Houston Texans: Randy Bullock

RTC: Randy Bullock comes through

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans ...

Randy Bullock isn't a guy who shows a ton of emotion. Part of that has probably been the stoic face he's needed to show in games during which he's struggled.

Back when they were happening, Bullock accepted the criticism and owned up to his troubles. Now he's having a completely different experience, and there are hints of what it means to the kicker three years out of Texas A&M. They appeared in the smiles that escaped his mouth as he talked about the confidence Texans coach Bill O'Brien showed him by letting him attempt a 55-yard field goal. Sometimes people need time. Bullock's growth has showed the value of patience.

Bullock made three field goals on Sunday, two of them from at least 50 yards away, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.
HOUSTON -- Gone are the days off for veterans just because they're veterans.

Gone are the nights when only rookies are forced to stay in the team hotel throughout training camp.

No Texans are spared from coach Bill O'Brien's sharp tongue. None are spared from running a lap for a mental error.

And you know what? The players like it.

"I love it; it's great," 12-year veteran Andre Johnson said when asked about O'Brien's demeanor. "The one thing that I like about him, and I think that’s the thing when I first met him, he’s straight up with you. He will let you know what needs to be heard. He’s not just going to tell you what you want to hear. I love his demeanor; it’s fun. I think just his whole attitude and everything he brings is a lot of fun."

Accountability has taken precedence during this first Texans training camp of the O'Brien era. What it means for the season is yet unknown, but after a 2-14 campaign in 2013, it was clear things had to change in Houston.

It's the basis from which the team that won consecutive division championships not too long ago will crawl out of the league's cellar.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has shown soft hands throughout training camp.

  1. In his second season since being drafted in the first round, receiver DeAndre Hopkins' development seems to have taken a major step. The sure-handed leaping catches he made so often in college are becoming a staple of training camp. (Aside: It's crazy to think about those Clemson teams that had both Hopkins and Bills rookie Sammy Watkins. What an embarrassment of riches.) Hopkins' issues last season weren't based so much on ability as they were on precision. He seems on the right track this season. Johnson said it's clear Hopkins is playing with a lot of confidence, something that's critical for a receiver. What's even better is that his chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is improving regularly.
  2. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been working through the rehab process from his sports hernia surgery in June, which has limited what he can do during practices. When the staff has let Clowney loose, though, he is a lot of fun to watch. He's quick, powerful and fast. He will absolutely be a player for whom offenses have to account. When an offense is thinking about one player, that's a big advantage for a defense. Not to mention, opposing offenses were already having to keep an eye on defensive end J.J. Watt, who hasn't missed a beat.
  3. Two young players have made significant progress this offseason: right tackle Derek Newton and inside linebacker Justin Tuggle. Newton, the declared starter at the position, struggled last season, but based on what I've seen and heard during training camp this year, he'll be much better in pass protection this season. Tuggle was a quarterback four years ago (the successor to Cam Newton at Blinn College). The fact that he's played linebacker for such a short amount of time means even though he's improved tremendously in the past year, he still has a lot of room to grow. He's competing to be the Texans' starter next to Brian Cushing.

  1. The fact that Brandon Brooks is still on the Texans' non-football injury list is concerning. Brooks began training camp on the list for what appears to be a back injury. Brooks really came into his own at right guard last season. He's a player who had very high expectations because of that growth, and one the Texans need. Without him, the guard position starts to thin a bit.
  2. The Texans' quarterback situation is tenuous right now. I like the improvement I've seen from Fitzpatrick, but what we're watching right now does not quite simulate game conditions for quarterbacks since they can't be touched during practice. Fitzpatrick's issues in the past have had a lot to do with turnovers, and the decision-making process that leads to or prevents turnovers is hard to simulate in practice. Beyond Fitzpatrick, the depth at the position is concerning. Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage has shown during practice that they could be viable starters in case of an injury during the season. For Savage, it's part of the learning process. Nobody expects the raw but talented rookie to be ready just yet.
  3. Beyond a wily group of veterans, the Texans have a lot of unproven players they'll depend on defensively. When looking past Watt on the defensive line, there are more questions than answers. Who will play nose tackle? How will defensive end Jared Crick do in a starting role? Questions remain on the back end, too. This could be a big year for a lot of young players. But it's hard to know how they'll fare without any proof yet.
[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJ.J. Watt has taken the time to help his teammates with technique during camp.

