This time of year, we are looking for signs that football is actually here. The Texans' open practices are nice, but rarely involve hitting, or even pads and helmets. There are Gary Kubiak soundbites on the radio every day, and that's all well and good. But until something that feels like real football happens, it's still just masturbation, as Costanza would say.
And then last night, about five minutes into the Redskins-Titans preseason game, we got our first sign!
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson for 15 yards along the sideline. Titans' safety (and former Texan) Bernard Pollard ran up to Robinson, lowered his head, and nailed him in the back just as he was stepping out of bounds. Pollard was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Titans were penalized 15 yards.
AND THERE IT IS! When Bernard Pollard gets his first personal foul of the preseason, you just know it...
FOOTBALL IS HERE!
(By the way, if you're wondering if Bernard Pollard will be fined for a late hit in the preseason, the answer is "without a doubt." His Week 1 paycheck -- NFL players' salaries are divided into 17 installments and paid weekly during the season, in case you didn't know -- will be several thousand dollars lighter.
Funny story that former Texan Travis Johnson told on my radio show last week -- in his rookie season, he was fined several times during the preseason back in 2005. When it came time to get his first game check of his career, as he watched veterans like Gary Walker and Robaire Smith open up checks that were literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, Travis, brimming with anticipation, joyously opened his envelope only to find a check for $88.18. The league had removed literally thousands and thousands of dollars from his Week 1 pay to cover his preseason tab on fines he'd run up.
The moral of the story, you can't fight city hall. Or something like that.)
As for your Houston Texans, the road to
something better than one playoff win and out the Super Bowl begins tonight in MInneapolis and there are plenty of things to keep an eye on if you're a Texans fan.
Here are a few that I'll be keeping an eye out for as I
guzzle a twelve pack during the game judiciously scribble notes for my show and this blog on Monday:
5. Willie Jefferson, outside linebacker Back during rookie minicamp, when the roster of players out there practicing and trying to make an impression (while staying healthy) was literally a few dozen, Willie Jefferson was the one guy who startled you when you saw him. Listed at 6-foot-6, because of his angular frame, he looks even taller than that, and is so freaky looking athletically that he got the Werner Wolf in Rocky IV "Look at the size of that Russian!" treatment from many media members in attendance. Only Willie Jefferson isn't Russian, to my knowledge. What he is is a kid who was recruited by U of H, went to Baylor, passed out in a car with Josh Gordon (it's not what it sounds like!), wound up at Stephen F. Austin, and is now making the most of an opportunity, a la Bryan Braman in 2011. With Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, and Sam Montgomery all battling various injuries, and with Trevardo Williams struggling, there are snaps to be had at outside linebacker! Snaps, I tells ya!! And Willie Jefferson is gonna get him some.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver and all around beast This is the most anticipated debut for a Texans rookie that I can remember in my now seven seasons of covering the team. If you need a WWE debut equivalent, thinkChris Jericho "Millenium Man" countdown in 1999. In fact, if Hopkins wants to come out to Jericho's theme music at the first home game, I would have no problem with this.
In all candor, Hopkins has been routinely making plays all training camp long, many of them against first team corners Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. If you follow Texans' beat writers and TV people on Twitter, you can practically set your watch to the "Hopkins just [fill in other worldly play here] over [Texans DB]" tweets. Gary Kubiak has said he is the unquestioned starter opposite Andre Johnson, but with Andre out and DeAndre still a rookie, he will get more snaps than the usual starter would in Week 1 of the preseason.
3. D.J. Swearinger, safety and free style rapper With Ed Reed injured and with Shiloh Keo getting snaps with the ones (Hey, I love Shiloh Keo, we all love Shiloh Keo...on special teams), I think many hardcore Texans fans are looking forward to seeing how Swearinger is acclimating himself to life in the NFL. Gary Kubiak says good things about him, but I think Gary Kubiak would say good things about Uncle Nate Finch if you asked his opinion. (Hypothetical Kubiak on Uncle Nate: "Well I'll tell ya, Mark, everybody needs a friend, and Uncle Nate is as loyal as they come. His math skills adding up illegal autograph payments is gonna be a big part of Johnny's game this year. Johnny knows that, we just gotta make sure Uncle Nate focuses on getting better and looking at the film...")
Point being, the proof for Swearinger will be in the playing, and with the Texans being the leaders in "number of plays in dime coverage" last season, and with a ton of good quarterbacks on the schedule, Swearinger is an X-factor for the Texans, no doubt.
(By the way, if Hopkins debut is Jericho '99, then Swearinger is more like the Wyatt Family's debut on RAW this year -- still highly anticipated, but a little darker, a little more violent and kind of "out there." Catering more to the "hardcore smarts."
I can play this game all day long, people, the "Texans' rookie debut as a WWE debut" game....)
2. Randy Bullock, kicker and Good Ag The Texans are going to be in a bunch of close games this season (Give me "Things you can say about every NFL team for $200, Alex.") and a play here or a play there could be the difference between a first round bye and going on the road wild card weekend. And a few of those plays here and plays there will be field goals. The Texans thought enough of Bullock last season to draft him in the fifth round
and then concoct a groin pull in the preseason and stash him on the injured reserve all year...what?. This season they think enough of him to have no competition in camp. The job is his. How will he do with the bright lights on? Underrated, kind of forgotten storyline of training camp.
1. Bubble Wrap All-Stars You know what I don't want to see tonight? A whole bunch of the guys on the Texans playing any football at all. In fact, there are a dozen or so guys who you can wrap up in UPS bubble wrap, stick them in a climate controlled room, feed them their necessary training table, and wait until the flight leaves for San Diego on September 8 to unwrap them. I'd say that the cover charge to get on that list is that you have either been to a Pro Bowl or are a major contributor over the age of 30.
My "Bubble Wrap All-Stars" list for the Texans looks like this:
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Matt Schaub Arian Foster Duane Brown Wade Smith Chris Myers Owen Daniels Andre Johnson J.J. Watt Antonio Smith Brian Cushing Johnathan Joseph Danieal Manning Ed Reed (although it still doesn't even feel like he's on the team yet)
Hell, I'll even give Shane Lechler the month of August off! He fits the criteria.
So get that IHOP menu ready, Kubes! We're ready for some
poorly played football by guys who are vying for spots on the practice squad!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.