HOUSTON—The feel around team Texan is one of upbeat optimism. All's good on the homefront, minus one cornerstone cornerback holdout.
All the draft choices are signed, all are getting their assignments down. People within the organization and even those who've slowly become indirectly part of this Texans family have a collaborative connection—a bond that continues to become tighter as the days toward the season shorten.
Welcome to Houston Texans football. Installment number eight.
Problem is, eight truly isn't enough.
For the past two seasons, eight is the number the Texans have been moderately linked to. Offensive guard Chester Pitts, who's been with the organization since its inception in 2002, has higher expectations this year. He and everyone else.
"This year, there shouldn't be many teams better than us," Pitts said on a day he worked out against the defense in no pads.
Expectations and reality are two completely different things. The Texans believe there's not much of a fine line with this year's team.
True, in an organization that's put its emphasis, in so many ways, on defense over the years, the numbers just don't add up. This year, the team changed to a different defensive scheme—one that could be a little more exciting with increased fanfare—tabbed a new defensive coordinator in Frank Bush and addressed its woeful secondary issues.
All that being said, this team still hasn't even had a preseason game to evaluate itself against another color uniform. But for so many, the anticipation for Saturday's preseason opener at Kansas City is more than just an audition. This is a chance to let a can out in an anticipatory year.
"The way that our group has developed, it's because of work," said Texans fourth-year coach Gary Kubiak, whose 22 wins and 16-8 home record have become a hallmark in an organization eyeballing an even greater uphill climb.
Don't be mistaken, the pinnacle is resting well beyond the steep slope the Texans are about to embark on. But when 50-50 is the ratio you shoot for in a marriage, it's not what a football team is after. Not when you consider the end of tunnel.
That's why eight is no longer enough. This year, if the Texans ever hope to see the end of that tunnel, it must start on defense. Bush will tell you that ... if you read between the lines.
"Our offense, they are a well-oiled machine, so we try not to compare ourselves," the newly-appointed defensive braintrust confessed. "They go about their business, and they are good at it.
"There is a learning curve. We're trying to be aggressive, get guys going forward, not going sideways. Those things are coming around. After a week, we kind of like where we are with those things, and you know, we'll keep getting better at it."
How much better the Texans become by January has a lot to do with, right now, an extremely green defense. A lot is being asked from two rookie cornerbacks during this process. Numbers have dogged the Texans' defense since the organization's inception. But each year hope springs eternal, and each year the grind of training camp offers an exemplary purpose to shoot for.
This year, the Texans are beyond purpose. Special teams coordinator Joe Marciano will tell you the nature of the game begs for something so much more.
"We're in a profession where everything's got to be perfect," said Marciano, who begins his 24th NFL season, including the eight in Houston.
Professional teams better be perfect. Especially with the type of dollars being thrown around to play a game where once the season starts only two true days of intense practice defines the week.
"Where else can you go and start off making $300,000 a year?" Marciano said, his salary numbers loosely hinting at the short end of what so many pro athletes command these days.
As Marciano eluded to, so many people in society are faced with minimum wage-level earnings. Not here. Not in pro football. Not when performance and negotiation is all dangerously too commonplace these days.
All that said, let the truth be told: The Texans don't want to negotiate this season. They want to win. Yet there's only one way to do it.
It starts here in training camp, where the objective is about setting the bar high.
"It's hard to get to the top, and it's hard to stay on top," Kubiak said, referring more to winning a starting job.
That same analogy easily applies to the big picture of a team. Especially a team that has never tasted the spoils of the postseason.
"The thing I've been most impressed with our team is our core players," Kubiak said. "We're on schedule, but I think it changes every day."
Tomorrow is another day. And come January, the Texans hope there's an awful lot of tomorrows.