INSIDE THE CAMPS
Coach Mike Tice is using Chris Hovan's minor knee injury as an opportunity to demote the struggling defensive tackle and send a message to the rest of his players that either they make plays or their playing time will diminish.
Hovan suffered a bruised knee during a full-pads practice on Monday. After the players' day off Tuesday, Hovan was told veteran nose tackle Steve Martin would be taking reps with the first team and Hovan would be replacing him in the nickel defense.
Hovan, who has started 47 consecutive games, was not happy about it, and confronted Tice after practice, in full view of reporters. It's possible Hovan will still start on Sunday at Houston, but he still is expected to lose some reps to Martin.
"He got kicked behind his knee, and he's kind of limping around a little bit," Tice said. "So he didn't take as many plays as he wanted to in practice. He was not pleased with that. We tried to teach him the intelligence of not doing as much work when you're limping around on one and a half legs. Let the other guys get some work in there. And when you're in there, get quality work. He didn't want to buy into that. He wanted to buy into taking as much work as he normally takes."
Hovan is in the last year of a five-year contract. Through three games, he has been credited with five tackles, including two solos, and no sacks. Tice and defensive line coach Brian Baker have criticized him and other defensive linemen for being undisciplined and unproductive.
Tice did an intense solo evaluation of each player over a two-day period during last week's bye. Except for veterans Kenny Mixon and Lance Johnstone, Tice met with every defensive lineman and told them more was expected of them - or else.
"I can't sit here and say that players win games, and then play players that don't make plays," Tice said. "Then I'm a hypocrite. If they can't make plays, then they can help us win. And if they don't make plays, they shouldn't play. That's the way it goes. Regardless of who it is."
The Texans are not taking anything for granted with the Minnesota Vikings turning to rookie running back Mewelde Moore to start Sunday's game at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans haven't been able to stop the run this season - regardless of who's carrying the ball.
Vikings coach Mike Tice will rely on Moore with starting running back Michael Bennett out with a knee injury and backup Onterrio Smith, who has a team-high 421 yards from scrimmage, suspended for the next four games because of multiple violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Moore has just one NFL carry.
"That's what you want to think," nose tackle Seth Payne told The Houston Chronicle. "But you never know. We haven't seen much of this running back. He could end up being a future star."
The Texans have struggled against the run this season, allowing Kansas City's Priest Holmes to rush for 168 yards two weeks ago. The alarm went off last week when the Raiders lost starter Tyrone Wheatley in the second quarter but still managed to finish with 162 yards on the ground. Backup Amos Zereoue had 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Texans coach Dom Capers describes "big" running plays as gaining 15 yards or more. The Texans have surrendered only eight such plays through the first four games of the season, but six have come in the past two games - three each against Kansas City and Oakland. The Texans won both games for the first winning streak in team history.
"A lot of our problems have been missed assignments and breakdowns, but in Kansas City, you can't sidestep around it - they just beat us," Payne said. "At least it's something that can be fixed, and we're going to need to do that. If we keep having those breakdowns, we can't expect to keep winning."
The Texans rank 26th in average rushing yards allowed, which is actually better than last season when they ranked next-to-last in the NFL. In two games this season, the Texans have faced Holmes and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.
Moore, who played at Tulane, is one of just two players in NCAA history with 4,000 career rushing yards and 2,000 receiving yards. His backup, Larry Ned, never has carried the ball in NFL game. The Vikings also have veteran Moe Williams, but he has a calf injury and is expected to play only on passing downs.
"It might help us that they have a couple of the running backs out, but we still have to do a better job of stopping the run no matter who's playing," linebacker Antwan Peek said. "You can't win ballgames without stopping the run."