Friday morning, Methodist training center, and the grass fields look just like head coach Gary Kubiak’s new flat top hair cut...perfect.
The air was tingling with excitement as the beginning days of training camp commenced this week. The practices have been open, and fans quietly line the fields with the occasional "ooos" and "aaahs" when a stud on the roster makes a play, as if they are on a tee box at the Houston Open.
Athletes entered the field with applause, stretched out, broke into team activities, scrimmaged, and just looked fantastic.
Suddenly a random coach yells out, “Hope you all like the way your bodies feel today, cause it won’t feel like this again until February.” Everybody present laughs, then abruptly the laughter is cut short by the realization that he was right.
Despite media rumors that Andre Johnson was a possible training camp holdout due to contract negotiations, the man was in the house.
Not only is Johnson present on the field, he has been dominant.
In day one he snagged a ball out of the hands of corner Glover Quin while both men leapt in the air for a long pass from Matt Schaub in the end zone. Quin had outstanding coverage, but Johnson just reached over his head and took the ball out of his hand while falling to the ground for a touchdown.
The crowd erupted, and then returned to silence.
Andre Johnson has not missed a step since last year. Calm and cool between plays on one knee with his helmet half on, and a fierce competitor once he lines up on the field.
You can’t help but stare in awe.
Toting the ball for the Texans' first team offense has been second year sophomore Arian Foster. Foster came off the practice squad and scored three touchdowns during the last two games of the 2009 season.
He ended the season as the Texans' starting tail back, and picks up right where he left off. During training camp so far, he has really stood out. While engaged in seven on sevens and full team scrimmages, he is running against the first team defense, and he looks good.
He is proving to be a dual threat. Bursting through holes on the ground, making spectacular catches in the flats, and turning short dump passes into major gains.
Foster is beginning to look like a surprise back in this league, watch this year as he chews up chunks of field, one play at a time.
The players are fairly quiet as for as yelling goes, that is, except for Bernard Pollard.
Obviously the leader of the Texans' defensive secondary, Pollard spends his time barking like a dog at people.
A fan called out “Bone Crusher” and Pollard Barked at him. A receiver walked by, and Pollard Barked at him. Defensive backs Coach David Gibbs told him how he wanted a drill ran, and Pollard barked at him.
Sound weird? It’s not...the man is an animal.
During a particular drill where the defensive backs are to shove a dummy on a sled, turn around completely, then turn back and shove the next dummy on the sled. When Pollard hit the pad, it lifts all the way up on the hinge, and slams back down. This makes every other member of his unit look small when they shove the pad and it just dents in a bit.
Bernard Pollard is not afraid to call out his team to push them harder, and his effort proves he is willing to back it up. Watch as he emerges in 2010 as one of the emotional leaders on this roster.
A rookie running back taken in the second round from Auburn, Ben Tate is learning the ropes.
Tate, after missing most of OTAs and minicamps with a hamstring injury, has been on the field during the first three days of training camp.
Tate is the third back working in the rotation after Foster then Slaton, and frankly he started out looking a bit nervous. Either that or he still needs to adjust to the speed of the game at this level.
During the opening day of training camp he dropped several passes, and fumbled the ball. However, as camp has progressed he is beginning to settle in, and look more confident on the field.
Tate is going to be given the opportunity to showcase his talent during the preseason, let’s see if his apparent early jitters carry over to game situations.
Rookie wide receiver converted from a tight end, Dorin Dickerson looks like the real deal.
As you can imagine, being a rookie seventh round pick receiver who has to line up behind the likes of Andre Johnson, Kevin Walters, Jacoby Jones, and David Anderson to name a few, he would not get a ton of reps on the field.
Well you're right, however, Dickerson is making the best of every rep. During the opening day alone he caught every pass thrown his direction during the seven on seven drills and team activities.
With each pass, as he ran back to the huddle, he was called over by head coach Gary Kubiak for some words of correction or encouragement. He has defiantly caught passes, and his coach’s eye as well.
If he can prove to be a good blocker with his size, you might see him on the field during the regular season more often than initially projected.
Once again General Manager Rick Smith was able to get every rookie signed by the first day of training camp.
First, he signed second round pick Ben Tate to a multi-year deal the night before camp began. Tate from Auburn will bring depth to a anemic running game from 2009.
Second, Rick Smith was able to get first-round corner from Alabama Kareem Jackson signed to a five-year contract worth just over $16 Million with bonuses. Jackson will start at corner opposite Glover Quin, and have the opportunity to face Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne the first game of the season. Well at least the worst will be behind him by Week Two.
Jackson, the last rookie to sign, was inked in the early morning before training camp began. New we get to see if he really did deserve to be the second corner taken in the draft.
I guess Jackson won’t be showing up with the words, “Pay Me Rick” written on his sneakers any time soon.
Pro Bowl MVP Matt Schaub looks like a different cat walking onto the field this year.
He looks bigger somehow, stronger for some reason, and man can he throw the ball. Connecting on almost every pass so far this camp, his reads during scrimmage are fast and right on the money.
He connects with Andre Johnson on the deep ball, or the flats, or a quick slant. If Andre is not there he goes to Walters or Jones. Then quickly dumps it off to Foster or Slaton. All of these adjustments he makes with a huge smile on his face, as if he knows something we don’t.
Watching him makes you feel like this team is on the verge of something great, and that he is not afraid to take on the task to achieve it.
He is not afraid to be great.
Don’t be surprised if he starts to creep into the conversation of elite quarterbacks in the league as the 2010 season progresses.
Third round draft pick Earl Mitchell from Arizona only has one speed, and it is full. Every time Mitchell is on the field the coaches are calling his name after the play.
During team scrimmages Mitchell is always in the backfield causing the offense problems. His biggest criticism coming out of the draft was that he was a bit small, however when on the field standing next to the other defensive tackles on the roster, he looks just as big as the rest of them.
Mitchell is going to push Amobi Okoye to be a better tackle, or completely out of the way before this season is over.
Keep your eye on Mitchell as he disrupts opposing offenses during preseason games.
Mario Williams is probably the biggest man in Houston aside from the Rockets' Yao Ming. When big men fall, they fall hard.
Williams has been limited since opening day with a hip injury. There were several pile ups with the offensive line that could have caused this injury.
Once during a one on one drill against veteran right tackle Eric Winston, Mario Williams took a heck of a hit that put him on the ground. He appeared to get up a bit slowly after the lick, and that could be the source of the irritation.
It was a great block.
In order for the Texans to fully achieve their goal this season Williams has to be 100 percent. He is a major factor in this team’s success, and let us hope that all our superstars make it out of camp in one piece.
Here are some honorable mentions that have been observed up to this point.:
Sophomore safety Troy Nolan from Arizona State missed all of last season with a broken hand. During seven on sevens and training camp so far, Nolan has deflected several passes.
Undrafted free agent rookie Mark Parson from Ohio University is all over the place. He has made several interceptions from third string quarterback John David Booty.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Matt Schaub's backup Dan Orlovksy is going into his sixth season, and has looked fairly decent up to this point. He is one who needs to be watched during preseason games to see if he is going to be a reliable backup if Schaub should fall.
Third year and one season phenom Steve Slaton looks real strong after his surgery. He seems to be running full speed, and not afraid to come up and block. If he should return to the form he had in 2008 it will propel this organization into the postseason.
Oh yeah...Rookie LSU kick returner Trindon Holliday is like greased lightning.
All in all a very exciting time to be a fan of this team. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that no one is injured seriously, and that the Texans players' bodies stay the way they feel right now all the way through February and beyond.