Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips couldn’t stop talking about Manning, who signed with the Texans from the Chicago Bears in 2011 on the same day as cornerback Johnathan Joseph, on Twitter. Every single time he tweeted about individual players who stood out in practice during OTAs, Manning was included.
“D-Man was all over the field,” Phillips wrote on May 23. “D-Man continues great effort,” he said on May 24. “D-Man had another big day,” Phillips wrote on May 29.
I asked Phillips about Manning during the first episode of my “Off the Turf with Scurf” podcast last week.
“Tremendous player,” Phillips said. “Coaching-wise, when you see a guy play like he plays and practice like he practices, you realize how good they really are and how important they really are. Really important. He plays faster than everybody else. I’m talking about everybody else that I see play safety. He plays faster than they do. He’s special.”
Manning not only plays fast but is fast (4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2006). He missed three games with a fractured fibula in 2011 but still finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles as the Texans improved from 32nd to third in passing defense. He had two interceptions in the regular season and one in the playoffs.
Manning also averaged 27.4 yards on kickoff returns last season. He indicated Thursday that he won’t be returning kicks in 2012, smiling as he said, “If the head man don’t want me back there, I can’t be back there.”
That’s probably because the head man, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, knows how important Manning is to the Texans’ defense. Kubiak mentioned this week that Manning is one of several players who look like they’re taking their game to another level.
“He’s a leader,” Kubiak said. “He loves to play. He’s 100 miles an hour all the time when you see him out here. He’s kind of becoming a leader of the back end in his own way, him and J-Jo (Joseph). Just another year of being comfortable here in Houston, and I think those things start to take over a little more.”
So why does a seventh-year veteran practice as hard as Manning does?
“You want to simulate what you’re doing in the game,” Manning said. “The only way you can do that is at practice. You’re pretty much going to be losing if you’re just doing it in the game. So you want to practice good habits and get your team doing the same thing. You want to come out here and lead with example before you start opening your mouth, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Manning is excited for his second season in Wade Phillips’ defense. He said Phillips’ defensive calls and packages put him in position to make plays, more so than when he was with the Bears.
“I’m just working on my leadership skills, developing my craft a whole lot better in this defense, playing the style of defense that they play,” Manning said. “I wasn’t used to playing in this defense. I played in a Tampa 2-based defense (in Chicago) and now it’s different in a 3-4, and I’m more aggressive now. There’s a lot I have to learn, also.”
As he continues to learn, he’ll continue to lead by example for the Texans’ younger players.
“When you come in with a mentality of putting a staple of a defense that wants to be physical and dominate and finish, rookies have got to come in and they’ve got to catch a hold of that chain,” Manning said. “That’s the staple we’re trying to set here as a defense.”
Tags: Danieal Manning, Gary Kubiak, Johnathan Joseph, Organized Team Activities, Wade Phillips
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On the injury front, linebacker Brian Cushing returned to practice Thursday after missing the previous three days with a sore knee. Cushing called it “as minor as they come; a bruise at most,” and Kubiak said it was important to Cushing to be back on the field before the end of OTAs. Wide receiver Trindon Holliday also practiced Thursday after injuring his ankle last week.
Quarterback Matt Schaub (foot), wide receiver Andre Johnson (knee) and linebacker Darryl Sharpton (quad) did not participate in OTAs as they rehabbed from injuries. Rookie nose tackle Hebron Fangupo missed all but part of the first day after injuring his knee.
“I feel good about Matt and where he’s at,” Kubiak said. “I think he could be practicing right now. Andre is probably a little further behind Matt right now. Loni (Fangupo) will be back. Probably the biggest question mark right now is Sharpton. Looking at where we’re at, Sharpton could not come out and practice right now. He needs to be in there battling with Bradie (James) for a starting job. Probably that’s my biggest concern right now, seeing that he’s 100 percent and can go out there and compete for a job.”
Kubiak said his biggest concern coming out of OTAs is the Texans’ young wide receivers. Aside from 10-year veterans Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, none of the Texans’ receivers have caught an NFL pass.
“I like the ability, as I’ve told y’all all along,” Kubiak said. “Bottom line, none of them have been in games, and so that’s going to be a concern until we get going. The picture looks different when Andre is out here and Kevin is out here and you have those veterans leading the way. Throughout the course of these OTAs, it’s strictly young guys. That’s a concern. It’s something we’ll continue to address with our team as we move forward.”
