The Texans ran through a light morning workout without pads on Thursday to open Day 7 of training camp before heading out under the lights for an open evening practice, the team's only night practice of training camp. A record crowd of 5,017 was on hand to watch, as well as the Texas Southern University "Ocean of Soul" marching band, providing a great practice environment, according to running back Steve Slaton.
"We finally get to show the fans what we've been working on all week," Slaton said. "It's a big thing for us and a big thing for them, too."
O'Neal, Hall hit field: Hit hard by a recent rash of injuries at cornerback and running back, the Texans tried out a number of free agent players at those positions Thursday afternoon before signing a pair to contracts—cornerback Deltha O'Neal and running back Andre Hall. O'Neal is a 9-year NFL veteran who started 10 games last season with the New England Patriots and played four season with the Denver Broncos, while Hall has spent each of his two NFL seasons with Denver. The players' familiarity factor with the Texans coaching staff by virtue of their time with the Broncos made each of the signings an easy sell to Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.
"You know you're not bringing some guy in here that doesn't know what he's going to give you," Kubiak said. "We need somebody to come in here and kinda help us real quick from a practice standpoint, so those guys made the most sense."
O'Neal is a two-time Pro Bowler who has a career 34 interceptions—4 of which came in a 2001 game against Kansas City to tie the NFL record for most interceptions in a game. With experience playing under current Texans coaches David Gibbs (defensive backs), Frank Bush (defensive coordinator) and Ray Rhodes (senior defensive assistant), O'Neal feels that he'll be able to get up to speed with the Texans' defensive schemes quickly.
"All it is is man coverage, cover two or cover four or what have you," O'Neal said. "There's only so many coverages you can run so I'm just going to try and feel my way through it and hopefully it'll be before the beginning of the year."
Signed in 2007 by Denver as an undrafted free agent out of South Florida, Hall expressed gratitude for the opportunity to make the team, pointing to his desire to excel on special teams as a factor that may give him a competitive advantage in earning a roster spot. Hall also felt that his familiarity with the Texans zone run blocking system will help to make his adjustment to a new team much smoother.
"It's the same as the Broncos," Hall said. "Because it's the same as Denver's, I really don't have to beat myself up. I can get rest, wake up and study a little more. I feel comfortable doing it."
Jacoby's night to shine: Wide receiver Jacoby Jones grabbed the spotlight from the moment the opening practice whistle blew. As the Texas Southern band began to strike up a song, Jones broke from the offensive huddle to do his best drum major impression, high stepping down the field before stopping to bend backwards, eventually bending so far that his back was nearly parallel with the field. The impressive acrobatics drew a rousing cheer from the crowd and the TSU band.
But once play got underway, Jones also impressed with a series of impressive touchdown catches on deep passes, as well as a number of tough catches over the middle in traffic.
"I told Mr. McNair we need to bring the Texas Southern band to every home game if he's going to play like that," Kubiak said. "He's been playing well, and he's been a pro. There's a long way to go, but Jacoby is making some improvements."
Caldwell's accelerated learning curve: Rookie offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell was drafted by the Texans in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft with versatility in mind, as the Alabama product had the potential to play both guard and center if needed. But the high ankle sprain that sidelined starting center Chris Myers has forced Caldwell to focus in on one spot in particular during his first training camp. With Chris White moving to first on the depth chart at center, Caldwell got significant reps at center with the No. 2 offense Thursday.
"We want him to learn center first," Kubiak said. "It's the hardest spot to learn, so that's important….When we get Antoine where he feels comfortable there, then we start to move him even more around, but right now we need to get that accomplished"
Injury Report: Running back Arian Foster, who tweaked his hamstring during practice Wednesday, is expected to miss two to four days, according to Kubiak…Running back Jeremiah Johnson is also limited in practice due to a shoulder injury. Johnson participated in drills Thursday morning but he is not cleared to participate in contact exercises...defensive end Tim Bulman suffered a groin strain that caused him to leave Thursday evening's practice early...wide receiver Mark Simmons and cornerback Matteral Richardson also suffered minor hamstring and foot injuries, respectively. Simmons, Richardson and Bulman's injuries are all considered day-to-day.
Texans Notes (evening): With the record attendance of over 5,000 fans, the Texans hit a new high watermark for total attendance at training camp as well with 19,269 over 5 open practices....The very first play of the evening practice session got the crowd roaring, as quarterback Matt Schaub found a wide-open Andre Johnson deep in the end zone for an easy touchdown. Two plays later, the pair hooked up again on a play-action pass, with Johnson running a deep middle post to record another score...former Texans tight end Mark Bruener was in attendance at practice, catching up with some of his former teammates as they entered the field at the beginning of practice. Bruener, who is now retired from football, lives in the Houston area...Texans players lingered long after practice ended to sign autographs for fans, who turned out early and in force Thursday night.
(Morning): Safety Dominique Barber had a heads-up interception on a tipped pass during the team phase of practice…wide receiver Jacoby Jones turned on the jets to outrun cornerback A.J. Davis along the left sideline and make an impressive grab on a pass from quarterback Dan Orlovsky…quarterback Matt Schaub looked to be in midseason form when he found wide receiver Kevin Walter near the back right end zone pylon during a simulated two-minute drill exercise. Walter elevated over rookie cornerback Brice McCain to make the touchdown grab….over 150 members of Toro's Kids Club were in attendance at the morning practice session for Kids Club Day at training camp. Toro's Kids Club is the official youth fan club of the Houston Texans. For more information on joining, go to www.toroskidsclub.com.