First impressions are tricky business in NFL training camps. With pads off, contact limited and many veterans still rounding into shape, the cream may not instantly rise.
Nonetheless, premature analysis comes with the territory during the unofficial start to the NFL season. It's especially the case for the Texans, considering the Astros remain in the midst of possibly the worst season in club franchise history and the Rockets are still two months from reporting to camp.
While intensity will ratchet up this week with the debut of pads, camp officially began Friday and continued with two practices each on Saturday and Sunday. Here's a look at what stood out:
5. Cierre Wood looks here to stay.
With Justin Forsett departing in free agency, the Texans have an opening for a third running back. It looks like the undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame could fill it. Wood isn't the flashiest back in terms of straight-line speed. But much like Arian Foster, Wood delivers quick and decisive cuts along with sudden bursts through the hole, making him an ideal fit for the one-cut, zone-blocking scheme in Houston.
With Foster out to begin training camp due to a calf injury, there are extra opportunities for young running backs. So far, Wood is taking full advantage.
"It's really important to make a great first impression," Wood said. "Every chance you get, you want to make the best of your opportunity. Every snap I get, I'm going 1,000 percent to make sure my assignments are strong and give the coaches no reason at all to doubt my abilities."
Wood split carries at Notre Dame with Theo Riddick, a sixth-round pick for Detroit. That limited Wood's college statistics and exposure, pushing him to the undrafted pool. But one benefit of going undrafted is that those players can pick the team they believe is best suited for them. To that end, Wood says he and the Texans are a perfect match.
"The scheme was a big part of it, because I ran basically the same exact thing in college," he said. "I also thought Texas was a great place for me, and the Texans needed another back."
This year, that need is at the No. 3 spot behind Foster and Ben Tate. But with Tate's contract expiring after the season and the Texans unlikely to commit big money to two running backs, Wood could easily find himself in the No. 2 position by next spring. He'll have to make it out of training camp first, but so far, so good.
"I know I can make this team, and I will make this team," Wood confidently proclaimed.
4. Kareem Jackson continues his growth.
For the first two years of his NFL career, Jackson was the whipping boy. But he made an enormous leap in 2012 to become a dependable starting cornerback, and he's showing no signs of letting up.
In the opening practices of camp, perhaps the most intense offense-defense battle came between Jackson and Andre Johnson on the outside. The fact that Jackson held his own against one of the NFL's all-time great receivers says it all.
"It's good to see because, when I got here, everybody talked about how [Kareem] couldn't play," said fellow cornerback Johnathan Joseph. "But I've seen something in him, and Coach VJ (Vance Joseph) saw it in him as well. It just took a little time and now, look at him. Every day he's out there making plays. It's hard to catch a ball on him."
Nearly as impressive as his on-field play was his demeanor on the sidelines. When his unit wasn't on the field, Jackson consistently hovered around Ed Reed and Danieal Manning, soaking up additional knowledge and pointers from the team's veteran safeties. 3. Kubiak focuses on young receivers.
After finally releasing veteran Kevin Walter, the Texans have little in the way of experience behind Johnson. Head coach Gary Kubiak knows that well, and he took the opportunity to closely watch and instruct his young receiving corps.
"We're not going to change what we do," said Kubiak. "We're going to catch them up." Kubiak particularly focused on first-round rookie DeAndre Hopkins and second-year slot man Keshawn Martin, reminding both to fight harder for inside positioning on routes over the middle. Meanwhile, sixth-round rookie Alan Bonner from Jacksonville State worked on securing the ball in the open field.
"Right now, it's time to work and throw it all at them and see how far we can go," said Kubiak.
2. Case Keenum jumps in front for QB3.
Kubiak mentioned in May that the former University of Houston quarterback had a chance to push T.J. Yates for the backup job to Matt Schaub. While that may be premature in Keenum's second year, he does seem to have a reasonable path to the roster.
After staying on the practice squad in 2012 as veteran John Beck held down the third QB position, the Texans let Beck go in the offseason and signed Texas A&M alum Stephen McGee to compete with Keenum for the job.
Though McGee earned NFL experience as a backup with the Cowboys, Keenum got a year's head start on learning the complex Houston playbook and looked much more confident over the weekend. Keenum connected on several impressive deep passes along the sideline, while McGee had several balls flutter and was yelled at for fumbling a snap.
1. Introducing Ed Reed, safety and possibly co-defensive coordinator.
Reed still isn't a full camp participant as he continues his recovery from offseason hip surgery. While Kubiak said he was impressed with where Reed is at physically, he added the usual caution with any new player. That is, he's "still learning the system."
Except in Reed's case, he's not the average new player. He's a Super Bowl champion and one of the greatest safeties and defensive leaders in the history of the league. That leadership was on full display over the weekend, and it appeared that Reed was teaching the Texans as much as they were teaching him. Just as Kubiak stands behind plays and offers advice to the offense, Reed took the same vantage point and barked out his pointers to the defense.
And when drills ended, Reed delivered specific instructions on technique to many of the younger players -- notably cornerbacks Jackson and Brice McCain as well as safety D.J. Swearinger, a second-round rookie out of South Carolina.
Reed wasn't required to speak with reporters, given his inactive status. But his teammates were quite eager to sing his praises for him.
"We're talking nonstop, constantly, whether it's in the film room, the locker room or out here on the practice field," said Joseph, speaking of his new teammate.
"He brings a great deal of knowledge to the game of football and to us. He's obviously older than us and played this game a lot longer and has more experience. It's like having an extra coach on the field."
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