Casey tries to make cut with Texans

HOUSTON Casey, entering his second season, is competing for time at tight end at training camp, and he's also working with the fullbacks and deep snappers, trying to catch coach Gary Kubiak's eye with his versatility.

"Basically, my whole goal is to work to get onto the field," Casey said. "Whatever I can do to be a starter, whether it's special teams, deep snapper, tight end, I'm just trying to get to that position."

Casey is working with the second team as a tight end, behind Joel Dreessen. Pro Bowler Owen Daniels is still out with a knee injury, and that creates more opportunities for Casey to impress the coaches.

And he has.

"When you're starting to put a roster together of people you count on, he's the poster child of that," Kubiak said. "He's got a situation where he's got a chance to prove that he could start in this league. There is a lot to expect from James, from a lot of people around here. And I know he realizes that, too."

Even if football doesn't pan out, Casey has a pretty solid backup plan. He's 13 hours shy of earning three degrees from nearby Rice -- in economics, managerial studies and sports management with a minor in business.

The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Casey caught six passes as a rookie last season. The Texans nabbed him in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, a perfect scenario for Casey, who lived less than two miles from Reliant Stadium last summer.

He's got the playbook down now and feels much more at ease in his second training camp.

"I feel miles ahead of where I was last year at this time," he said. "I'm a lot more confident with the offense, and when you're confident, you play faster, you know what's going on and you can work on the little things."

Casey is getting a rare second chance at a professional career after falling short as a minor-league baseball player.

After three disappointing seasons in the rookie league, Casey turned to football -- and college -- sending packages of self-promoting material to several schools in Texas. Dustin Hufsey, one of Casey's former high school teammates, walked on at Rice and delivered Casey's package to the coaches.

Rice offered Casey a scholarship to play linebacker or safety -- not exactly what Casey wanted, but enough to get his foot in the door.

"I decided to go to Rice with the mindset that I was going to prove to them that I could play on the offensive side of the ball," he said.

Less than a week after he arrived, coach Todd Graham bolted for Tulsa. Casey feared that he would lose his scholarship, but Rice hired David Bailiff and Casey stuck around.

He started spring practice at defensive end, while trying to convince the coaches every day that he was an offensive player at heart.

"At the end of every practice, he would play catch with somebody until he wore them out," Bailiff said. "And he would stand out there and throw the ball like he was a little kid. He was so talented that we had to find a role for him, and he had an amazing arm."

Bailiff eventually moved Casey to quarterback, then to receiver when the depth chart was thinned by injuries. Casey saw action at seven positions in a 31-29 victory over Southern Miss, running for a touchdown, catching two passes and making two tackles.

He emerged as one of the nation's top receivers in 2008, ranking second nationally in receptions (104) and fifth in receiving yards (1,217). He also maintained a 3.84 grade point average that year with a full class load.

"He was always challenging himself to do more," Bailiff said.

Casey hopes to run a business in the future, or maybe go to law school, but those aspirations and decisions can wait. For now, he's concentrating on his run-blocking and deep-snapping techniques, trying to prolong his dream career for as long as he can.

"I've got a lot of stuff going through my mind every day, as far as what I'm going to do after football," he said. "Right now, I've got things right in front of me, like finishing up school and this season. I'm just going to keep brainstorming, keep thinking about my options and just see what might happen down the road."

NOTES: Kubiak said DE Mario Williams received a painkilling injection in his swollen hip on Monday. On Sunday, Kubiak said Williams would likely miss "a couple of days."

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