More than 4,000 ventured to Methodist Training Center on Friday morning to romp inside the inflatable playground, make stilted small talk with cheerleaders, bob along to blaring top-40 radio and -- oh, right -- watch the Texans helmets-only practice in near 100-degree heat. Seeking a different kind of cool relief afterward, I ventured across the street to Reliant Stadium to watch workers install the Bermuda grass turf ahead of Monday's night homestand against the Jets. They bring it in from a nearby lot on flatbed trucks in 8-by-8-foot tiles and assemble it along the stadium floor with forklifts and steamrollers like a jigsaw puzzle. The whole process takes about nine hours, or -- as groundskeeper Daniel Ryan noted -- about three times as long as the average Texans game. Here's a
Mario Williams, outside linebacker. After years of terrorizing passers as a defensive end, the top pick in the 2006 draft moves up a level in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. For Williams, the transition brings technique changes like standing up instead of starting from a three-point stance. (The sight alone of the 6'6," 290-pounder bearing down on the line of scrimmage isn't for the feint of heart or fair of pants.) But otherwise, the overall mission remains the same: sack up. And Phillips' defense has a knack for manufacturing league leaders of that sort like DeMarcus Ware, whom Williams spent time studying during the offseason. Which of Ware's skills would Williams most like for himself? "How he gets off [the line] and how his two-point stance allows him to be fluid off the ball for such a tall guy," Williams said. "I was really looking at stuff like whether he leans in a little more, or how he turns his feet before he takes off. Looking at those fundamentals helped out."
Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator. What does it say about the NFL's biggest intrastate rivalry (because, you know, everything's bigger in Texas) that the Texans would stoop to bringing in a former Cowboy to them help get into the playoffs? That question got a chuckle out of Phillips. "They brought in a former Cowboy," he said. "But they also brought in a former Charger, a former Eagle, a former Falcon and a former Oiler. I've been a few formers." Part of the reason Phillips keeps having to find new employment is the fact that he's won just one playoff game in four attempts as a head coach. What makes him such an attractive job candidate is that he knows how to get there -- and fast. Of Phillips' 11 career playoff appearances, seven have come in his first season with teams. For the Texans, who have yet to crash the postseason party, merely showing up could be enough to guarantee Phillips gold-watch job security.
Early games against pass-happy teams like Indianapolis and at New Orleans don't bode well for a secondary that's still congealing, and North division clashes against Pittsburgh and at Baltimore will take a toll on the offense. But if the Texans hover above .500 through their Week 11 bye, the South will be there for the taking.