  • Whether it's linebackers coach Mike Vrabel running with his group after practice or defensive backs coach John Butler facing his players during drills to compensate for an odd number of cornerbacks, this Texans staff is particularly hands-on. It starts at the top with O'Brien, a coach who makes sure to be involved with every position on his team.
  • Safety D.J. Swearinger's goal this season is to create at least one game-changing play in each game, whether that's an interception, a forced fumble or even a pass breakup that leads to a turnover. Swearinger is getting started in practice, regularly intercepting the ball. And each time he does it, he runs it back to the opposite end zone, finishing with an ad-libbed celebratory flair.
  • Player-to-player coaching happens a lot, and Watt is embracing his growing role as a team leader in that fashion. During a recent practice, he stopped Jeoffrey Pagan during a drill to offer tips on moves to use.
  • A pair of receivers from Texas A&M are doing their best to make it difficult for the coaching staff to cut them. EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart make very few mistakes. Nwachukwu's speed is apparent. His work on route-running has shown during this year's camp.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell and third-year kicker Randy Bullock are competing to be the Texans' kicker. That battle will be decided during the preseason. They've so far alternated kicking days, and both have made their fair share.

What went wrong? Special teams

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
During the 2012 season, the Houston Texans special teams were a mess.

During the 2013 season, the Texans special teams went through some significant growing pains.

We'll take a look at some of that in today's installment of our "What went wrong?" series.

So far this series has examined safeties, running backs, inside linebackers, receivers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive linemen, offensive linemen and cornerbacks.

Key players: Kicker Randy Bullock, punter Shane Lechler, long snapper Jon Weeks, returner Keshawn Martin

What went wrong: This season, the Texans lost more than they gained from their special teams. But it was an improvement over last season. The Texans ranked 22nd in the NFL in expected points added, actually having a net loss of 8.02 points. Last season, though, the special teams lost them an astounding 41.74 expected points.

Let's start with the kicker. What was the equivalent of Bullock's rookie season, after he spent his true rookie season on injured reserve, did not start well for the former Texas A&M kicker. He started by making one of five field goals and missing all four of his attempts of 50 yards or longer in his first nine games. Lechler insisted it wasn't all Bullock's fault, that their chemistry needed work, and that he was confident Bullock would improve. He was right. From week 11 on, Bullock didn't miss a single field goal attempt.

As for Lechler, his new teammates marveled at his ability this season. He was the Texans' most effective free agent pickup after 13 seasons with the Oakland Raiders. His 47.6 yard gross punting average was a franchise record.

The Texans' coverage and return units struggled again, and their performance eventually led to the firing of special teams coordinator Joe Marciano. A look at the numbers shows the returns weren't terrible. Houston ranked in the top 10 in net kickoff returns and 19th in net punt returns, and their three return touchdowns were better than most NFL teams. But coverage units were a liability. Houston ranked 28th in both opponents' yard per kick return and per punt return.

Reason for hope?: You can expect Bullock to pick up where he left off last season, and his relationship with Lechler, his holder, will keep getting better. Often when special teams struggle, it's a sign that the bottom of the roster isn't very strong since that's where teams get their special teams players. That will be something to monitor this year.

Randy Bullock, an argument for patience

December, 31, 2013
Seven weeks removed from having the worst field goal percentage of any qualifying kicker in the NFL, Randy Bullock has made a dramatic turnaround.

He made all of his field goal attempts starting in Week 11, and is one of seven kickers who attempted at least 10 field goals during that span to make all of them.

Bullock began the season 1-for-5, including an 0-for-3 performance in Week 2, when the Texans needed overtime to beat the Tennessee Titans. In his first nine games, Bullock missed all four field goals of 50 yards or longer that he attempted. Worse, he only made 61.5 percent of the field goals he attempted that were between 40 and 49 yards. His fourth-quarter percentage during that time was only 25 percent, his worst in any quarter.

With that came calls for a change at the position. Bullock faced it admirably.

He didn't hide; he didn't make excuses. He talked about what he was doing to improve and the kicking coach he'd visited for help. His teammates, like holder Shane Lechler, insisted things would get better for him. This was, after all, essentially Bullock's rookie season, after he spent his actual rookie season on injured reserve.

Bullock's turnaround, lost among all the other issues that came with the 14-game losing streak to end the season, started against the Oakland Raiders, when he made a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter.

His path this season was an argument in patience. Sometime a rocky start can turn into a great career. There's plenty of time for Bullock to have that.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

Sanders/WattUSA TODAY SportsAce Sanders and the Jaguars' receivers must pick up their play against J.J. Watt and the Texans.

