Cornerback Dunta Robinson takes it personally when opposing receivers make a catch on his watch. Robinson said he tries to improve in practice by going up against the best possible competition during each of his reps.
Searching for consistency: On a cool, overcast Thursday morning, coach Gary Kubiak was pleased with his team's work during its half-shell, helmets and shoulder pads practice, especially coming off an afternoon of special teams practice and rest for many players.
"I thought they came back ready to work this morning," Kubiak said. "Offensively, we bogged down out there on 7-on-7, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that we're working with six wide receivers. When we hit those snags in practice, and when things bog down, as I told these guys right now, leaders need to take care of that. They don't need to wait on me to take care of that all the time. When we get to that point, then we're going to be making some headway."
Although Kubiak was generally pleased with his team's effort during practice, he does feel that reaching that aforementioned level of leadership will take some time.
"We've got a long, long way to go," Kubiak said. "I think we've got a good young football team. We've added some veteran players that are going to make our football team more explosive at linebacker and at running back. I think our whole battle, really what I just talked to the team about, is just continuing to come together as a team. We do some good stuff. We don't do it consistently. We've got to become more consistent how we go about it, and that comes from leadership."
Cornering complacency: Cornerback Dunta Robinson already has seen enough success from opposing receivers during his first three NFL seasons. This training camp, the Texans' young corner is focused on ditching a lackadaisical attitude that he feels he's held in years past.
"When the receiver catches the ball, I'm starting to take that personally," Robinson said. "Last year and the years past, it was a hand clap, and I moved on to the next play. Now it means a lot to me if a receiver catches the ball, so I'm just working a lot harder than I have."
One way Robinson is working harder to improve himself during camp is by constantly testing his skills during practice, especially by matching up against his team's top receiving threat.
"I want to go at Andre (Johnson) every practice," he said. "I want to go up at who I think is the best receiver in the game every practice. It's just a point of me coming out here and competing and going as hard as I possibly can."
Mathis shines at night: Although injuries have set back a few players in the Texans' receiving corps, wideout Jerome Mathis has taken full advantage of the additional reps he is receiving due to the absence of hurt teammates. In Thursday's night practice, Mathis wowed the fans with a series of impressive catches. His effort so impressed Kubiak that he placed a special distinction on the young wide receiver's effort.
"Best football practice he's had since I've been here," Kubiak said. "There's a little buzz tonight, there's some people out here and you can tell his juices are flowing. If he keeps this up and stays on the field, he's going to have a special year."
Mathis, who was saddled with a nagging foot injury for much of last season, has worked hard during the offseason to get back into football shape. Kubiak believes that Mathis' efforts at training and honing his skills have helped him shed a reputation as just a kick return specialist.
"Jerome hasn't worked at receiver much," Kubiak said. "Let's face it, he's been a returner. What he's doing now is he's working at receiver, and we've got some guys out (with injury) so he's working even more. He's progressing."
Fan attendance record: Thursday night's practice was open to the public, and a record 3,654 Texans fans showed up for a fun workout filled with live zydeco music, trick plays and scoring. Tonight's attendance places the total fan count for the four days of open practices at 10,877.
The practice wasn't just fun for fans, however. Many players, including quarterback Matt Schaub, enjoyed the evening affair.
"It's nice to have an evening practice," Schaub said. "It's a little cooler and you've got the lights on. It gives us a little break from our normal morning and afternoon practices, so it's fun when the lights get turned on and we get to come out and play ball. We just wanted to get one shot deep and get some of the fans excited."
Lunch pail Leach: As a blocking fullback in today's NFL, Vonta Leach knows that thanks rarely comes his way for the oft-overlooked yet integral role he plays in a team's ground attack.
"Oh yeah, but that's just part of your job, that's just part of the role, knowing what your supposed to do and help the team," Leach said "My role is to help the team do what they gotta do to win, to get to the playoffs and I'm happy with that."
Leach, who according to STATS Premium Statistical Services has not recorded a single carry in his three previous NFL seasons, could care less about touching the ball. Instead, he takes vicarious satisfaction through the success of his fellow backfield mates.
"I get my glory when the running back has over 100 yards and we rush for over 1,000 yards this year," Leach said. "That's how I get my glory."
Rainy day: Rain and lightning drove the team indoors at the Methodist Training Facility with about 40 minutes remaining in Thursday morning's practice. Still, the team practiced in a heavy rain for roughly 20 minutes before a weather alarm was set off and the team was forced to retreat inside their enclosed practice field. Although he acknowledged that practicing in rain is rarely comfortable or easy, Kubiak saw a certain value in briefly keeping his team outside during the storm.
"We may go to Carolina in Week 2 and it may rain," Kubiak said. "As long as there's no lightning, there's nothing wrong with that. I think it makes people concentrate; makes the quarterback concentrate on the ball. You gotta be ready to do anything in this business, and you can't be distracted by something like a little cold summer rain."
Injury update: Injuries have hit the team's wide receiving corps hard. Only six of the team's wideouts participated in the morning session Thursday, with Andre' Davis, David Anderson and Keenan McCardell all watching from the sideline. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Mario Williams took the day off after tightening his hamstring during a drill Wednesday morning.
Although Davis is expected to return to practice Friday, the team may have to wait a bit longer for Anderson and McCardell, according to Kubiak.
"David Anderson looks like we're probably looking at Monday," Kubiak said. "Keenan is the one of the three that will probably be out the longest. (Team trainer) Kevin (Bastin) talked to me (and said it would take) about four or five days. I don't know, we'll see, but we really need to get him back out there."
Williams, on the other hand, was willing and more than prepared to go today, but Kubiak withheld his right defensive end from practice for precautionary reasons.
"He had his pads on, and I made him go in and take them off this morning," Kubiak said. "(His hamstring) tightened up on him yesterday, and it's just precaution."
Miscellaneous: Wide receiver Jacoby Jones had an excellent practice under the lights, including making a great leaping catch and collecting a substantial gain on a reverse play…linebacker DeMeco Ryans led the highlight reel for the defense Thursday night, jumping nearly three feet into the air to intercept a pass during a red zone drill…Schaub deked many in attendance for Thursday morning's practice by faking a spike during a hurry-up drill and then hitting wide receiver Kevin Walter for a 20-yard touchdown pass…wideout Harry Williams impressed again, this time during one-on-one receiving drills with cornerbacks at the goal line. Williams tricked his defender one time by cutting towards the goal post on an inside route instead of breaking toward the back pylon, and later pulled in a nice jump ball for another score…the Texans hosted a youth group from the Chinese Community Center at practice Thursday morning.