Sea of competition faces Texans' Moses

Updated: August 11, 2004, 5:50 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- J.J. Moses was the feel-good story of the Houston Texans' 2003 training camp.

His steady hands and quick feet helped him seize the punt return job despite being the NFL's shortest player last season at 5-foot-6.

He remains atop the depth chart so far, although the Texans are holding an open tryout to see if anyone else can do better.

"With competition, the cream of the crop always rises," Moses said. "I'm not saying I'm the cream of the crop, but it makes me play at my best."

Rookie tailback Domanick Davis was anointed as the favorite for kick returns last year before breaking a hand early on in camp, leaving the jobs wide open. Moses' lightning-fast first step and reliable catching ability impressed coach Dom Capers and his staff even if the diminutive dynamo had little chance of making an impact as a wide receiver.

Fortunately, the Texans never needed Moses on offense. He had some electrifying returns, though his initial burst doesn't come with tremendous downfield speed, meaning he was prone to getting caught from behind a few times after seemingly breaking free.

"We know what we have with J.J., so we haven't been working him quite as much as some other people," Capers said. "We've been trying to look at some other returners so we can get a feel for what they can do.

"That's not because we're disappointed in J.J. -- he's done a good job -- we just know more about him."

Moses' 6.8-yard average ranked just 27th among punt returners with at least 20 runbacks last year. Moses did not score a touchdown in 36 returns, but he didn't fumble either.

The list of teammates getting touches on punt returns during training camp seems to grow by the day. The Texans drafted cornerback Vontez Duff out of Notre Dame to vie for the job, but free agent pickups such as running back Jason Anderson, cornerback Rober' Freeman and receiver Albert Johnson also have gotten extensive looks in practice.

This week the Texans have given receivers Kendrick Starling and Chris Taylor chances to field practice punts, too.

"You've got to stand out just a little bit more than the other guys do," said Duff, a sixth-round draft pick whose return skills might determine whether he makes the team. "You just have to work and be consistent on everything you do."

Besides Moses, Johnson is the most experienced player of the bunch. A standout in Canada as a rookie in 2000, he spent all of the following year on the Dolphins' injured reserve after knee surgery, then averaged 8.6 yards on eight punt returns before another knee injury the following season.

He was out of football last season before joining the Texans' practice squad on Dec. 16, which led to an NFL Europe gig earlier this year.

"In this business, the more you do opens up more eyes," said Johnson, who should get some preseason punt return chances starting Saturday against Dallas. "That's one thing I can do, so I'm trying to showcase that."

For the time being, however, Moses remains the incumbent unless Capers and special teams coach Joe Marciano say otherwise.

All Moses is concentrating on, he says, is catching and running.

"I don't have fear," Moses said. "I don't fear anything. I give it all I have, every time."

^Notes:@ DT Seth Payne had his first full-steam team workout Wednesday morning since tearing a ligament in his left knee last September at New Orleans. "He jumped in there and it was good to see him taking snaps with the first group," coach Dom Capers said. Payne was held out of Wednesday night's practice and will not play Saturday in the preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys. ... The starting linebacking corps of Jay Foreman and Jamie Sharper on the inside and Kailee Wong and rookie Jason Babin on the outside isn't written in stone, Capers said. OLB Antwan Peek is having an impressive camp and is in the mix. "Sure, he has a possibility of starting," said Capers, who could replace one of the outside linebackers or move Wong inside to take a spot there.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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