Former Aggies receivers making their case

HOUSTON -- The two of them walked off the field together, teammates who were separated for one season.

Now EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart are after the same goal: making an NFL roster, or at least a practice squad, with the Houston Texans.

Labhart signed as an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M this season, while Nwachukwu did the same last season. Nwachukwu was on the Texans practice squad for all of the 2013 season. Meanwhile, Labhart, once a walk-on in College Station, played in 12 games for the Aggies last season, starting in his final five. By that time Labhart had earned a scholarship, and in his senior season he caught 51 passes for eight touchdowns and 626 yards.

"This opportunity comes around once in a lifetime," Labhart said. "As being a rookie, you learn from veterans. You see Andre (Johnson)... catching Jugs after practice. You just have to wait your turn. For me, I want to make the most of this opportunity. If it means sticking around 30 extra minutes catching passes and trying to figure out what I need to work on. If it’s not catching passes, maybe it is working on routes or timing with quarterbacks."

The receivers are generally the last players to leave the field. Labhart and Nwachukwu have been among the group that has stayed after each of the Texans' morning training camp practices to work with the Jugs machines.

They've been impressive during team drills as well, fighting for catches, avoiding drops and running crisp routes.

"I mean, you know, rookie year I think things are going 1,000 miles per hour," Nwachukwu said. "Having a year under your belt and being able to know what to look for and know how to study film, you can think less and play more."

Nwachukwu believes his route-running is the area that has improved the most since his rookie season. He's paid more attention to being aware of the field, rather than simply running a route without that awareness. In college, on his way to 19 career touchdowns, which tied him for third in Texas A&M history, Nwachukwu could often get away with that.

"Coming from A&M, on some plays you can just go out there and use your athletic ability," Nwachukwu said. "You can win routes. But out here, you know, you’ve got guys like J-Jo (Johnathan Joseph) and K-Jack (Kareem Jackson), and if you do that you’re probably going to be in the sand somewhere. You definitely have to stay on your details and make sure your technique is right."

Making the team won't be easy for either player. The Texans have five receivers with game experience, all of whom have been focused and precise during training camp, ahead of Labhart and Nwachukwu. But one refrain around professional athletes is that they control only what they can. From that standpoint, Labhart and Nwachukwu have looked like they belong.