Kubiak wouldn’t say Thursday that Lestar Jean, who worked as a starter during OTAs with Johnson sidelined, has established himself as the team’s number three receiver. He doesn’t know if the team will keep six wideouts on the 53-man roster, saying, “it depends on what we are come September.”
The Texans also have questions at fullback, where second-year pro Derrell Smith has worked behind James Casey after spending last season on the practice squad at middle linebacker. Kubiak said Thursday that Smith has “very good” hands.
“I feel good about him,” Kubiak said. “He’s behind mentally. He’s a defensive player trying to play offense, so that’s tough, but nobody is working harder. I think the future is very bright, but it just needs to happen quick. He’s behind, but that’s not his fault. That’s us changing his position.”
The Texans will have a kicker competition through training camp between rookie Randy Bullock, who was perfect in his first competition in front of the team and has consistently boomed kickoffs 6-7 yards deep in practice, and veteran Shayne Graham, who signed with the Texans in May.
The Texans are also looking for a kick returner to replace Jacoby Jones. Safety Danieal Manning suggested Thursday that he won’t return kicks in 2012. Wide receivers Keshawn Martin, a rookie fourth-round draft pick from Michigan State, and DHolliday, a third-year pro out of LSU, appear to be the frontrunners for the job.
“That’s one thing you can’t really tell until you start playing, but I thought Keshawn looked like a natural with what he was doing,” Kubiak said. “Trindon is the best he’s been as a player going into this camp as a pro. It’ll be competitive, and then the young man that we picked up (running back Justin Forsett) looks like he’s going to be able to help us there, too. We’ll see how it comes out.”
The Texans have three open spots on their roster, meaning there’s room for them to sign free agents at positions such as wide receiver and tight end between now and the start of training camp in late July.
“I’m concerned about the youth of the receiving group, which we keep talking about,” Kubiak said. “We’ve normally had a physical tight end around here to go with O.D. (Owen Daniels). We don’t have that presence right now. That’s something (general manager) Rick (Smith) and I are looking at.
“You just asked me a question about our fullback. I know what James can do, but I’m counting heavily on a young man (Smith) who hasn’t played there. Those are some of the things right now and just the new faces that are going to be the new leaders along with the leaders we have to go with this team. Like I said, it’s a totally different team. It’s going to start taking on an identity as we get going here.”
Tags: Andre Johnson, Bradie James, Brian Cushing, Danieal Manning, Darryl Sharpton, Derrell Smith, Gary Kubiak, Hebron Fangupo, James Casey, Justin Forsett, Keshawn Martin, Matt Schaub, Organized Team Activities, Owen Daniels, Randy Bullock, Rick Smith, Shayne Graham, Trindon Holliday
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As nice as that play was, it wasn’t the highlight of Keenum’s day. That came a couple practice periods later as the undrafted rookie from Houston carved up the defense in a two-minute drill situation to end the Texans’ final practice of organized team activities (OTAs).
“His best time in OTAs came at the end of practice today, so that tells me that he’s getting better,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “I put him in a hurry-up environment, and he went out there and was automatic with what he did. He’s learning. He’s figuring out all the spots, and when he does that, I think he’s going to be very effective. I’ve been pleased. I think everything has been moving forward, so I’ve been really pleased, and I guess today made me really excited to see him be at his best.”
Keenum (6-1, 206), the all-time leading passer in NCAA history, was the Texans’ third quarterback in OTAs. He’ll be the second quarterback next week during the team’s three-day mini-camp, working behind 30-year-old free agent addition John Beck. Quarterback T.J. Yates will sit out of mini-camp practices along with other veteran players.
“I’m going to give him a ton of reps,” Kubiak said of Keenum. “I’m going to take some of the older guys and just work them with (head strength and conditioning coach) Cedric (Smith). I’m going to keep the young guys out here next week. He’ll work as the two next week, so that will be good for him and just keep getting as many as he can.”
The Texans are likely to keep three quarterbacks in 2012. Mini-camp could prove to be a critical three days for both Keenum and Beck.
