Texans' Rodriguez making second impression
HOUSTON -- Antonio Rodriguez wants more than a summer job.
The Houston Texans inside linebacker knows he's a long shot to make the final cut, although he's working tirelessly to prove that he's more than just an NFL oddity as a Mexican-groomed player.
"They are developing my skills," said Rodriguez, who was born and reared in Houston but played three seasons at Monterrey Tech and helped lead the team to two Mexican national titles. "(Hispanic publicity) might be a part of it, but still I don't think they'd just bring in anybody."
The Texans have consciously courted the area's Hispanic community since their inception, a wise move considering Latinos are the area's largest minority and will become the majority in the not-too-distance future.
Whether or not his signing last summer was more marketing than football, his presence created a buzz. Nighttime practices, which are open to the public, featured large cheering sections for Rodriguez that exploded every time he was involved in a play.
His clip file, maintained by the Texans media department, dwarfs that of several established players, including some who have started throughout the franchise's two-year history. A major local bilingual magazine that targets the Hispanic community prominently features Rodriguez in its most recent edition.
All this for a player who did not make it out of training camp a year ago and actually was invited by the "Bull Pen" rowdies who populate the north end zone seats to tailgate with them and attend a game last season.
"My goal this year is to show the coaches that I've improved and I want to stick around this time," said Rodriguez, who had surgery on his right foot last fall but recovered in time to play for Amsterdam in NFL Europe.
"I'm working at linebacker of course, but I know special teams is more important."
If he has any chance of making the team, it's going to have to be on kick coverage, coach Dom Capers said.
"Is he better now than he was last year?" Capers said. "He's much better in camp this year than he was a year ago. He's got some physical tools.
"I'm not ready to step up and say whether he's ready for prime time now, though."
In the meantime, the Texans' own A-Rod will keep chugging and sweating in Houston's August heat in the hope that he'll turn enough heads to get a chance to be on the Reliant Stadium floor instead of the seats this autumn.
After all, a slim chance is better than none.
"Maybe even the practice squad," Rodriguez said, weighing his possibilities. "You never know."
^Notes:@ The Texans punt return situation has grown murkier rather than clearer. Incumbent WR J.J. Moses already was battling CB Rober' Freeman, WR Albert Johnson, CB Vontez Duff and RB Jason Anderson for the job, and on Monday coaches added wide receivers Kendrick Starling and Chris Taylor to the mix. ... TE Kevin Zurecki joined the team Monday. To make room, the Texans waived C Dennis O'Sullivan, who injured his right knee Friday during a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins. ... WR Corey Bradford turned in the catch of the day, spearing a long David Carr pass with his left hand despite tight coverage by Jason Simmons.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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