EDITOR'S NOTE:** Texans fan Alan J. Burge continues to write his "Voice of the Fan" column for HoustonTexans.com. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.
*Is it hot enough yet?
**It must be global warming, right?
Probably not, but don't tell Texans players that. It's just another July 28 in Houston, Texas.
Friday's high of 94 degrees was right on the norm for this time of the year, so for those Texans players from Portland, Maine; Caldwell, Idaho; and Gillette Wyo., welcome to Houston!
Actually, I don't think it really matters where you're from, since I saw equal opportunity slog and sweat among veterans of the Big Sky and SEC on Friday morning's first installment of training camp at the Texans' practice facility.
Give it a few days and you'll get used to it, right? At least you can try to convince yourself that if you're a player. That's so easy for me to say when all I'm doing is standing there watching 300-pound dudes abuse each other in ultimate strength and agility competitions.
To sidetrack for just a minute, I was headed out to the practice field this morning and tuned in to a local sports radio talk show where there was a discussion on how head coach Gary Kubiak is allowing veterans to spend nights at home during training camp instead of being sequestered in the team hotel for two weeks.
For starters, that should just about put an end to any speculation of whether things are any different at Reliant Park this season.
Secondly, I can imagine free nights and weekends plays very well with the players.
But from a coach's perspective, I'm sure there's a worry about distractions, complacency, and lack of bonding. On the other hand, and I guess this is where coach Kubiak is coming from, veteran players get major relief from the mental drudgery of two weeks of two-a-days at camp, where there's questionable value added – and not to mention that's before playing four - count 'em - four preseason games.
Not all vets have taken advantage of the offer. Chester Pitts, for example, has chosen to stay at the team hotel so he can get a few more minutes of sleep each day instead of commuting in during rush hour with the rest of us freeway lemmings.
But isn't training camp supposed to be all about drudgery as much as it is about competition and learning X's and O's? Isn't this supposed to be an annual rite of passage, even for 12-year veterans?
Maybe for some of the old-school coaches, but I'm confident in saying we're not in 'old school' any more, Toto.
As I listened to the radio discussion, it brought back an old nagging issue: Do we really need a four-week or (for some unfortunate teams and fans) a five-week preseason?
I can understand if this was still 1972, when training camp consisted of players piling into a station wagon and driving off to some dust bowl town to "bond" with their teammates to terrorize local bars for a few weeks. But this is a new era.
With organized offseason training activities, mini-camps, and other offseason activities, not to mention $50 million player contracts, the NFL is now a year-round business. Players have far less time these days to disengage. It's been that way for a while.
Two weeks of camp is probably fine unless of course you're wearing helmets and pads. But the NFL really needs to cut back on the number of preseason games. With all due respect to Ernie Banks, let's play two.
Shortening the preseason will lower the risk of losing a veteran player to injury in a meaningless game and give season ticket holders some relief from paying one-fifth of their total season ticket cost for games that don't count in the standings.
Yes, if you haven't guessed, the news out of Cleveland about Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley shook me up a bit. Even though Bentley's injury was a freakish thing, and not due to the length of preseason, you always worry about losing a key starter before the real games start.
End rant and back to training camp.
Yes, it was hot out there, but the stands were full of excited fans and the players had an extra spring in their step feeding off the energy.
One thing that's obvious is there are a lot of new faces on the Texans this season. Get your programs and your media guides because it's not as easy as it used to be. I know the roster is inflated at the moment and rookies are one thing, but when you see guys like linebackers Wali Rainer and Sam Cowart walk by for the first time, it makes even the hardest core fan do a double-take and sneak a peek at the names on the back of the jersey.
Speaking of linebackers, that's an interesting work in progress. With the switch to the 4-3, Kailee Wong's injury, and Jason Babin and Antwan Peek now playing defensive end, it's really open competition in almost every respect.
Fans watched as coach Johnny Holland put the linebackers through their punch-and-shuffle drills on the sled early in practice and everyone could see the enthusiasm in that unit. Shantee Orr, Cowart and Morlon Greenwood saw most of the action on first team with Charlie Anderson, Rainer, and DeMeco Ryans backing up. Don't infer anything from this since the depth charts won't be set for a while. Coach Kubiak has made it very clear that no one should feel comfortable at any position.
On the defensive line, fans saw Mario Williams and Babin at ends with Anthony Weaver and Robaire Smith at tackle. Williams and Babin flip-flop based on the position of the tight end. Fans also saw N.D. Kalu, Seth Payne, Travis Johnson and Peek get plenty of action during full-team drills.
Camp Kubiak is well-organized and fast-paced. After warm-ups, players spin off into positional units and spend time refining techniques.
The action was intense, even in the individual unit drills. Coach Bob Karmelowicz put the defensive line through their paces early in the session, having the players work against each other on two-hand shed techniques, fighting off 'offensive' linemen to seek out and destroy a ball carrier. Coach Bob gets my award for coach's quote of the day when he screamed "I want upper body violence!" to get a point across.
The practice tempo gradually increased as individual unit drills gave way to combined team drills.
One of my favorite things to watch is what I call the 'hangman drill,' where a tackling dummy representing a quarterback is hanging from a modified blocking sled overhead from an extended arm. First-team offensive and defensive linemen went up against each other in this drill, which consisted of defensive linemen trying to crush the dummy quarterback while offensive linemen tried to stop them. Many fans focus on the skill positions, but this is where the rubber meets the road. It's the most primal aspect of the game we love.
Peek showed his intensity and explosiveness during the hangman, once leaving "Caveman" Eric Winston wondering what happened as Peek spun by him and ripped the dummy off the sled.
Johnson getting stonewalled by rookie free agent tackle Mike Brisiel during the hangman was somewhat troubling, but coach Kubiak has made no secret of the fact that Travis needs to step it up during this camp.
On the offensive side, seeing Domanick Davis get the first handoff of training camp – and more – was quite refreshing. I got a chance to speak with DD very briefly at the end of practice and he was very upbeat and said he felt good.
Other observations, in no particular order:
- Free agent wide receiver Derrick Lewis has a lot in common with Donovan Morgan. Both are from New Orleans, both played in the Arena League, both had families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and both are trying to make the Texans' final roster. Lewis is tall and slender at 6-2, 179 pounds, but showed good hands on several plays during 7-on-7 drills. Whether he can play special teams, an absolute requirement of No. 4 and No. 5 WRs, remains to be seen.
- Seeing Jeb Putzier settle into zones 20 yards downfield and making catches is a thing of beauty. Using a tight end (and fullbacks) as offensive weapons is a bit of an oddity for Texans fans, but believe it because it's real.
- Rookie jitters were evident when Damien Rhodes fumbled a handoff that was returned for a touchdown by the defense early in full-team drills.
- One of the biggest fan responses was when tight end Aaron Halterman returned a blocked punt for a TD. That could be considered good news if you're rooting for the defense, or bad news if you're on the punt team. Another crowd favorite was when free safety Kevin Curtis intercepted a deep ball and crashed through a fence in the north end zone.
- Cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Dunta Robinson shared punt return duty on this first day of camp.
All in all it was a great day at camp, heat and all. See you out there next time.
You can email Alan Burge at: email@example.com