Tags: Case Keenum, Gary Kubiak, John Beck, Organized Team Activities
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Midway through practice, tight end Owen Daniels and cornerback Brice McCain collided on what coach Gary Kubiak described as a busted route. Kubiak said he was holding his breath as Daniels and McCain went down to the ground, but neither player was injured.
“We got lucky,” Kubiak said. “Hopefully, it’s our year to be lucky from that standpoint. Hopefully, we can stay healthy. Unfortunately, that’s football, but golly. We’re just trying to teach, but we’re lucky right there.”
The Texans made it through their 10 non-contact OTAs without any significant injuries. Kubiak was so happy about it that he said he gave head athletic trainer/director of sports medicine Geoff Kaplan a high-five after Thursday’s practice.
Players practiced without helmets on Thursday for the second consecutive day. Kubiak said it was “much better” than the Texans’ disappointing effort on Wednesday.
“We really responded today,” he said. “I liked the way we practiced. We’re into what we’re doing. We covered a lot of things… We got through OTAs clean, and I think our teaching’s been good.”
Kubiak will let many of the Texans’ veterans rest next week during mini-camp (June 12-14), allowing younger players to get more reps. He was pleased with the team’s overall work during OTAs.
“I thought it was good,” Kubiak said. “I think we work like a mature group. I think this team’s trying to find its way. It’s missing a few familiar soldiers out here and guys that they counted on every day to kind of lead the way, so we’re having some new guys step up from that standpoint. We’re going to have some new faces are going to step in for this team, but I think the progress has been good.”
Tags: Brice McCain, Gary Kubiak, Organized Team Activities, Owen Daniels
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Quarterback Matt Schaub has not participated in organized team activities (OTAs) as he recovers from a 2011 Lisfranc injury, but the Texans fully expect him to be ready for training camp in late July.
Coach Gary Kubiak reaffirmed as much on Wednesday after being asked how able Schaub might be for camp and the beginning of the season.
“There’s nobody here questioning it, I can tell you that,” Kubiak said. “He’s our quarterback. He’s our leader. He’s played extremely well. He had a very unfortunate situation last year, getting caught in a pile. We know what Matt’s capable of and what he’s done when he’s been on the field for us and we’re expecting big things from him, so there’s no questions being asked here.”
Schaub has been rehabbing on a side field during OTA practices, running and doing quarterback drills as he works his right foot back to full strength.
“He looks good to me,” Kubiak said. “He looks like Matt. He’ll work as hard as anybody, and he’s got a lot of ground to make up while some of these other guys take a little break here in a few weeks. He and Andre (Johnson) are going to have to stay at it.”
With Schaub out, second-year quarterback T.J. Yates has been leading the Texans’ first-team offense throughout OTAs. Kubiak called it an “amazing” opportunity for Yates, who started seven games as a rookie last season and led the Texans to their first-ever playoff victory.
Last offseason, Yates didn’t have the benefit of OTAs as a rookie because of the lockout, and he was third in line for reps in training camp behind Schaub and Matt Leinart.
“T.J.’s really still a young player, and all the reps he’s gotten – he’s our starting quarterback right now out here, and the more reps he gets doing that, the more comfortable he becomes that he can lead a team and do those things,” Kubiak said. “He did it last year, so as hard as it is to have Matt out, it’s been very valuable for T.J.”
Tags: Andre Johnson, Gary Kubiak, Matt Schaub, Organized Team Activities, T.J. Yates
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Inside linebacker Brian Cushing did not practice again on Wednesday because of a sore knee. He has missed all three practices this week and will not practice Thursday on the final day of organized team activities (OTAs), Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.
Earlier this week, Kubiak said Cushing is fine and being rested as a precaution.
Kevin Walter returned from an illness to practice on Wednesday, giving the Texans one wide receiver on the field who has caught an NFL pass. Right guard Antoine Caldwell also practiced after missing time earlier this week with an illness.
Rookie nose tackle Hebron Fangupo is still not back on the practice field. An undrafted free agent from BYU, Fangupo rolled up his knee on the first day of OTAs. Kubiak said he hopes Fangupo can return next week for mini-camp.
Tags: Antoine Caldwell, Brian Cushing, Hebron Fangupo, Kevin Walter, Organized Team Activities
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Coach Gary Kubiak gave Texans players a bit of a break on Wednesday, the ninth day of organized team activities (OTAs), by letting them practice without helmets in the blistering heat outside at the Methodist Training Center.
