The Houston Texans are off and running at training camp.
Here are the biggest stories to emerge so far:
Matt Schaub is Back
It's difficult to call Schaub's return a "story" exactly, as it's hardly a surprise. Still, considering that his health is one of the defining issues surrounding both the 2011 and 2012 Texans, all discussion of camp to this point has to center on him.
By all accounts, he looks to be 100% healthy and comfortable. This is reassuring to both players and fans alike. Schaub, for one, is happy to be back at practice. For him, it's a major improvement over sitting on the sidelines like he did at mini-camp.
“I wanted to be out there. As a competitor, when you feel like you can go do something, you want to go do it. In the long term, in hindsight, looking back, it was a good thing for me to just continue my rehab and focus on those things, getting all my footwork and everything down. Doing all the football drills on my feet, the different angles that you work on with your feet as a quarterback and just work on those things to get as strong as possible so I could peak at training camp, rather than having that time period just doing football and I lost track of rehab. Now, I feel great.”
As the team deals with trying to rebuild the offensive line and receiving corps, knowing that Schaub is sound and looking strong is a major relief.
As long as he remains upright, this team is a contender in the AFC.
Early Injuries are Nothing to Worry About...Yet
The Texans have to be sensitive to the impact that a few well-placed injuries can have on the season. So far, training camp has had a handful of notable dings.
Andre Johnson, Kareem Jackson and Darryl Sharpton are the biggest names to find themselves missing time early in camp. Sharpton will miss some time recovering from a hip injury, and Jackson's hamstring pull was called "minor" by Gary Kubiak.
Obviously, the groin tweak suffered by Johnson Sunday morning is the biggest news. He was upbeat about the prognosis however. Asked about it later in the day, he said,
“My groin tightened up on me. It just got tight and I guess after everything I’ve been through last season they just wanted me to get an MRI to make sure everything wasn’t worse than it was. It just tightened up on me. I had hit the ground pretty hard stretching out for a ball and it just tightened up. That’s pretty much it.”
Again, under other circumstances, taking a player off the field for precautionary measures wouldn't be big news, but in Houston, anything involving Johnson is going to make fans nervous.
No one is claiming there's any reason to panic, but it's going to be an issue to watch for a team already struggling to piece together a receiving corps. On the bright side, giving Johnson a week off means more reps for the young guys.
Who is Going to be No. 3?
The biggest question the Texans have in camp concerns the third wideout spot. Honestly, I think it extends further up the depth chart than that, but at this point, Houston will be happy to find one quality receiver, let alone two.
Kubiak is happy enough with Kevin Walter, calling him "a rock," but my concern is that he has all the speed of a rock at this point in his career.
As for the other young players, DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean are in the mix for playing time in three-wide sets.
Kubiak found the aforementioned bright side in Johnson's injury as an opportunity to see what the young guys have.
“It’s going to be interesting because now we’re in a situation where Andre (Johnson) is going to miss time, so we bumped them all up. We kind of move them around each day. There’s a lot of young ability and I think there’s no telling who our five or six will be. I think they all have the ability to make this team, so we’re going to have to see how they hold up and who makes the plays and then Kevin (Walter) and them have their responsibilities to continue to get better and play well. Lestar (Jean) is getting a great opportunity. This morning the Jackson kid (Jerrell Jackson) made some nice plays. I think it’s going to be a very competitive situation.”
Competition is great, but the team needs someone to jump and win it. Lestar Jean has been a popular name around Houston for months now, but Kubiak was slow to overpraise the second-year player.
“I love his size. I like big guys in the league. I think it is an advantage. He’s very smart. He can play a lot of places. He did do some go things on special teams for (coordinator) Joe (Marciano). It’s a unique situation because he hasn’t played, but he’s still sitting here operating as a starter. He’s never even taken a snap. That kind of tells you where we’re at. He’s going to have to play big for us to be successful and keep moving forward so we’re counting on him.”
It's a wise position to take. He has some obvious physical attributes, but has never played a down in a game that counts. He's got to earn the job.
The Offensive Line is a Work in Progress
A popular topic early in camp is whether Duane Brown is the best left tackle in football. It's a nice thing to talk about, especially because there's an easy case to be made that it's true.
The certainty about the line really stops there, however. Among the key issues to sort out for the Texans is who will start opposite Brown on the right.
Gary Kubiak refused to handicap the race between Rashad Butler and Derek Newton.
“I think they’re neck and neck. They’re a little bit kind of two different players in a lot of ways. (T Derek) Newton is a big powerful guy, (T Rashad) Butler’s more of an athletic, wiry type of guy. It’s going to be a good battle, and the only way it’s going to get settled is when we play. Here in practice it kind of goes back and forth. But we’ll get it worked out.”
Considering that protecting Schaub's health is job one for the line, and naming a right tackle is step one in that process, we'll be watching this closely the rest of the month.
Whitney Mercilus Looks Strong
It's always hard to evaluate defensive players until the pads go on and the heavy-hitting starts, but the first-round pick looked outstanding early in camp.
It's been noted before, but Mercilus should have success in Wade Phillips' system. It's aggressive style plays to his strengths.
This isn't lost on Mercilus, who said:
“Oh, it’s phenomenal. It’s just getting after the quarterback. You got to play hard, play fast, get to the ball. If the ball is thrown 20 yards down field, you got to chase after it. You just can’t quit.”
The biggest advantage is that it has been easy for him to pick up. He has a good idea already of what is required of him.
“He keeps it pretty much simple for all the players coming into the system who are pretty new to it. It’s not too hard to learn. I’ve already gone through OTAs and things like that, so it’s not really that hard to learn...Basically, there’s no thinking at all. Just go, react and ball out.”
The rest of the AFC has to read those quotes and cringe.
The last thing the conference needed was another young bull on parade in Houston.
All quotes and injury information provided to Bleacher Report courtesy of the Houston Texans.
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