Training Camp Postcard: Texans
Posted: Wednesday August 1, 2007 5:34PM; Updated: Wednesday August 1, 2007 9:28PM
With the Houston Texans at their regular season home base, the Methodist Training Center, adjacent to mammoth Reliant Stadium (which dwarfs the neighboring Astrodome).
The setting typifies the state of the art for NFL training facilities, with three parallel practice fields that resemble the fairways at Augusta. The Texans also have a set of bleachers overlooking one field, where roughly 2,000 spectators can watch open training camp practices. Wednesday's practices were closed to the public, lending a distinctly businesslike air to the proceedings. The first practice of the day began at 8:30, when the east Texas thermostat was only set at "hot,'' before moving to "broil,'' later in the day, and then on to "torture.''
Here's The Drill
1. The last time I chatted with Texans owner Bob McNair, he was wearing his thoroughbred racing hat. We met in the main office of Stonerside Stables, McNair's sprawling horse farm in central Kentucky, several days before the 2006 Kentucky Derby, in which McNair was running Wood Memorial winner Bob and John (named for McNair and Stonerside manager John Adger). McNair's passion for racing was evident in every aspect of his speech and in every element of the lavish surroundings.
On Wednesday morning, McNair was wearing a straw hat to protect his head from the sun. Think of it as his football hat. That same passion I saw at Stonerside -- albeit this time for football -- was again evident. McNair attends nearly every practice (he won't even be going to Saratoga, sacrilege for a horse person). Today he was wearing the same shorts-and-shirt combination as most of the coaching staff, stood for 30 minutes on the field with general manager Rick Smith and ran laps in the heat after the players left.
In their sixth season, the Texans are desperate for success. "You can feel it everywhere around here,'' McNair said. "We've upgraded this team in so many ways, and it was a good team at the end of last year.''
McNair was one of four -- four! -- people who used the same expression to me on Wednesday: "It's time.'' Still, I feel compelled to add: Bob and John finished 17th in the Derby.
2. It's axiomatic in football that everyone loves the backup quarterback ... until he becomes the starter. That said, Matt Schaub looks pretty much ready for prime time. Schaub, who became the hot backup commodity while sitting behind Michael Vick for three years in Atlanta, threw crisp balls all over the field on Wednesday morning. A deep out to Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson, a sharp curl to Kevin Walter, a sweet touch pass to ancient tight end Mark Bruener. "He's got the arm,'' says Johnson. "He drops back, he lets it go and when you come out of your break, the ball is there.''
The great irony of Schaub's circumstance, of course, is that if he had not been traded by the Falcons, he would now be the starter in Atlanta, with Vick's dogfighting suspension. "I'm aware of it, but I don't dwell on it,'' Schaub told me after practice. "I'm focused on what I have going on here.''
3. This might sound obvious, but it's worth stating on occasion: Football practice often isn't enjoyable at all. Two examples:
Early in Wednesday's morning's workout, the Texans defense ran a pursuit drill that was essentially just thinly veiled conditioning. The entire defense would line up as if to defend a snap from midfield. A lone offensive player would run left or right, the defense would chase and then turn and sprint 50 yards into the end zone. And again. And again. In the heat, in helmets and shoulder pads.
With 40 minutes left in practice, offensive and defensive linemen paired off for a one-on-one pass-rushing/pass-blocking drill. They were wearing no pads, yet battled each other in crisp collisions. At one point, 10-year veteran guard Steve McKinney was tied up with 15-year veteran Jeff Zgonina (acquired via free agency), their bodies smacking together painfully, when Zgonina yelped, "You f-----!'' McKinney immediately pulled back and said, "Sorry, I thought you were wearing pads.''