Inside the Texans' Training Camp

“That is your job! If you don’t know your job, you do your family an injustice!” – Jethro Franklin, Houston Texans defensive line coach.

Young dragonflies darting in and out of the cool summer grass is the first thing you see when crossing the racetrack that surrounds the practice field at the Methodist Training Facility, home of the Houston Texan 2007 training camp. After a last minute implosion (how could they let that happen, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?) to the Chicago Bears in Houston’s first preseason action, I visited camp to get an up-close and personal view of the Lone Star State’s answer to the likes of the New York Mets and Los Angeles Clippers, to see how far these Texans have come in the second year of rebuild from an inauspicious founding.

This is what I saw.

The offense under second-year coordinator Mike Sherman is one dimensional in the sense that it plays well to the outside with aggressive sweeping runs and slant pattern passes, even the crossing routes were looking fine to the tight ends. But the lack of run penetration up the middle of the line and few “skinny post” and “go” passing routes was a stout indicator Sherman expects and needs to rely on ball advancement in the three- and five-yard variety. Only once, a beautiful rainbow spiral from quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, did I see a toss caught past 25 yards. The bright spot, and sign of earnest hope, was the offensive line, the infamous Achilles' heel of the franchise. A new zone-blocking scheme consistently crushed and trapped the interiors of the defense.

The defense starts and stops on the line. In person, it’s clear to see why the Texans chose defensive end Mario Williams with the first overall pick in last year’s draft. He is tall, almost tree like, with long arms, which engulfed blockers and ball handlers at the point of impact. Much faith sits on rookie defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. He has a low center of gravity with a tailbone that jets out of his back like a surfboard. When he placed his fingers to the ground, he reminded me of a bulldog with a wide stance, often clogging the middle of the line of scrimmage. In the defensive backfield, Dunta Robinson was the only player who could constantly push the wideout to the edge and use the sideline as a friend. I am predicting a large sum of zone coverage from the Texans D this year out of necessity and not wanting.

The Texans might have a secret safety valve. Twelve year punter Matt Turk is in camp. The average hang time on his punts where 4.4 seconds according to the ticker on my Mickey Mouse watch. This provided coverage units ample opportunity to zip down the field. This could perhaps alter the flow and field position of games this fall.

It was a good practice and I was surprised this was the team that dropped a sure victory to the Chicago Bears in the last minute of their first preseason game. As a few players took breaks, I caught eye contact with linebacker Shawn Barber (pictured) as he was getting a drink. His eyes sank into his face and he looked away as if Barber knew something was about to go wrong. And something did.

“How do you let that happen? You are a young man!” yelled Franklin when Okoye clearly took a play off and allowed Matt Schaub to flash by him for a goal line score. “How do you let that happen?”

The Texans will be better this year and I look forward to their games. But, I think toward the end of a few matches, something will go wrong. Just like Okoye at the end of practice. Just like the game against the Bears.

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