- Tania Ganguli, ESPN Staff Writer
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Until Sunday, Lechler was sidelined as he recovered from a hamstring injury in his plant leg. He knew there would be a lot of eyes on him, wondering how he'd fare in his first game in Houston, the first of his career not as an Oakland Raider. And so, something happened to the 14-year veteran that hasn't happened to him in a while:
He got nervous for a preseason game.
"I got out there and went through the basics mentally," Lechler said. "You're like, make sure you catch the snap. There's a lot of people looking at you (to) see how you handle your first ball. That ball actually carried a little farther than I wanted it to. Luckily it checked up perfectly. I was nervous and anxious and excited at the same time."
Lechler punted twice, netting 52 yards per punt. One of those was downed at the 2-yard line, giving the Texans field position that led to their first touchdown. The New Orleans Saints never got past their own 6-yard line and went three-and-out on their next drive.
What started to become very clear in the Texans' third preseason game was that their specialists have really improved.
Second-year kicker Randy Bullock, who spent last season on injured reserve, notched touchbacks on all three of his first-half kickoffs. He also made field goals of 21 and 55 yards. It impressed Lechler, who spent most of his career with one of the best kickers of all time in Sebastian Janikowski.
"I think when you talk about Janikowski, that's probably one of the best that's ever done it, in my opinion," Lechler said. "I think at Randy's stage of his career he's probably a little bit more accurate than Janikowski was as a rookie."
Other observations from the Texans' third preseason game:
I haven't talked enough about undrafted rookie outside linebacker Willie Jefferson. That will change this week. Jefferson signed with a team that drafted two players at his position (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams) but quickly surpassed both of them. After Sunday's game, safety Danieal Manning said the most impressive thing about Jefferson is how well he is able to incorporate what he learns in the classroom to the field. "He put pressure on them ever since he got in -- he's definitely holding up," Manning said. "I'm glad he's a part of this team." An important thing to remember about Jefferson is that this is only his third year playing defense. His ceiling is higher than some of the other rookies.
T.J. Yates' numbers this week looked similar to his numbers last week. He completed seven of nine passes, though one of his incompletions was a drop. He had the best passer rating of the three quarterbacks at 137.5 and also threw the fewest passes of the three. I'd bet you see more of Case Keenum next week against Dallas, where Kubiak will have to make a final decision on how many quarterbacks to keep. The Texans carried two on the active roster most of last season and had Keenum on the practice squad. But Keenum is making it very hard for Kubiak to cut him.
Fullback Greg Jones showed why the Texans signed him on Ben Tate's one-yard touchdown run. "Me and Greg are always talking," Tate said. "He wants to know how I'm thinking, and I'm asking him what he is thinking. ... I was with him on the touchdown run. I was right there with him."
The Texans' defense contained the Saints offense until New Orleans got its screen game going. "You know, they resorted to going to screens and stuff like that," Texans defensive end Jared Crick said. "I think that was probably due to the pressure we were putting on." Whatever the cause, it worked. On the Saints' first touchdown drive, Drew Brees threw screen passes to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Ingram took his catch 29 yards. Thomas nearly got tackled by Texans linebacker Joe Mays, but he escaped Mays' grasp first, then Texans safety Shiloh Keo inadvertently blocked Mays on his second effort to get to Thomas. That resulted in a 51-yard touchdown.
Speaking of Crick, he might have made a case for himself to start in place of Antonio Smith in the Texans' regular season opener. Crick had the Texans' only sack of the game, ending a Saints drive, and tied for the team lead with four total tackles.
Saints rookie Kenny Stills got the best of the Texans' starting cornerbacks on the same drive. Once with a one-handed catch on the sideline with Kareem Jackson on him. Another time, he got away from Johnathan Joseph for a 14-yard touchdown catch from Saints backup Luke McCown. "It was just a double-move, work on it all the time," Stills said. "Got the corner kinda sitting on the outside and was able to get inside and the ball was there."