Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: Gary Kubiak’s not going to hammer his guys even in one-a-day practice situations. Hard-core two-a-days are a thing of the past in the year-old CBA, but it’s not as though the Texans were getting ground down during Kubiak’s camps in the past. Houston’s summer heat is brutal. The Texans will get what Kubiak considers sufficient work in an early-morning practice, then pack the practice bubble for their afternoon walk-throughs.
They’ll be in pads enough to get the work they need, but Kubiak isn’t a coach who will prove a point by loading up on the hitting. He treats his guys like men and expects they will do what’s necessary to be mentally ready while heading into the season fresh. It’s part of what has made him a players’ coach. And, as of last year, it worked.
One thing that might happen: Because he’s not well-rounded, Kareem Jackson could prove to be the weak link on defense. The left cornerback has been talked up and talked up by the Texans since they drafted him 20th overall in 2010, and he has made progress. But he doesn’t head into this camp with nearly the stature of the other recent first-round picks in Houston: end J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing and left tackle Duane Brown.
According to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, although Jackson has gotten better at playing press/man-to-man, he’s a better zone defender. Jason Allen often took Jackson’s place when the Texans were playing more man coverage. Now, with Allen gone, Alan Ball is the extra veteran cornerback who could be platooning with Jackson. But if a first-round pick cannot earn a full-time spot in his third year, that will qualify as a disappointment. I see Jackson as a guy under pressure to graduate to a higher level of play in all situations.
One thing we won't see: Core guys on this team panicking in the face of being the division favorite and a team expected to advance in the playoffs. An injured team broke through last season, but it wasn’t carrying big expectations and benefited from Peyton Manning’s injury and the Colts’ collapse. The time around, the Texans aren’t a team people think might break through.
This time around, a great deal of people expect the Texans to win the division -- perhaps by a wide margin. Even a best-case scenario for the Titans or Jaguars might not be enough for one of them to make up the talent gap. I expect Cushing, Connor Barwin, Watt, Antonio Smith, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Chris Myers to set a tone early on and pull people along through camp and into the season.