Houston Texans training camp underway
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans missed the playoffs by one victory in 2009, settling for the franchise's first winning record as the season's defining accomplishment.
That won't be good enough this year.
The Texans opened their ninth training camp on Friday with higher-than-ever expectations, and for good reason. Most of the key players return, anchoring the deepest, most talented roster in the expansion team's history.
Houston boasted the league's top passing offense last season (291 yards per game), and the defense ranked among the top five over the final 13 games, allowing only 299 yards per game under first-year defensive coordinator Frank Bush.The steady improvements under coach Gary Kubiak have the players believing they can achieve more than just the team's first postseason berth in 2010.
"Guys don't just look towards just getting to the playoffs," star receiver Andre Johnson said, "they look forward to getting to the Super Bowl."
Johnson has five years left on his current $60 million deal. He said Friday that he doesn't want to become a team distraction, and he's content in feeling that the two sides will reach an agreement soon.
"When it works out, it'll work out," Johnson said. "I'm just out here getting ready for the season."
Texans owner Bob McNair is confident Johnson will sign a new deal before training camp ends.
"I would hope that we could get it done in a couple weeks," McNair said. "We told him we would get it done, and that is what we will do."
The Texans signed their top two draft picks -- cornerback Kareem Jackson and running back Ben Tate -- just before training camp began.
Jackson missed the morning workout to finish signing paperwork, but joined the team in the afternoon.
The 5-foot-10 Jackson will compete for the starting cornerback job vacated when veteran Dunta Robinson signed with Atlanta in the offseason. Glover Quin, who started 12 games as a rookie in 2009, is the front-runner to start on the other side. Veterans Jacques Reeves and Fred Bennett will also be in the mix during camp.
Kubiak also has to settle on an early-season replacement for Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing, who's suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's drug policy. Cushing is allowed to participate in training camp, and said after Friday's practice that he's put the controversy out of his mind for now.
"I've got to have a good camp, I've got to have a great preseason," Cushing said. "I've got to prepare myself for when I'm back and I'm going to train harder than ever and I've got to top last year. That's my biggest concern, helping these guys win as best as I possibly can."
Veteran Danny Clark, who signed in the offseason, and Xavier Adibi will vie for the starting strongside linebacker position until Cushing returns.
The Texans ranked 30th in rushing last season (92.2 yards per game), and used their second-round pick on the 5-11 Tate, who ran for 1,362 yards for Auburn last season.
Tate and Arian Foster will push Steve Slaton, who ran for 437 yards and coughed up seven fumbles in 2009. Slaton is coming off cervical fusion surgery to fix a neck injury that landed him on injured reserve last December.
The Texans lost five games by seven points or fewer last season, partly because they couldn't rely on their running attack to extend possessions in the fourth quarter.
"I think it's very important to know that we can line up late in games and close games out and control the ball better in some situations where we weren't able to control or finish some games last year," Kubiak said. "Obviously, we've been poor in that area and it's a big point of emphasis in this camp."
Houston signed Neil Rackers in the offseason to duel Kris Brown for the starting role at kicker. Brown, the only player to appear in every Texans' game, missed 11 of 32 attempts last season, including two in the closing seconds in 3-point losses to Indianapolis and Tennessee.
Kubiak said he's in no hurry to make any depth-chart decisions. He's already looking forward to preseason games against New Orleans (Aug. 21) and Dallas (Aug. 28) to size up positions.
"I think they'll be settled over the long haul, and it will be very, very competitive from that standpoint," Kubiak said. "We've got an excellent preseason ahead of us. We play three playoff teams and Super Bowl teams so you know, what more could you ask for from a competition standpoint and checking everyone out?"
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