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Six things learned from Houston Texans' Rick Smith

Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith quietly has been one of the best front office leaders since taking over the team in 2006. He's built a consistent winner primarily through the draft. Around The League had a chance to sit down with Smith on Wednesday morning. Here's what we learned from him:

1. The team**still is targeting Week 1 for Ed Reed's return

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Reed alluded to not necessarily being ready for the regular-season opener in interviews following his hip surgery this offseason. Smith isn't worried about whether or not Reed will be ready for the start of camp, but Week 1 remains the target.

"(Reed's) rehab is going well," Smith said. "The thing that is important, and we're focused on, is to make sure he's there Week 1 when we start playing for real."

Whether or not Reed is back for Week 1, Smith expects rookie D.J. Swearinger to play plenty

"D.J. operates like he's a veteran. He has awareness. He knows how to disguise things early in his development learning the scheme. ... I do expect him to play a lot of snaps," Smith said.

2. The Texans also expect Whitney Mercilus to make a leap

We recently profiled the second-year pro as a player ready to break out. Smith echoed the sentiment when asked about the team's relative struggles at outside linebacker last year.

"Whitney is poised to have a really impactful year," Smith said. He's very talented. When he has his opportunities, he's shown he's capable of producing. ... If you look at his production, relative to how much he played, he produced a very high level."

Smith also noted outside linebacker Brooks Reed is fully healthy again, and the team could use a great year from him.

3. Playoff stalls won't change approach

Smith said the team's recent playoff history will "help us when we get back to that point." Until that happens, Smith stressed that the team isn't doing anything different. Like Bill Belichick, Smith emphasizes viewing each season as its own entity. That path starts next week.

"We're starting from scratch," Smith said.

4. Smith is aware of his divisional surroundings, difficult schedule

"I do think you have to look at what the other teams in your division do," Smith said when asked about Andrew Luck and what the Colts did this offseason.

The Texans also know that their schedule includes a very difficult three-game run between Week 3 and Week 5: at Baltimore, home for the Seattle Seahawks and then at San Francisco.

"It's a first-place schedule, number one. And we play the NFC West, which has emerged as one of the toughest divisions in football. That's just a part of it. If you want to be the best, you got to go play the best, and beat the best. That's just the way we look at it," Smith said.

5. The Texans might ask Matt Schaub to do more

Smith told me that Schaub has the ability to take on even more responsibilities if Gary Kubiak wants to increase the offensive packages. Smith told NFL Network's "NFL AM" that Schaub knows he's judged based on how he performs in big games.

"He understands that. He knows that. And he does have to play better in those situations for us to take our team to the next level," Smith said.

6. Scheduling the Patriots as a "homecoming" game was a coincidence

For years, the Texanshave scheduled a "homecoming" game. They clarified that there was no intent in linking last year's letterman jacket fun against the Patriots to this season's scheduling decision.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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