HOUSTON -- Oddly enough, it’s the team with the worse record that enters this game with the better vibes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally won a game two weeks ago, whereas the Houston Texans are trudging through what’s now an eight-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.

For Houston, it’s been a matter of finishing. The Texans have led at halftime in each of their past three games. They regularly gain more yards than their opponents. They just can’t finish with wins, having lost by one, three, three and five points in their past four games.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: So, Mike, do you think the Jaguars have shown signs of improvement lately?

DiRocco: In certain areas, yes. They've been much better against the run since the bye week, holding the Titans to 83 yards and the Cardinals to just 14. Their special teams have improved, too, especially the kickoff-return unit. Since bobbling several kicks against the San Francisco 49ers, Jordan Todman is averaging 34.7 yards on his past seven returns. Outside of those two areas, though, improvement is hard to find. The running game is still struggling. Since rushing for 90 yards against San Francisco, the Jaguars have totaled 86 in the past two games. The passing game really misses Justin Blackmon, too, because teams are concentrating on stopping receiver Cecil Shorts, and the rest of the receivers just aren't good enough right now to carry the offense. The pass rush managed three sacks against Arizona but overall has been ineffective. Couple that with a secondary that includes three rookies and you can see why they're struggling against the pass, too.

Speaking of struggling, what has been the biggest reason for the Texans' surprising stumble this season? Is it quarterback play? Injuries?

Ganguli: Special teams, turnover margin, quarterback play, injuries and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball are all to blame. The Texans' kicker, Randy Bullock has really struggled. He made a 51-yarder on Sunday -- his first field goal from 50 yards or longer this season. Overall, he’s made only 65.4 percent of his field goal attempts. The Texans currently have their starting tight end, running back, strong safety and middle linebacker on injured reserve. They might get tight end Owen Daniels back in a couple of weeks, but not having him has been bad. The Texans' offense and special teams have turned the ball over at a high rate -- and that’s not just on former starting quarterback Matt Schaub, though Schaub has been a big factor. Pick-sixes aside, Schaub wasn’t actually playing too poorly before he got benched for Case Keenum. He had one game that was top-to-bottom bad: the Texans’ loss in San Francisco. But a pick-six is such a big play that his really hurt the Texans. That’s not something anyone predicted heading into the season. Well, maybe someone did. Certainly not me.

Speaking of quarterbacks, what did it take for the Jaguars to finally give up on Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Gus Bradley says the team hasn't given up on Gabbert, but it's pretty obvious it has by the fact that Chad Henne is starting even though Gabbert has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been healthy for weeks. It was typical Gabbert when he did play earlier in the season: some really good throws, some terrible throws and a few "what the heck was he thinking?" throws. He just hasn't been consistent enough, and he's had three seasons. The other issue is that he can't seem to stay healthy. This season alone he had a sprained ankle early in training camp, fractured his thumb in the preseason, missed two games because of a cut on his hand and left the Week 5 game with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since. He also missed the final six games of the 2012 season with a forearm injury.

Tania, what is Schaub's future in Houston? If he's out, are Keenum or T.J. Yates viable long-term solutions or will the Texans go after a quarterback in the draft?

Ganguli: Schaub’s future in Houston is murky at best. He knows that. His teammates know that. As I said earlier, people did not see this coming. The Texans' handling of Yates indicates they don’t think he’s the future. I don’t think it’d be smart to go into next season with only Keenum as a starting option given the unknowns that remain about him. So far, he hasn’t been able to react well to defensive adjustments against him. It’s entirely possible he gets better at that, but I just don’t think you know for sure yet. I could absolutely see the Texans drafting a quarterback. It’ll be a pretty deep class, though there doesn’t seem to be a knockout like Andrew Luck.

Let’s finish up with defense. The lack of a pass rush has been a problem in Jacksonville for so long. Why has it been ineffective?

DiRocco: The bottom line is the players aren't anything but average. It dates back to 2008, when the team drafted Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second to improve the pass rush. They were both busts, and the Jaguars have been chasing those picks ever since. They signed Aaron Kampman to a free-agent contract in 2010, but he arrived coming off a torn ACL, and he went on to suffer another tear, among more injuries. The Jaguars claimed Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia in 2012, and he has 4.5 sacks in 15 games with them. Andre Branch, last season's second-round pick, has just three sacks in 23 career games. Upgrading the pass rush will be one of the team's biggest tasks in free agency and the draft this offseason.

This obviously isn't the kind of season the Texans expected. How has the locker room been? Do you get the sense of any problems, and is it a case which another few losses (especially one to the Jaguars) could make things get nasty?

