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Bears, Texans face-off in preseason opener

HOUSTON -- Rex Grossman needs to prove he can be consistent. Matt Schaub that he's ready to be a starter.

The quarterbacks, at vastly different stages in their careers, will take the spotlight Saturday night when the defending NFC champion Chicago Bears open the preseason against the Houston Texans.

Grossman was up and down and all over the place last season. He had a quarterback rating of more than 100 in seven games, but also posted a 1.3 rating once and a 0.0 in the final regular-season game.

He led the Bears to their first Super Bowl since 1985, but his two fourth-quarter interceptions helped ensure the Colts' 29-17 win.

He'll have more options at receiver in his second full season at starter with return specialist Devin Hester moving to offense and a healthy Mark Bradley joining Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian at receiver.

Grossman has pretty straightforward expectations for the offense on Saturday.

"We just want to be sharp," Grossman said. "We want to execute well, make good decisions at quarterback. Throw to the right guy. Execute and run the right routes."

Coach Lovie Smith doesn't expect any drop-off after last year's success and knows that simply getting to the Super Bowl wasn't enough for his team.

"I just know we have the same hungry team," he said. "We haven't accomplished our goal that we set out to back in 2004."

Schaub, the highly regarded backup who played behind Michael Vick for three seasons in Atlanta, takes over in Houston after the Texans dropped former No. 1 pick David Carr following five losing seasons.

Players and coaches alike heaped praise upon Schaub throughout training camp. Now it's time for him to perform and his first test comes against one of the NFL's toughest defenses.

"You kind of try to hold the excitement a little bit," coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've got a long way to go before we open up, but I'm excited about the progress he's made as a football player and as a leader on this team. We've got to take some small steps along the way as we work to Kansas City, but I want to keep him in one piece and keep him protected here Saturday."

Schaub said he's comfortable with the team and the offense and is looking forward to his Texans' debut.

"I'm getting a good feel for them and they are getting a good feel for me and we are starting to get things rolling and clicking on offense and getting our sense of timing down real well," he said.

After working with Schaub since he was traded to Houston in March, Andre Johnson can hardly wait to take the field with his new quarterback, even if it's only for a quarter.

"I am excited," he said. "You definitely want to see it in action because you want to see how far we've come since we got together."

Another new face on Houston's offense is running back Ahman Green. The four-time Pro Bowler, who spent the past seven seasons in Green Bay, hopes to bolster a running game that sputtered in 2006 until Ron Dayne came on in the last month of the season.

While Grossman must be consistent, running back Cedric Benson has to stay healthy for the Bears to be successful. The third-year player, chosen fourth in the 2005 draft, is Chicago's featured back after the team sent Thomas Jones to the New York Jets this offseason.

This will be the first career preseason game for Benson, who starred in high school at Midland, Texas and then at the University of Texas. His missed the preseason as a rookie because of contract negotiations and sat out last preseason with a shoulder sprain.

"I just want to be healthy the whole season," Benson said. "Not every week, not every day, not every game is promised but you can do something to minimize (injuries)."

Happily overshadowed by all the Texans offensive changes is last year's top draft pick Mario Williams. Houston's hulking defensive end was dogged by endless questions and unrealistic expectations as a rookie after the team passed on Reggie Bush and hometown hero Vince Young to draft him.

Now that he's over a painful foot problem that slowed him for much of last season and under a bit less scrutiny, he seems poised for more success in 2007. He should be helped by the addition of first-round draft pick Amobi Okoye. The 20-year-old defensive tackle was the 10th player taken in this year's draft.

"I've seen a lot and been through so much," Williams said. "I think that's helped out a lot, and I think that's a good thing. When you have adversity like that it helps you out. It only helps you become mentally tough and I'm thankful that it did happen."

Chicago's defensive line also has a new look with tackle Darwin Walker taking over for Tank Johnson. Walker was traded from Buffalo July 31 to fill Johnson's spot after he was released following his latest run-in with the law.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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