It’s that time of the year.
We’re halfway through July, summer vacations are in full swing, the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and it’s so hot you could do a brisket on a sidewalk (that would be 230 degrees for 10+ hours for the uninitiated).
That can only mean one thing. It’s time for training camp!
One of the best decisions made years ago by the Texans organization was to construct a world-class training facility and hold training camps right here in Houston.
Although, like I said last year, I’m disappointed with the limited opportunities. The number of open practices at Reliant Park pales in comparison to many other NFL teams. That’s unfortunate for a team that fancies itself as ultra fan friendly. But let’s take what we can get.
Texans training camp opens on July 30 and for those who can attend a session or two, it’s a fringe benefit that enables fans to connect with their team in person, as opposed to reading about them practicing in foreign places like San Angelo or Oxnard.
And having attended most, if not all of the Texans public training camp sessions over the last several years, I thought I’d offer some tips to those who have yet to experience this “must-do” for all Texans fans.
First things first — get tickets. The free tickets are currently available at houstontexans.com.
Just register for the session you would like to attend and you will receive the ‘ticket’ in an email attachment. You can print out as many tickets as you like and it really doesn’t matter if you select 1 or 10 on the order form.
After you get your tickets, get an up-to-date Texans roster/depth chart from houstontexans.com . Most Texans fans know the starters but there’s a lot of new players among the 81 guys you will see on the practice field. Heading out to camp knowing the numbers, names, and relating that to faces will help make your training camp experience much more enjoyable. There are usually daily rosters available at the gate if you forget to print out a copy from the website.
Get there early for all practices (especially the evening practice) if you want a good seat. Parking is at the north end of the practice facility, in the lot across McNee Rd. To get there, take I-610 to Kirby Dr., go north on Kirby for a few blocks and the practice facility will be on your left across the street from Reliant Stadium. Look for the “bubble,” you can’t miss it. Take a left on McNee and parking is on your right.
Gates open at 6:15 p.m. for the lone evening practice and at 7:30 a.m. for the morning sessions.
Once you get inside the gate, you can mingle about the various booths or go straight inside and claim a seat. Seating is first come-first served and is restricted to a set of bleachers along the east sideline. There is also a small area in the north end zone to stand and watch the practices. The south end zone is restricted to player’s families, VIPs, etc.
Autograph sessions occur after practices at the south end of the field. There’s a new autograph process this year so you might want to check into that. Toro and the cheerleaders usually roam the areas behind the bleachers during practice and there are activities for kids and places to buy Texans gear.
Don’t forget your sunglasses, especially for the evening practice because you will be staring into a pretty fierce ball of fire until 7:30 or so. After the sun sets, it’s very pleasant out there – at least for the fans. The sun is at your back during the morning practices so glare is not that big of an issue, but the morning sessions are hot and steamy so forget about wearing anything dark and/or tight.
If you get there early, watch the players ride over to the practice facility in the ‘golf cart trains.’ There is limited locker room space at the training facility so the players get dressed at Reliant and ride golf carts across the foot bridges over Kirby. Every once in a while, you can get close enough to the players to offer words of encouragement or snap a picture.
Some players walk over to the training facility instead of riding the golf carts. I’m not an autograph hound but there are usually autograph and photo opportunities where the players cut across the training camp ‘midway’ on their way to and from the practice fields.
Binoculars will help you spot your favorite players and coaches on the field and on the far sideline. Find Coach Kubiak and the other coaches and watch them put the rookies through their paces.
Check out the position battles on the interior offensive line to see if Wade Smith can dislodge one of the starters.
Check out the three headed monster at running back and see who looks the best among Steve Slaton, Ben Tate and Arian Foster.
Check out free safety to see if Eugene Wilson still has it or if one of the young whipper snappers will step up and challenge.
And of course check out rookies Kareem Jackson, Earl Mitchell, Garrett Graham and the others.
I’ll be watching Rick Dennison to see how much Kubiak has delegated to him. Last year, Kyle Shanahan spent a lot of time directing practice ops on the offensive side while Kubiak observed from various locations on the field.
Take a camera. Still-cameras are allowed but leave the video cameras at home. I doubt if the Texans would appreciate practice video showing up on YouTube so don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
Enjoy the camaraderie of other Texans fans and whatever you do, please don’t try to save 10 seats in the bleachers for your people if they aren’t going to get there until halfway through the practice – and then leave early.
Enjoy the action on the practice field. The sessions start with warm up exercises and then morph into unit drills, special teams activity, and various drills on offense and defense. If you can’t find a spot in the bleachers, walk over to the north end zone and watch the big uglies beat on each other.
Over the two-hour period you will see a variety of drills including individual units working on techniques to 7 on 7’s, 9 on 7’s, full team and 2-minute drills involving almost every player on the roster. It’s a perfect time to get an early look at the new draft choices and free agents in action.
Afterward, don’t be in a hurry to leave. As the players work their way back to Reliant after practice, there’s always the possibility of a photo opportunity or autograph from a player. Media types usually conduct interviews of players on the field after practice and people watching can be entertaining.