It seemed so unreal to me at first. Not even two weeks ago, I was just sitting in my chair eating Cheetos (sans pants, of course), and then I had the opportunity to come down to Houston, some expenses paid, to watch the team I love practice in the blistering Texas heat, and stay with my family and their 348 pets. Who could possibly pass an opportunity like that by? Sitting on the plane, shoehorned next to complete strangers who, thanks to the change-over in Phoenix, weren't so much sweating as they were rendering like strips of bacon in a frying pan, it still felt like a dream; like it would be ruined by the inevitable ring of an unforgiving alarm clock. Even in the bleachers, thankfully shielded from the harsh Summer sun, I didn't believe I was there.
That was when I heard it: the dull crack of helmets colliding, the sound of athletes, "overtrained" and otherwise, grunting and fighting and, yes, even battling for a spot on the final roster. That was when I knew it was real, and that football, thankfully, was finally back. True, the lockout occurred during the off-season and it often feels like football season takes forever to return; but this year the off-season felt longer, like we've missed, for some indecipherable reason, more than we have. Maybe it's the breakneck pace of the free-agent signing period, maybe it's because we haven't had a chance to see anything relating to football that didn't have the word "lockout" attached to it; but I've missed it, far more this season than any other. Maybe that's why I cracked a subtle smile when I heard those players crash together. Getting to watch them practice was just icing on the cake...delicious football cake. And now that I've completely bored the life out of you, my well-bleached friends, here are some impressions I took away from the first day of training camp, open to the public.
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1. If Brandon Harris and Kareem Jackson continue to play this preseason the way they played during today's training camp, I believe Harris will supplant Jackson as CB2 on the Texans roster. In each snap, Harris always seemed to play near the football, if not actually making plays on the football itself. He returned a ball for a pick-six, showed excellent reaction time to each play, be it a run or pass play. The highest praise I can offer Jackson, however, is that at least he didn't fall down. When he did make plays on the ball, they looked like, in a game-time situations, probable pass interference calls against K-Jax. He has not shown great improvement thus far in his ability to backpedal and keep up with receivers in the defensive backfield.
2. Watching Mario Williams in coverage situations is a lot like watching a duck trying to rollerskate backwards. It's funny to watch, but with potentially disastrous results. Thank goodness he won't be asked to do that very often. With that being said, I also firmly believe that in the course of this regular season, Mario Williams will be the first player ever arrested for murdering an opposing player on the field. Even slimmed down, he's an imposing figure on the line and among the linebacker corps. He was creating pressure on the pocket and finding his way into the backfield. Had the defense not been told not to actually hit the quarterback, Matt Schaub would have had several lovely streaks of green on his liberty white uniform. What I find interesting, though, is that every time Williams played in a three-point stance, he was far less effective in attacking the pocket. When he stood, however, he was a force of nature.
3. Under no circumstances should Wade Phillips wear shorts. Ever. I don't care how hot it gets, he should have the common decency to wear pants. And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy of this statement.
4. Whose brilliant idea was it to bring in Brad Maynard to replace Matt Turk? Do we really need a cheaper version of the same craptastic punter we had last year? I sincerely hope that Brett Hartmann can beat him out in training camp. Maynard let loose a punt that would have made last year's Matt Turk proud, the first thing I blurted out after seeing that was "What the hell was that?!" Laughter ensued.
5. One of the big flaws of Wade's 3-4 defense is ripe for short passes up the middle which has the potential for turning into bigger gains by opposing defenses. What concerns me is that the offense was able to exploit this hole fairly consistently during practice this morning. This needs to get fixed, and fixed soon. Otherwise, we could see an encore of the Battle Red Carpet defense we've come to know and hate. Granted, it would be a smaller carpet, but it's an opening we can't afford for the defense to have.
6. Steve Slaton will make some other team very, very happy. There is no way the Texans are keeping four running backs on the roster, and Ben
Kerns Tate looked good today. Really good. He made some nice moves and showed excellent field vision. I think Slaton's problems are twofold: First, I think his neck surgery has really limited his ability to see the field, which is problematic for the kind of offense the Texans like to run. Second, he looks really indecisive when trying to pick a hole to run through. The end-result being that he starts trying to do the boot-scoot boogie as the hole he considers running through closes up in front of him. Worse still is that nobody does the boot-scoot boogie anymore, and worst of all, I actually know what the boot-scoot boogie is! Ick.
7. Trindon Holliday will not be on the roster by the end of preseason. He has no business as a wide receiver in the NFL. He's simply too small to contend with corners for passes downfield, and his hands are suspect at best. The only way he can possibly keep a spot on the final roster is if he somehow manages to beat out Jacoby Jones for the kick returner spot. I don't think it's terribly wise, but I think Danieal Manning will be returning punts this season. If Holliday can't jar one of those positions loose, his time as a Texan is ticking.
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