The result was a far cry from what Kubiak expected.
“I just told the guys right now, I took their helmets off today and gave them a bone, so to speak, and they didn’t respond to it,” Kubiak said after practice. “Last year’s team responded to it very well. This year’s team’s first chance wasn’t very good. I told them I’ll give them one more chance tomorrow or there won’t be any more of those days. 2011 is over. It’s 2012 and we’ve got a lot of work to do, and our expectations as a football team stay the same all the time.”
The Texans are practicing with 28 rookies , and they’re particularly young on offense during OTAs with quarterback Matt Schaub (foot) and wide receiver Andre Johnson (knee) watching from the sidelines. Kubiak had artificial crowd noise piped in at practice for the first time in OTAs on Wednesday to try to rattle the players’ concentration.
Still, Kubiak expects better results.
“We just threw a lot at them, worked with some noise, worked some two-minute, really tried to gas them and see who could think when they were tired,” Kubiak said. “I had a couple of guys who have to think a lot better, so we got some good work and we’ve got one more day tomorrow.”
Thursday is the final day of OTAs. The Texans will then have a three-day mini-camp next week from June 12-14.
Tags: Gary Kubiak, Organized Team Activities
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Kubiak talked about the Texans’ playoff run last season, the 2012 offseason and the upcoming season (watch video of his full speech here). He also went over the Texans’ 2012 draft class with comments on individual players. Here’s some of what he said — I found his comments on the two wide receivers particularly interesting:
On OLB Whitney Mercilus (first round, Illinois): “He’s been everything that we thought he would be. He’s been exceptional throughout this summer. He’s a very smart young man, and I think he will play very, very early for our football team.”
On WR DeVier Posey (third round, Ohio State): “I’m probably hollering at him as much as any player on the field right now, but I’m trying to bring him along. I know how much he has to help this football team this year. He missed a lot of football last year, and that puts him behind. But talent-wise, he can help us. He’s got to go in there and he’s got to be a part of Kevin Walter, Andre Johnson and Lestar Jean and help us be a great football team, and I’ve got to get him to that point.”
On G Brandon Brooks (third round, Miami (Ohio)): “There’s been people say that he’s not our type of offensive lineman. He is 350 pounds, and he will be the first guy we push off the bus when we go play, OK. He is a good-looking young man. But I can tell you right now he will push for a starting job. I don’t know how far he’ll come. He operated as a starter yesterday in practice. (Antoine) Caldwell was sick. And I told him after practice, I said, ‘Brandon, you don’t have to play like a rookie and a backup. Go play like a starter. You don’t have to give a job back. Go in there and get after it.’ How far Brandon comes will have a lot to do with how we play this year.”
On WR Keshawn Martin (fourth round, Michigan State): “I don’t want to say that he’s the one that has surprised me the most, but I knew that we were drafting a returner, and obviously, losing Jacoby (Jones), we need some return help. This guy will help us from that standpoint, but I think he’ll help us also offensively. He’s been exceptional throughout OTAs. And yeah, I’ll use the word: He’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s doing more than probably I thought he could do at this point.”
On DE Jared Crick (fourth round, Nebraska): “One of the things we pride our football team on is we play hard. Our guys play hard. I told our team a couple weeks ago, I said in the offseason, I do a lot of things. I have to go to a lot of NFL functions. I’m around a lot of coaches. And the greatest compliment you can be paid as a coach is when other coaches say, ’Boy, your team plays hard.’ And our guys do. And that’s what Crick is. He’s from Nebraska. He’s a try-hard, effort player. Our type of guy. He played extremely well as a sophomore and junior… He got hurt last year, missed a lot of time, but he has fit in very well, and I think he’ll be a contributor for our football team.”
On K Randy Bullock (fifth round, Texas A&M): “This kicker that we drafted out of A&M (Kubiak’s alma mater), he’s got a ton of class, as y’all could well imagine. And we’re counting on him big-time. It’s interesting; people say, ‘Coach, y’all are going with a young kicker.’ No, we drafted a young kicker. I don’t know who we’re with yet, OK? But Randy has handled himself like a very mature pro, and he’s done a heck of a job, but we brought in Shayne Graham, and they will compete. I don’t know who our kicker’s going to be, but whoever kicks for us is going to do a good job. We went with a young punter (Brett Hartmann) last year (and) he did a heck of a job. Losing Neil (Rackers), Neil was a very good kicker. We think Randy has the ability to do it, but we’re not going to hand anybody anything on our team. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens, but it should be a very good competition.”
