as a team, but we'll see what happens. Sometimes, you find players that way."
Rookie cornerback Glover Quin returned for parts of practice on Wednesday morning after missing two days with a leg bruise. The other cornerbacks in the Texans' rotation are Brice McCain, Matterral Richardson, David Pittman, A.J. Davis and Mark Parson. All of those players except for Pittman, a third-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2006, were late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents.
Kubiak would not say if McCain or a healthy Quin would be higher on the depth chart.
"Nobody is going to be first or second," Kubiak said. "They're just all going to compete. They're probably going to line up first or second on a given day. After Fred, they're going to all compete and we'll go from there."
New role for Bennett:Bennett is the only healthy corner on the Texans' roster who has any game experience with the team. A fourth-round draft pick in 2007, Bennett has started 14 games in two seasons. He led the Texans with three interceptions as a rookie, then had an inconsistent second season that was a bit of a disappointment.
"It's funny how things work," Kubiak said. "Fred has been kind of up and down, he's had some chances to start and not start, and all of a sudden he goes into this camp as a starter and all of a sudden now he's the lone veteran standing, so it is a chance for Fred to lead the way with the group.
"Fred is having one heck of a camp, and I think he's adjusted to what David (Gibbs) wants very, very well. Opportunity knocks."
Kubiak said that Bennett is noticeably more mature this year and is in the best condition that he has been to date.
"Here's an opportunity for Fred to be a leader, too," Kubiak said. "All those young guys are looking at him, basically six young guys watching Fred. That's unusual to be in year three and be the big veteran in the group. That's another challenge for him."
Molden still out: Second-year cornerback Antwaun Molden is still at least a week away from being healthy enough to practice as he recovers from an ankle injury.
"I thnk he's still a little bit away," Kubiak said. "We said a couple of weeks when we got started, and it's not quite a week yet. We'll see. We were hoping for two weeks. Right now, let's say he's not ready yet. "
Molden, who is on the Active/PUP list, suffered the injury on a special teams play in Week 15 last season against the Tennessee Titans. His return to the field is more important than ever with Jacques Reeves set to miss six to eight weeks with a fractured fibula.
McCain holding his own:McCain didn't expect to be competing for starting duties as a rookie sixth-round draft pick. Reeves' injury has given him an opportunity to take extensive snaps with the first unit.
"He's gaining confidence every day," Kubiak said. "Good looking player, doesn't make the same mistake twice. He's making a nice push, so it's going to be interesting."
McCain, who runs the 40 in the 4.3-second range, has been picking the brains of the Texans' veteran corners, safeties and receivers in order to maximize his preparations.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for me to be able to come out here and play," McCain said. "It's a blessing to be able to come out here. I have to bring my 'A' game every day and on every snap."
Wilson staying at safety:Free safety Eugene Wilson has experience playing cornerback for the New England Patriots, but the Texans decided not to change his position because Kubiak sees Wilson as an emerging leader on defense.
"We don't need to do that to the big picture right now, so that's an option if it were Week 4 or Week 5, but not right now," Kubiak said.
Special teams practice:The Texans focused on kickoff returns during their second 50-minute special teams practice of camp on Wednesday afternoon. Special teams coordinator Joe Marciano went over punt coverage and punt returns during the first special teams practice on Monday.
Along with incumbent kickoff returner André Davis, other players fielding kicks on Wednesday included Jacoby Jones, Ryan Moats, Darnell Jenkins, Quin, McCain and Glenn Martinez.
"We've got about five or six guys who'll get plenty of reps," Kubiak said. "It'll be very competitive because it could have a lot to do with those last roster spots as far as how much a guy helps in that area, so we'll see. We'll give them all a chance."
Morning practice notes:Running back Chris Brown flashed some breakaway speed with an impressive 50-yard touchdown run down the left sideline during the two-minute drill portion of practice…running back Ryan Moats made a nifty one-handed catch on a short pass over the middle from Dan Orlovsky, turning a potential incompletion into a 10-12 yard gain…kicker Kris Brown was consistently accurate from 40-plus yards in live kicking situations, making almost all of his kicks with extra yards to spare...on one of the last plays of practice, linebacker Brian Cushing displayed outstanding closing speed by forcing Moats out of bounds on a passing play. Cushing came from across the middle of the field and beat a defensive back to Moats…wide receiver Jacoby Jones couldn't corral a pass from Rex Grossman that went out of bounds on the sidelines, but Kubiak applauded Jones for his effort in laying out on the play with defenders around him.
Injury report:Running back Arian Foster tweaked his hamstring and is day-to-day...tight end Anthony Hill, who was on crutches with a sore foot on Tuesday afternoon, was recovered and a full participant in practice on Wednesday...tight end James Casey was kicked in the shin in the morning, but it was nothing serious.
TACT groups at camp:The morning practice was attended by 230 local children representing the Texans All Community Team (TACT) groups of left tackle Duane Brown and defensive end Mario Williams. Through the TACT program, Texans players purchase a bundle of season tickets for children from local non-profit organizations, hospitals and schools.
Houston Parks and Recreation sent 200 kids to practice on behalf of Brown, while Casa de Esparanza sent 30 on behalf of Williams. The children played in the TORO's Kid Zone areas set up for open fan practices and met with Brown and Williams after practice.