It has almost been one full week and the Houston Texans are deep into training camp. Full pads were put into play on Monday, and head coach Gary Kubiak called the first practice in pads a “little testy.”
“It’s football now,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “We haven’t gotten to play in a while, so it feels good to play real football and put the pads on, bang some heads and have some fun. Anybody can look good in shorts. It’s what happens when you put the pads on that you get to actually see who’s really good. This is what gets your juices going. If you’re a real player, if you’re a guy who loves the game, you love coming out to practice with the pads on because you get to hit every single day, and you get to prove yourself.”
The testiness showed during one nine-on-seven drill when defensive end Antonio Smith took undrafted rookie running back Dennis Johnson to the ground. Center Chris Myers objected. During the minor scuffle that ensued, rookie safety D.J. Swearinger began jumping up and down shouting. That’s the kind of excitability his teammates have seen in him since he got here.
“I talked trash a little bit, so I felt like myself,” Swearinger said. “That’s something I didn’t do a lot of in OTAs because I wasn’t comfortable yet, but I felt a lot more comfortable. I’ve been talking trash with football all my life since little league. Whenever I’m talking trash, that’s me having fun and me being myself.”
Swearinger is making heads turn in Houston Texans training camp, literally and figuratively. With his forearms covered in wristbands, the rookie out of South Carolina refers to himself as a wild boy of sorts with a dream to play professional football. Swearinger, who responds to ‘Swagger’ as his childhood nickname, is not just all talk. The second-round pick is being praised for his work ethic which, he says, is a product of his upbringing.
Working alongside eight-year veteran Daniel Manning and All-Pro safety Ed Reed, Swearinger feels his learning curve will be shorter than most rookie safeties. Reed has given him both life advice and football-related advice, “things a lot of people probably wouldn’t talk to you about.” As for the on-field lessons, Reed has helped Swearinger learn aspects of the game that can only come with experience for most players.
Injuries also come with wearing full pads, and Monday two key players left practice. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus went out with a strained hamstring, and defensive end Delano Johnson went out with a groin injury.
“Whitney got a little hamstring strain that we don’t think is serious, but we’ve got to evaluate him,” Coach Gary Kubiak said. “Delano had a little groin strain. We’ll evaluate him this afternoon. We were down a lot of bodies today. I gave some older guys a break, and I thought the young guys really stepped up and did some good things.”
Tight end Garrett Graham attended practice but wasn’t able to participate. He’s still recovering from a virus. “He’s fine,” Kubiak said. “He’s back with the team. He rode the bike a little. He’s holding his food down. He’s on his way back. He went through a lot.”
With the Texans wearing their football pants instead of shorts for the first time Monday, they got a chance to see how the newly mandated thigh and knee pads felt. For the guys who have worn pads in recent years, it was a non-issue. Although quarterback Matt Schaub seemed to be fiddling with his thigh protectors, he said they felt fine. Receivers who have gotten away from wearing any protection on their legs in order to improve their speed and agility may find the new pads more problematic.
“We’ve got to get these guys used to it,” Coach Gary Kubiak said. “I think it’s going to be different for them. The biggest thing they have to do is get settled with what they’re going to wear and make sure it is legal. It’s something that we know is going to be very much enforced, and players have got to handle it.”