Tags: Brandon Brooks, DeVier Posey, Gary Kubiak, Jared Crick, Keshawn Martin, Organized Team Activities, Randy Bullock, Whitney Mercilus
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After practice on Tuesday, Texans coach Gary Kubiak was asked how much better left tackle Duane Brown can be than he was in 2011, when he gave up only 2.5 sacks all season and was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
It sounds like there could be even bigger things in store for Brown in 2012.
“He’s one of the guys who have had a great offseason, in my opinion, watching him practice,” Kubiak said. “Some guys that have jumped at me offensively, I think him, I think Arian (Foster), I think (Ben) Tate. Defensively, just watching Danieal Manning—I could sit here and name veteran players that really look like they’re taking their stuff to another level, and Duane is definitely one of those guys right now.”
Brown (6-4, 320), 26, is entering his fifth NFL season and the final year of his rookie contract. A first-round draft pick in 2008, he had only one year of experience at left tackle in college at Virginia Tech. A former tight end, he has exceptional feet and athleticism for an offensive lineman and has improved in every season in the league.
“Duane loves to play,” Kubiak said. “He has a good time on the field. Duane can run; he’s a heck of a specimen from that standpoint. He plays against the best players in the league rushing the quarterback. Once you get the confidence that you can play with those guys, the sky is the limit. I think that’s where Duane is right now. He’s got a chance to be a Pro Bowl player.”
Brown was an alternate for the Pro Bowl last season, which was regarded by many as a major snub.
“I thought he played as good as any tackle in football last year, but they usually make you do it more than once,” Kubiak said. “I’m ready for him to come back and do it again.”
Tags: Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Danieal Manning, Duane Brown, Gary Kubiak, Organized Team Activities
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Wide receiver Kevin Walter was not at the Texans’ eighth practice of organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday because of an illness. With Andre Johnson sitting out of OTAs because of recent arthroscopic knee surgery, that left the Texans in a unique predicament.
Practicing on Tuesday were wide receivers Lestar Jean, Jeff Maehl, DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin, Juaquin Iglesias and undrafted rookies Jerrell Jackson and Mario Louis. None of them has caught a pass in the NFL. Maehl (three) and Iglesias (one) are the only ones who have even played in an NFL game.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever walked on a NFL practice field and have a group of receivers who have never made an NFL catch, so that was a first for me today,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “It’s great work for them. They’re competing hard. We’re down to seven guys with Kevin being out and Trindon (Holliday) being out (with an ankle injury). That’s how you get better. What an opportunity for a group of young men, and we’ll see who can handle it.”
Jean, an undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic in 2011, has been practicing as a starter with Walter throughout OTAs. Kubiak said he is still happy with how Jean is performing.
“He practices like a young guy sometimes still, but today he’s the big vet out here and he’s never caught a pass,” Kubiak said. “That tells you how we have to get going there, but I like his work. I like what he stands for. I think he has a chance to be a good player.”
Posey, a rookie third-round draft pick from Ohio State, was among the other players to get more reps on Tuesday in Walter’s absence.
“He’s kind of working with all of the groups right now,” Kubiak said. “We’re moving him around according to how they play. If they show good signs, they move up one day, so they’re bouncing back and forth. It’s kind of crazy for them right now. We’re just trying to see who can handle the most and how far we can push them here before we take a break.”
Kubiak said Walter showed up for work on Tuesday and wanted to practice, but he wanted to keep him away from the other players to avoid getting anybody else sick. Texans guard Antoine Caldwell was sick on Monday as well. It’s unclear if Walter will return to practice for the final two days of OTAs on Wednesday and Thursday.
Tags: Andre Johnson, DeVier Posey, Jeff Maehl, Jerrell Jackson, Juaquin Iglesias, Keshawn Martin, Kevin Walter, Lestar Jean, Mario Louis, Organized Team Activities, Trindon Holliday
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