It's the first day of training camp and all through the house that Bob McNair built, the fans are aflutter.
They've packed several thousand around the Houston Texans' facility and made practice — we're talking about practice — into an event, complete with cheerleaders autographing calendars, blown-up Texans displays and even an entrance archway for the players to run through. On the way to practice. Allen Iverson would be aghast.
And you wonder why Major League Baseball, the NBA and every other would-be major sport in America is jealous of king football?
It's almost stunning how quickly Phillips' unit has become the Texans' calling card, how far it's vaulted over an offense that's largely defined the team during the Kubiak era.
Matt Schaub — the repaired quarterback who the Texans' Super Bowl hopes depend on — runs through the entranceway lined by fans behind metal barricades. Schaub draws enthusiastic applause.
J.J. Watt sprints by and the entire place goes absolutely bonkers. Danny Boyle only wishes his Olympics opening ceremony was this universally praised.
And there amid the craziness of day one — a day in which Foster joining the ranks of vegans attracts more attention than Schaub returning to the field — is the truth of these 2012 Texans.
This is now a team of defensive stars, a team whose personality is derived from the side of the ball charged with stopping the other guys. It's almost stunning how quickly Wade Phillips' unit has become the Texans' calling card, how far it's vaulted over an offense that's largely defined the team during the Gary Kubiak era.
It's the defense that carried the Texans to the first playoff appearance — and the first playoff win — in franchise history last season, of course.
But with Schaub back, Johnson swearing that he feels much better than he ever did in the playoffs last winter (when he only caught 13 passes for 201 yards in two games and carried any air game) and Foster signed for the next five seasons, it was reasonable to wonder if the balance would shift back somewhat toward the offense.
Well . . . so much for that thought.
The Texans defense looks more potentially dominant and confident than ever. It may be only one day in, but it's clear that Watt, Cushing, Joseph and Co. are going to drive the Texans offense mad in this camp.
It isn't so much seeing rookie wide receiver DeVier Posey struggle to make a catch against the defensive backs, or Johnson needing to make a sliding sideline snare to grab a highlight for the O, as much as it's the look and swagger of the defense itself. Wade's Warriors could stifle and torment Schaub and friends through August and it won't necessarily mean that Houston's in trouble on offense.
Hey, this might be the best defense the Texans face all season.
It might be the best defense anyone sees in 2012. Wade's Guys certainly think so. The Texans finished second overall in the NFL in total defense last season — and they raised their game in the playoffs. It was impossible to watch that second round loss in Baltimore — the goal-line stand, the claw back from a 17-3 deficit, the relentless collapsing of Joe Flacco's pocket — and not see the best defense in the NFL.
"We think we're going to be the best defense," safety Glover Quin says. "We can get better."
Bulls On Parade indeed.
No one is comparing this Texans defense to the '85 Bears. But like the all-time great defenses, they have plenty of characters — particularly in the front seven.
It may be only one day in, but it's clear that Watt, Cushing, Joseph and Co. are going to drive the offense mad in this camp.
"We have a bunch of different characters and a lot of different personalities, but the way we mesh and come together in the locker room and on the field, it all works," Watt says. "We’ve got funny guys. We’ve got serious guys, crazy guys.
"We got every different type of guy and at the end of the day, we just have fun out there on the field together.”
This is a front seven does not let each other get away with anything. Even budding superstars aren't exempt from getting called on things.
"(J.J.) tries to be funny," middle linebacker Brian Cushing says. "But he's not Connor (Barwin)."
Drives & Diet
Watt is too driven to play Chris Rock. On the day that he receives the loudest cheers of any Texan, the defensive end remembers how some fans booed his name at the Texans' draft party last year. This guy holds onto slights with a Michael Jordan-worthy furor.
Foster is usually much more Namaste about things. But getting asked several questions about becoming a vegan doesn't leave him wanting to hug the world.
"Why is everyone so concerned about what I'm eating?" he shoots back. "It’s really not that interesting. It’s not interesting at all, actually."
Fretting that Foster's performance is going to fall off because he's stopped eating cow is silly. But it's also silly for Foster to be annoyed that it's become a story.
He is the one who tweeted about it. He brought this story to his own doorstep. You can't be an iconoclastic rebel and then get mad when people want to learn more about it. Make yourself fascinating and people are going to be intrigued.
But no worries. Before long, the focus will shift to the real story — this take-over-the-team defense. It's already starting.
You can hear it in the loudest roars. The people are speaking. In practice.