The horde eagerly anticipated the self-analysis of Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who on Wednesday practiced for the first time during training camp after battling a protracted recovery from knee surgery.
Meanwhile, several moments earlier, second-year linebacker Darryl Sharpton slipped away under the cover of broad daylight, almost too inconspicuously given how critical a role he might play this season.
Though Cushing expressed pleasure with the progress he's made over the course of a week, going so far as to reveal that last Wednesday he wouldn't have predicted that he would have practiced in seven days, there are no guarantees Cushing will be prepared to reprise his 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year performance by the opener against the Colts. That is the sobering reality for a team under the stewardship of a new defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips) installing a new scheme (the 3-4) with a corps of starting linebackers either new to the position (former end Mario Williams) or returning from catastrophic injuries.
Whereas DeMeco Ryans (Achilles) and Connor Barwin (ankle) have been full participants throughout, Cushing is returning at a gradual pace. That has Sharpton in the mix alongside Williams and Ryans and Barwin, heady position for the fourth-round pick out of Miami, Fla.
"Honestly, I'm the type of person no matter where I am on the depth chart I'm just going to play my game, which is go all out as hard as I can," Sharpton said. "Whether I'm going with the 1s, the 2s or the 3s, I'm going to still have the same game and mindset, and I'm going to just leave it to God. Like my old (position) coach (Michael Barrow) in college used to tell me, 'If you're doing your best, don't worry about the rest.'"
That simplistic mantra has paid dividends for Sharpton, 23, whose athleticism and physicality have been hard to miss. As a rookie, Sharpton recorded 34 tackles and one sack while participating in 12 games, including six starts. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury in the penultimate game against the Broncos in Week 16, but Sharpton returned healthy and clearly ready to embrace opportunity.
Also clear: Sharpton was undaunted by the challenge of switching to the 3-4. Only one year removed from first learning the rigors of the NFL, Sharpton has absorbed the schematic changes taking reps with the first-team defense. Having Phillips at the controls has eased that transition.
"Wade Phillips is a guru," Sharpton said. "He has a great track record for what he does. I'm getting information and coached up from a very good source, so I have 100 percent confidence and faith in what he's saying."
Texans coach Gary Kubiak needs to feel as confident in his reserves at linebacker as Sharpton is in Phillips, especially considering the hurdles strewn about the path of the projected starters returning from injury or unfamiliar with formulating an attack without one hand on the ground.
If the Texans are to rebound from putting the third-worst defense in the league on the field last season, their search for security extends to fourth-year pros Xavier Adibi and Stanford Keglar, as well as rookie Brooks Reid.
"I think Sharpton's had a very good camp," Kubiak said. "We brought the new guy in, (Tim) Dobbins, so we're trying to take a look at him. I think Xavier has had a good camp. That's very important. The depth at that position is very important.
"It's been a process of a bunch of young players getting reps with the first group. With Cheta (Ozougwu), it's the same type of deal. I'm pleased up to this point of where we're at, but at the same time we got to get DeMeco and Cush up to full speed. That's why we're here working."
Much of the progress displayed on the practice field by Sharpton has come via establishing himself as a pro. Having spent his entire life in Miami prior to the 2010 draft, Sharpton had a lot to juggle as he settled in for a new life in Houston, both professionally and personally. Now there is serenity present, an aura of comfort that has allowed Sharpton to move beyond being star struck by some of his teammates last season to tackling with greater ease the responsibilities presently on his plate.
Sharpton has embraced that he belongs. Whatever comes next will be part of the game that isn't as complicated as some make it out to be.
"There's only so many ways you can play football," Sharpton said. "At the end of the day you've got to tackle the man with the ball and defend passes. There are slight differences in how things are called and how you line up, but at the end of the day football is football and we all have the same goal: make tackles."