Ganguli: The locker room is frustrated, but right now, the Texans are closing ranks and taking an us-against-the-world mentality. We saw a bit of frustration within the team when Schaub yelled at Andre Johnson on the sideline for stopping his route near the end of the Texans' loss to the Raiders. Johnson yelled back and then walked off the field before the official end of the game. The team didn't need him anymore at that point because Oakland was simply kneeling to the finish, but it was a surprising move from a guy who doesn't normally show his frustration like that. Still, Johnson and Schaub both downplayed the argument, saying they were fine with each other. I thought Johnson's comments on Wednesday supported that. He talked about how "you hate to see" what Schaub has gone through this season, especially given their long history together. This is a pretty good locker room. I think if they were going to turn on each other, they would have had plenty of reasons to do so already.

Lechler hospitalized, says he'll play

November, 14, 2013
HOUSTON -- This is a big one for Shane Lechler, playing against the team with which he spent the first 13 years of his career.

Wednesday, Lechler told Texans coach Gary Kubiak he would be playing Sunday, despite being hospitalized with the flu.

"He will stay tonight and he’s expected to be released tomorrow," Kubiak said. "You may not see him here all week. He sent word to me today, ‘Hey, I’ll definitely be there to do my job.’ I think he’ll be OK."

What will he do if Lechler can't play?

"Go for it, I guess," Kubiak said, with a bit of a smirk. He then added that kicker Randy Bullock could punt.

Bigger concerns might have to do with inside linebacker Joe Mays and cornerback Kareem Jackson. Both players missed practice again, Jackson with a chest injury and Mays with a knee and oblique injury.

Losing Jackson would mean the Texans would start Brice McCain, who struggled in coverage last week. Without Mays, the Texans could start Jeff Tarpinian, who signed on Oct. 27.

Here we go again with the linebackers, right? Last season the Texans' inside linebacker position was devastated by injuries to Brian Cushing, Tim Dobbins and Darryl Sharpton forcing them to rely heavily on in-season signee Barrett Ruud.

Texans will stick with Randy Bullock

November, 6, 2013
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans tried out three kickers this week but are sticking with Randy Bullock.

Bullock missed three field goals on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, including a 55-yarder that would have tied the game as time expired.

"We’re going to continue to go with Randy," interim head coach Wade Philips said. "He certainly knows and we told him, and everybody else knows, he’s got to get it done. That’s the bottom line, is production. He started out poorly and started kicking really well. I think he got away from his technique a little bit last game and we feel like we can get him back to that."

The Wall Street Journal had an eye-opening statistic about kickers. Heading into Monday's game, NFL kickers this season have made 65.8 percent of all kicks 50 yards or longer. Overall, kickers had made 85.4 percent of their kicks.

Bullock's season percentage on all kicks is 61.9 percent. He hasn't made any of his four attempts from 50 yards or longer.

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

November, 3, 2013
HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Houston Texan's 27-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

What it means: The Colts maintain their commanding lead in the AFC South. Kicker Randy Bullock missed three field goals, including the potential game-tying field goal, a 55-yarder.

Stock watch: Andre Johnson remembers well that so many people thought he was washed up last season before he had one of his best statistical years. He talked this week about how he didn't know why he wasn't a guy who caught more touchdown passes. Johnson became Keenum's favorite target early against the Colts. He caught 190 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. It was Johnson's first three-touchdown game of his long and illustrious NFL career. Keenum's ascent could be a major boon for the vet.

Phillips in for Kubiak: Halftime took a somber tone when Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed to his knees on the field. His face showed signs of being in pain. He left the stadium in an ambulance having never lost consciousness and was at the hospital with his family. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over Kubiak's role for the rest of the game.

Foster hurt again: It was heralded as great news (by me) that Arian Foster was active against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was. Great news for the Texans offense. Well, it would have been if Foster stayed on the field. The running back suffered another back injury and only played in the Texans' first series. That series included zero runs. Foster left the game for good and left the Texans with one undrafted rookie and one backup running back who was toughing through broken ribs for a second straight game.

What's next: The Texans travel to Arizona to play the Arizona Cardinals.
HOUSTON -- Raiders kicker a Sebastian Janikowksi's field goal percentage has dipped to 63.6. That will be a career low if it holds up.

The biggest change for him on the field this year? He doesn't have Shane Lechler holding for him anymore.

