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Schaub takes over Texans team looking for first winning season

HOUSTON (AP) -The Texans are relying on a first-time starter at quarterback and a 30-year-old running back to solve their longtime offensive woes.

Matt Schaub and Ahman Green will begin their first season in Houston when the Texans open training camp Friday. The pair joins a team with a defense led by last year's top draft pick Mario Williams, whose development will be a key to Houston's success after a disappointing rookie season.

The Texans hope Schaub and Green invigorate the offense after David Carr managed just two touchdown passes in the last 10 games of 2006.

Schaub has already ingratiated himself to Texans veterans, most notably Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, by spending the spring and summer working out with and getting to know his teammates. Players and coaches alike believe the touted backup can be the leader the team needs but never had in Carr, who was dumped after the Texans posted their fifth straight losing record.

"I've been impressed with the way he handles himself," coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's a lot to handle. You go and make a trade like that for a kid and the pressure to come in here and take over this football team is great, but he's handled himself tremendously this offseason. He's been a great worker, very confident kid about his opportunity and what he's fixing to go take on."

Despite finishing 6-10 last season, the Texans have something to build on after winning their final two games for their first consecutive victories since 2004. One of those was a morale-building Christmas Eve win over Indianapolis, the first in franchise history.

Schaub has been learning Kubiak's offense since he was traded from Atlanta in March, and his transition will be aided by the rapport he's established with Johnson. Houston's top offensive threat caught a career-high 103 passes for 1,147 yards last season.

Unfortunately for Schaub, the Texans did nothing in the offseason to reinforce their receivers beyond Johnson, though Kubiak is a big fan of 25-year-old Kevin Walter, who has just 456 yards receiving in four seasons.

"It's a concern of mine because we're so young after Andre," Kubiak said. "We're going to find out if we have a couple of young players that are going to step up and be big-time pros. I'm going to give them the opportunity to do that."

Though probably past his prime, Green reinforces a running game that sputtered last season until December. The Texans were forced to start rookie sixth-round pick Wali Lundy after Domanick Williams (formerly Davis) was placed on injured reserve just days before the season.

Ron Dayne finally got healthy and became a factor in December, rushing for 429 yards and five touchdowns.

The Texans are excited about Green, and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who coached him in Green Bay, said Green looks better than ever. He had 1,059 yards rushing last season after returning from a torn right quadriceps in 2005.

With the 1-2 punch of Green and Dayne, the Texans are in much better shape at the position than entering last season.

"I think we have big-play potential with No. 30 (Green) back there," Kubiak said. "If we are right in the run game and we catch him right, we have a chance for some big, big plays. If we can run the ball that way, we can get people off Andre."

As usual, questions abound about who will protect the new quarterback after Carr was sacked 249 times in five seasons. The Texans thought they'd found their left tackle in second-year player Charles Spencer, but a broken leg just two games into last season has left doubt if the 351-pound player will ever play again.

If Spencer can't go, the Texans will rely on 10-year veteran Ephraim Salaam or former Kansas City tackle Jordan Black to protect Schaub's blind side.

Williams, the shocking No. 1 pick last year, finished with 47 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. There are several reasons to believe he will improve.

The defensive end has recovered from plantar fasciitis in his right foot that slowed him for most of 2006. He also seems more relaxed a year removed from the constant questions comparing him to previous potential No. 1 picks, Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

Perhaps most importantly, he's got help on the line in this year's first-round pick Amobi Okoye.

Along with taking pressure off Williams, Okoye, the 20-year-old defensive tackle, should beef up Houston's paltry pass rush. Houston was 27th in the NFL in sacks with 28 last season.

"I look at him and I said: 'This kid would have gotten there many times last year,"' Kubiak said. "I think he's going to give us an added pass rush ability inside and make people pay attention to more than one guy when it comes to turning protections and stuff like that. Hopefully that will free up other players to make plays."

Such as DeMeco Ryans, who unlike Williams, far exceeded expectations by winning top defensive rookie honors. The second-round draft pick led the league in solo tackles with 126. His 156 total tackles were the most by a rookie in the last 20 years, and he had 3 1/2 sacks.

"The year he had was tremendous," Kubiak said. "Hopefully there's many more years like that one to come. I think he improves just through the knowledge of the game. He's a quiet guy who does his job and gets everybody in the right spot. Never a word out of his mouth and what a leader for such a young kid, but I think the kid's knowledge of the National Football League is what is going to get him to the next step."

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