When I moved back to Houston in 2007 to start a career in radio, literally the first event I ever attended as a media member was the opening of Texans training camp. So excited I was for this assignment, I literally showed up at the facility like two hours before practice started at 8 a.m. My then-soon to be co-host John Harris and I sat there from 6 a.m. until 7:30 a.m., virtually alone in the media lot, like Chevy Chase parked at the back of the Walley World lot in Vacation.
So maybe it's the nostalgia of the beginning of the "Radio" chapter of my life, maybe it's the relief that we now have something other than the Astros' roster purge to discuss, or maybe it's the annual "back to school" vibe with other media members that I haven't seen since last January (including the question "So, how was your summer?" being asked roughly a hundred times).
Whatever the case, Texans training camp puts an extra hop in my step. Every year. It's a lock.
So amidst sweltering early morning heat on Saturday morning, the Texans took to the practice field across from Reliant Stadium in front of several thousand rabid fans who were so geeked up to see some Texans football that they probably would have cheered if Wade Phillips and Gary Kubiak stood in the middle of the practice field and used armpit farting noises to play "Bohemian Rhapsody."
The team practiced both Saturday and Sunday, twice each day. Understand that we are talking about two days of practice with no pads, and in the morning only half the practice was outside (the second half took place in the Methodist bubble) as the coaching staff thought it was best to work the players into the summer heat slowly.
In this type of environment, it's kind of stupid to evaluate players and say, "WOW, so and so looks AMAZING!" or "Well, that guy was clearly all hype. BUST!" It's like running your finger through a bowl of cake batter, licking it off your finger and then saying how awesome or terrible the cake is. I mean, it's not even cooked yet! Until you throw the thing in the oven and see how it comes out fully cooked, all bets are off.
So that's what the first few practices in an NFL training camp are -- a big bowl of stirred up, soon to be cooked cake batter. Tasty cake batter, but only batter nonetheless.
That said, the two days were not totally meaningless. Things happened, things were learned, snarky observations were made. Here are the most important tidbits:
1. Wide receiver Andre Johnson made it through Saturday unscathed; however, Sunday he wasn't so fortunate. The "scathe" monster got Andre on Sunday as he strained a groin in the middle of a routine drill. He went in for an MRI that showed a mild strain. Johnson watched the Sunday afternoon practice from the sidelines:
"My groin tightened up on me," Johnson said. "It just got tight, and I guess after everything I went through last season, they just wanted me to get an MRI to make sure everything wasn't worse than it was. I hit the ground pretty hard stretching out for a ball, and it just tightened up.
"It's just a minor strain. It will be a week or so, and I'll be back out here. Nothing that I'm not used to. It was very frustrating, but like I said, it happens. I wish I had some control over it, but, unfortunately, I don't. Just keep working and try to get better."
So on the surface, there doesn't appear to be any cause for alarm, but it would be completely understandable if Texan fans felt like the football injury gods were picking up where they left off last year. Since the end of the 2010 season (when he sat out the last three games because they were essentially meaningless and because he had a nagging ankle injury), Johnson dislocated a finger in 2011 training camp, pulled both hamstrings and missed nine games in 2011, had his knee scoped and missed OTA's, and now the groin. Let's move on; I'm getting ill discussing this.
2. In chitchatting with some of the Texans media relations folks, we got on a tangent of trying to predict who would be a surprise person to make the team and who would be a surprise cut. And we came to realize, "Damn, this roster is about 95 percent set." That's a good thing, by the way. One spot that is said to be up for grabs is the place kicking duties, where rookie Randy Bullock is battling veteran Shayne Graham. But because the Texans used a draft choice on Bullock (the first time the team has ever drafted a kicker) and because Bullock is an Aggie (Graham's only hope collegiately would be a Colorado State degree), the general consensus in our practice discussion group was that Bullock would have to either (a) perform miserably or (b) have something terrible befall him, like a torn ACL in a bar fight or a season-long bout of food poisoning. This got us wondering if Shayne Graham had it in him to pay a hit man or take it upon himself to run down Bullock in the players' parking lot, which got us discussing the hilarious visual of Bullock complaining about almost getting run over like three days in a row. These are the things that occupy our time when the practices are padless, harmless, scripted drills.
3. I remember a couple seasons ago when the Texans traveled to New Orleans to practice with the Saints, John Granato and I stood next to the field while then newly drafted kick returner and part-time midget wrestler Trindon Holliday was attempting to field punts for what appeared to be the first time in his career. It was not pretty; he looked like a second grader fielding a fly ball to deep center field. Well, somewhere in between his numerous injuries and two seasons on injured reserve, Holliday has learned not only how to field punts, but also how to catch the ball in the passing game as well. It was only two practices, but Holliday showed much improved hands over his first two training camps here.
4. This is not a Texans note at all, but I'm only going to have one day to bring this up before it's no longer relevant -- um, how about Jerry Jones wanting to return to "glory hole" days? Yes, he said this at his press conference today:
If Jones is trying to somehow top Robert Kraft and his audition tape performance with his 32-year-old girlfriend, this was a pretty solid proportional response.
5. For those of you on Twitter who are looking for some good Texans follows during training camp, here is what my Texans-related follow list looks like. (And in case you're wondering, my life as a Texans fan on social media is highly fulfilling, just so you know.):
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@StephStradley -- Owner and founder of the Texans Chick blog on chron.com. Really smart analysis with very frequent updates. @AlanBurge -- Blogger for the Examiner, solid combination of insight and sarcasm. @McClain_on_NFL -- Covers the NFL for the Houston Chronicle, and you need to follow him if you're going to follow.... @FakeJohnMcClain -- Let me point out that I am a fan and friend of John McClain, but if you can't laugh at fake accounts about your friends, then what can you laugh at? @DoughertyDrew -- Host of Texans TV and all-around good guy. @NickScurfield -- Managing editor of the team Web site, tweets out lots of good video and written content. @PayneNFL -- Former Texans nose tackle who recently moved back to Houston to work for the team in some sort of still-being-defined media capacity. Should be fascinating seeing which hilariously edgy tweet winds up ending his media career. @TexansPR -- Good source for just general nuts-and-bolts team news. @ConnorBarwin98 -- Voted "Best Athlete Tweeter" in this year's Houston Web Awards. A social media monster. @JJWatt -- Known to solicit Texans fans to round out his foursome when he's going out to hit the links @CMyers55 -- Good dude, and damn close to 10,000 followers. Helpin' a brother out! @ArianFoster -- I think by now you know Arian's deal on Twitter. Follow. That is all. @jamescasey86 -- Highly underrated player follow. Good combination of your standard "thank the fans and teammates" tweets and "inside" tweets about stuff he has going on off the field. If you follow James, you've watched his two-year-old son Cannon go from an infant to a 350-pound bench press. @46longsnap -- A fake account of long snapper John Weeks that is much more fun to follow if you pretend it's the real John Weeks. @NotGaryKubiak -- Excellent in-season follow, a bumbling version of the Texans' actual head coach that felt all too realistic in 2010.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.