Opportunity aplenty for Texans' guards

Opportunity aplenty for Texans' guards
July 30, 2014, 7:30 am
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(USA Today Images)

Offensive guard Alex Kupper spent most of his rookie season on the Texans’ practice squad. But the former undrafted rookie has found himself working with the first-team offense early in this training camp.

And he’s trying to make the most of it.

“It’s a process that people like myself need to take full advantage of and it’s a physical league and you have to hold up day in and day out,” he said after Tuesday morning’s practice. “It’s a challenge but it’s a challenge I’m willing to meet.”

Kupper, who played center at Louisville, is getting those first team reps at right guard, where Brandon Brooks played last season. Brooks opened training camp on the Non-football Injury list and hasn’t yet been removed, even though head coach Bill O’Brien said “he’s closer.” Brooks can’t practice until he’s off that list.

Without Brooks, the Texans turned to third-year player Cody White. But on the second day of training camp, White tore his Achilles and was lost for the season.

So it’s been Kupper and third-year player Ben Jones manning the guard positions, with rookie second-round pick Xavier Su’a-Filo right behind them.

“I think those guys are smart, they’re hardworking guys, they’re tough,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “They seem to come out every day with the attitude that they’re going to get better and it’s a competitive position.”

Su’a-Filo was the 33rd overall pick in this spring’s draft. UCLA’s quarters system force him to miss all of the Texans’ OTAs but that hasn’t stopped him in training camp from showing off why many draft experts pegged him as a first-round pick.

“He’s a real smart guy,” longtime center Chris Myers said of Su’a-Filo. “There are some guys that can retain it real well. There are some guys that have an issue with it and have to do it on the field a lot. He’s a real smart guy and he’s taking it in stride.”

Su’a-Filo is listed at 6-4, 307 pounds and has a strong lower body. In the two days of padded practices, Su’a-Filo has more than held his own against his defensive teammates.

“You see why he is that high of a pick by how athletic and how big he is,” Kupper said. “It’s just honing in on some fundamentals we’re working on and just trying to be a better player.”

Jones started 10 games at right guard as a rookie, while splitting time with Brooks. Brooks took over the job last season and started 15 games. But with the departure of veteran Wade Smith, who remains a free agent, the left guard spot became vacant. Jones was expected to battle Su’a-Filo for that starting spot.

Jones is a natural center but has played only guard since entering the league as Myers continues to play the center position at a high level.

“I think Ben Jones has had a very, very good offseason,” O’Brien said. “He’s been a guy that has been in this building since day one. He’s been in the weight room since we got here. He’s a really, really good team guy. We enjoy coaching him. I can see his improvement from day-to-day, from minicamp to where we are now in training camp. When you work that hard, you’re going to improve.”

Aside from losing White and not yet having Brooks, the team also lost second-year guard David Quessenberry to a cancer diagnosis.

Certainly, Kupper doesn’t enjoy seeing his teammates sick or injured but there’s unmistakable opportunity with the team at guard now. And Kupper thinks he’s a much better player with one year of NFL experience.

So what does he think of his chances to make the team?

“As good as anybody else’s,” Kupper said. “It’s up to myself, honestly. I just have to show that I can play day in and day out.”