|Brett Davis / US Presswire|
|Houston's move to a 3-4 defense meant a dramatic change in Mario Williams' role with the Texans.|
Pat Kirwan recently visited Texans camp in Houston. Here's what he saw.
1. Mario Williams looks natural at outside linebacker. I had some doubts about the Texans' decision to move Williams to linebacker, especially at his size, but coach Gary Kubiak gave an honest assessment of the situation.
"We're not trying to fool anyone that Mario is going to be in coverage a lot," Kubiak said. "He's rushing the passer."
After watching a 2 1/2-hour practice and talking with the people that have to block Williams, any doubts about his transition are gone.
"Now he gets a running start at you, explodes into you and then makes his move," offensive tackle Eric Winston said of Williams. "He's harder to block now than ever before."
Defensive end Antonio Smith added, "Mario now realizes that he can bull rush anybody, and he's playing like a guy that can dominate every play."
2. Owen Daniels is having a great camp. Andre Johnson said Daniels is having his best camp with the Texans. Matt Schaub explained that a healthy Daniels really takes some pressure off Johnson by splitting the safeties in the passing attack. Daniels said that he's more than a year removed from his injuries and feels quicker than ever. This looks like it could be a Pro Bowl season for the veteran tight end.
3. The offense is ready to play a real game. The Texans were able to send three different offensive groups on the field for a live two-minute drill. Even the third unit, led by rookie QB T.J. Yates, looked in control of the package. Schaub was quick to point out that everyone is back on offense except fullback Vonta Leach. Leach's replacement, Lawrence Vickers, has picked things up quickly.
4. More to come from Arian Foster. In talking with the running back, Foster said the sky is the limit for the offense. Don't forget, along with leading the league in rushing last year, he also caught 66 passes and it looks like the Texans are expanding his role in the passing game.
New guys to watch
» J.J. Watt. Immediately put on the first-team defense, Watt told me he needed to prove to his teammates through hard work and production that he belonged. According to Smith, who plays the opposite defensive end, "J.J. can do it, he's doing it every practice and he makes us better."
» Brooks Reed. Has not established the reputation that Watt has, but Reed is viewed as a high-energy guy who is learning a new defense. The 3-4 scheme being installed by coordinator Wade Phillips is going to need outside linebackers who can rush the passer. At this point, Reed is one injury away from having to deliver. Keep a close eye on Reed this preseason. There's cautious optimism that he'll contribute this season.
» Johnathan Joseph. Not new to the NFL, of course, but Joseph is a welcomed addition. Kubiak said Joseph came right in and became the leader of a secondary that lacked an identity last year. Johnson said that Joseph pushes him in every practice. Another player told me, "Andre isn't used to having a teammate challenge him that much in practice and it's good for him."
1. I talked with owner Bob McNair, who has expectations the franchise will have its best year yet. As McNair said, "We have the talent and now is the time."
2. Kubiak on leadership, "I'm looking for guys to take over when the leaders are down. We had an example of that today when Johnathan Joseph didn't practice and someone from the secondary had to step up and they didn't do a good job of it."
For the past three seasons, the prediction was it's the year Houston goes to the playoffs. Of course, it never happened. This year, there is a lot less talking and a lot less media attention, both good things. The Texans are more concerned about getting the job done than talking about it. They have the talent to win 10 games, but depth could be an issue if injuries occur. The offense will score and the defense will be better, but how much? There's a realistic chance the Texans will be a wild-card team this year.