"I'm not saying I knew it was going to affect him a little bit, but me and him are really close together on and off the field," said Lechler, now the Texans' punter. "It was one of those things where there was a big comfort level between me and him on and off the field. I knew what he was thinking, I knew when to have the ball snapped. If there was a breeze I knew when to hold the ball and not snap it and hold the deep snapper for a second or two. There's just a bunch of small things that we learned together over the 13 years."

Lechler is adjusting, too, in his new environment. He hasn't held for a right-footed kicker since college. And although his punts have been awe-inspiring, he believes he and the rest of the field goal trinity are still working out the kinks in their chemistry.

Texans kicker Randy Bullock (who was in grade school when Lechler was in college) has made seven of his 12 field goal attempts, 70.6 percent this season. Four of those misses came in the Texans' first two games.

"I don't know how many thousands of snaps I've taken for John (Weeks, long snapper) trying to get this thing ironed out," Lechler said. "We're getting good, we aren't great at it yet. He's snapped all his life, but I haven't held for a right footer in a long time. It's one of those things, I'm the middle man and I've got to make sure that's sharp every week."

This is essentially Texans' kicker Randy Bullock's rookie year as he spent his true rookie year on injured reserve. And it hasn't started well.

Bullock has missed four of his five field goal attempts in the first two games. They've all been longer than 40 yards and he's gone 0-for-3 on attempts longer than 50 yards. Those aren't easy field goals to make, but when you draft a kicker, you expect him to make difficult field goals. Bullock was a fifth-round pick, the highest drafted kicker in a top-heavy kicker draft class last season.

Two of the other kickers in Bullock's draft class had excellent starts. Greg Zuerlein started 13-for-13 including a 60-yarder, a 56-yarder and a 53-yarder for the Minnesota Vikings last year. He was a sixth-round pick last year and dropped off a bit after that, finishing the season making 74.2 percent of his tries. Minnesota had consistent success with kicker Blair Walsh, who was also a a sixth-round pick last year. Walsh didn't miss until week four, making 55, 51 and 52-yarders before that. He finished the season having made 92 percent of his field goal attempts. John Potter, a seventh-round pick by Buffalo last year, spent six games with the Bills and was used as a kickoff specialist.

Kicking is mental and there are times when early struggles never reverse. There are other times when they do. Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski only made one of his four 50-plus yard attempts his rookie year. Overall in his 14-year career Janikowski has made 56 percent of his field goals longer than 50 yards. In fact, Janikowski started his NFL career missing three of his first four field goal attempts.

That mental shift is what punter Shane Lechler, who has favorably compared Bullock's accuracy to Janikowski's, is trying to instill in Bullock.

"A very, very tough thing to do, is to turn the page," Lechler said. "I mean I know. I deal with it. I don’t know of a professional athlete that’s not hard on himself, that doesn’t deal with it. It’s kind of like a book, man. Turn the page. Can’t read the same one. Don’t let that one mess up your next kick. And I have all the confidence in the world with him. I hold with him. He kicks all the time in practice. He’s money all the time. And he just had a rough go. And that’s part of this game. That’s part of the situation. That’s part of being a little bit young, and that’s part of it."

Bullock has the leg strength and he has been accurate in the past. The question will be how long the Texans can wait for that mental turnaround. They need reliability at the position. They might not have needed overtime yesterday if they had it.

RTC: Cushing has another big game

September, 16, 2013
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Brian Cushing was disruptive right from the start of the Texans' home opener. He greeted media with his 11-month-old son in his arms Sunday evening after a performance that included 11 solo tackles (a number that could go up after the coaches review game tape). "Cushing has found another gear physically and a higher plane metaphysically," writes Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans' defense gave up 4 yards in the third quarter. This on the heels of giving up just 10 yards after the Chargers' first possession of the third quarter in Week 1. Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com takes a closer look at their performance.

Bernard Pollard said something inflammatory. His point, writes Moisekapenda Bower of Houston Culture Map, was that the Titans are more physical than the Texans.

A week after needing the biggest comeback in franchise history to beat San Diego, the Texans needed to recover from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, they wore out the Titans defense, writes Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press.

Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle loved a joke he made on Twitter and in the press box so much he brings it to us all again, this time in column form. Solomon writes that Randy Bullock has missed as many field-goal tries (four) in his first two NFL games as he did his entire senior season at Texas A&M. Three of those misses came yesterday.

The Chronicle's John McClain breaks down coaching decisions that made a difference in the Texans' home-opening win.

Randy Harvey of the Chronicle is not amused by the Texans' flair for drama so far.

HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Houston Texans' 30-24 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: On the day the Texans unveiled their 2012 division-championship banner, they took a step in their quest for a three-peat. It's a title they absolutely should keep this season, but the Titans will be pesky foes. A lot could change between now and the next meeting between these teams, in the regular-season finale.

Stock watch: Texans kicker Randy Bullock is having a rough start to his NFL career. He went 0-for-3 in regulation Sunday, and after missing what could have been the game-winning field goal in regulation he fell to 1-for-5 this season. (His one make was the game winner in San Diego.) This was an area the Texans hoped to upgrade this season, but so far that hasn't been the case.

Facing deficits: Down one, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw an easy pick-six to Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner with about five minutes left in the game. I'd argue that an eight-point deficit that late in the game is more daunting than a 21-point deficit early in the third quarter. Schaub got them out of one situation last week and into the other one this week, in part because he was constantly under duress.

Hopkins breaks out: A huge fourth-quarter drive saw Schaub go to his new toy, DeAndre Hopkins, regularly. The rookie delivered. But it was veteran Andre Johnson's catch that set up the Texans' game-tying touchdown. Johnson grabbed the pass, kept his feet inbounds, even as Bernard Pollard doled out a helmet-to-helmet hit, and hung onto the ball all the way to the ground. The catch took its toll, though. Johnson lingered on his back for a while and went to the locker room after jogging off the field. Later, the Texans got another big gain from second-year receiver Keshawn Martin, who broke a tackle and ran for a 32-yard gain that set up what could have been Bullock's game-winning field goal. Hopkins eventually played the hero, making an incredible 25-yard catch in overtime and following it a few plays later with another incredible catch -- this one for the winning touchdown.

What's next: The Texans head on the road to face Super Bowl champion Baltimore. The Ravens look a bit different than the last time the teams met. Houston won that matchup in a blowout. Safety Ed Reed won't start that game as Texans coach Gary Kubiak has said he won't start the first time he plays for the Texans. But will he play?

Locker Room Buzz: Houston Texans

September, 10, 2013
Observed in the locker room after the Texans beat the Chargers 31-28:

New feeling for a vet: Off in an auxiliary locker room for visitors that included specialists and some undrafted rookies, punter Shane Lechler mused about what a cool feeling this was for him. "I was thinking after we won, how long it’s been since I’ve been 1-0," the former Raider said. "It’s been a while. That was fun. Just to see the fight and the grit and grind of this team and witness it firsthand. To witness it firsthand was quite an experience."

Succinct description by Tate: "We played like crap," backup running back Ben Tate said. "It’s the NFL. You can’t play like crap." Tate refused to offer an explanation for their play. "That’s all excuses, we just played bad." What changed? "We played good the second half. That’s what good teams do."

What to do with the game ball: Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he gave the game ball to kicker Randy Bullock, who made the game-winning field goal. Bullock said he wasn't quite sure how to pack it, or if it would fit in his bag.

Patient rookie: Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins waited for a crowd of reporters who blocked his locker. Hopkins used his phone to take a picture of Andre Johnson, beside him, who was the focus of the media crowd.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 31, Chargers 28

September, 10, 2013

SAN DIEGO -- Some thoughts from the Houston Texans' 31-28 comeback victory Monday night over the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Texans showed a Monday night audience (at least those who stayed awake that late) their flaws and strengths all on one night. A disastrous first half during which Houston struggled to get pressure preceded a transcendent second half (with the exception of the Chargers' opening drive of the third quarter), which featured late-arriving but crucial contributions from defensive end J.J. Watt and inside linebacker Brian Cushing.

Stock Watch: The Texans' turnaround was largely thanks to quarterback Matt Schaub. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 129 yards in the third quarter and was exceptional on rollouts. Houston's first three touchdowns were passes to its tight ends.

Big-time backup: This shouldn't have been a surprise given the way he played in the preseason, but backup running back Ben Tate featured prominently throughout Monday's game. He looked crisper than starter Arian Foster, who missed all of the preseason and saw his carries limited as a result. Tate averaged 6.1 yards on nine carries, while Foster averaged 3.2 on 18.

Here's the kicker: Randy Bullock played in his first regular-season NFL game with mixed results. But at the end, the second-year kicker got to be a hero. His 41-yarder to win the game sent a large, red-clad contingent into a frenzy and sealed the Texans' first victory of the season as time expired. Bullock missed a 51-yarder early in the game, but that isn't what he'll remember.

What's next: The Tennessee Titans aren't scared, and they're waiting. They'll be in Houston on Sunday after a short week for the Texans.