The Texans won two more games than they did in 2006 to reach .500 for the first time. As they prepare for camp that begins July 25, they know they'll have to make a bigger jump this season to step out of their role as AFC South bottom-dwellers.
Matt Schaub was solid in his first year as a starter, but his progress was hampered by injuries. The quarterback missed five games and portions of several others with various injuries, receiver Andre Johnson missed seven games and running back Ahman Green sat out 10. The three were on the field together only for the first two games, both wins.
The offense suffered during their absences, but the team still averaged 54 yards more a game than it did in 2006.
LAST YEAR: The Texans reached .500 for the first time last season, but that record might be misleading since the eighth win came against a Jaguars team that had already made the playoffs and rested most starters. Mario Williams had a breakout 14-sack season and new quarterback Matt Schaub looked good in his first year as a starter, but Houston's offense was slowed by injuries to he, Andre Johnson and Ahman Green.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LT Duane Brown (first-round draft pick), LB Rosevelt Colvin, RB Chris Brown, CB Jacques Reeves.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Assistant head coach Mike Sherman, LB Danny Clark, RB Ron Dayne.
CAMP NEEDS: Johnson must show he's recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of seven games last season and led him to offseason arthroscopic surgery. Brown, the rookie left tackle, will have to improve after being dominated by Williams in offseason workouts. Green's durability will be tested after he missed 10 games with knee swelling.
EXPECTATIONS: If Green and Johnson can stay healthy, the offense in Schaub's second season in Houston should be improved. The young and talented trio of Williams, Amobi Okoye and LB DeMeco Ryans will be better, but it will have to pick up the slack from a secondary playing without CB Dunta Robinson until at least late October. Entering their seventh season, the Texans will be disappointed with anything less than their first playoff berth, but they'll have to make a big jump for that to happen in the ultra-competitive AFC South.
Schaub had surgery after the season to repair an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and is expected to be healthy in time for training camp.
"You get more comfortable from year one to year two," Schaub said. "That's when you make the biggest jump in any system ... getting more familiar with things and getting used to them. It's just going to help this next year."
Johnson is expected to return for camp after sitting out Houston's offseason workouts after arthroscopic knee surgery, and Green declared himself "pain free" and ready for camp. The Texans must wait and see if the 31-year-old will be more durable than he was in his first season in Houston when he finished with 70 carries for 260 yards.
They added insurance in case he can't stay healthy with Chris Brown, the former Tennessee back. Brown ran for 462 yards last season but also struggled with injuries.
Houston hopes third-round draft pick Steve Slaton can be the change of pace back this offense has lacked. Slaton had 3,923 yards rushing and a school-record 50 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at West Virginia.
Brown didn't fare too well lining up against Williams, but Kubiak is confident he'll improve with time and practice.
"That's a difficult position to come into in this league," Kubiak said. "And then you couple that with the fact that he's playing against a guy (Williams) that probably ... could be the most dominant defensive end this year. So he's got a lot to work on, but he's got a great attitude and all the athleticism that we need and the right temperament."
He'll pair with defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and should get some pass-rushing help from linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. The 21-year-old Okoye started out strong last season, but the NFL's youngest player in 40 years wore down late in the season, when his production fell off. Kubiak called him the most improved player this offseason.
Rookie tackle Frank Okam is an intriguing prospect heading into camp. He was one of the top players in the nation coming out of high school but never lived up to the hype at Texas. The Texans love his size (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), and a good camp could help him unseat the underachieving and oft-injured starter Travis Johnson.
Kubiak hopes strong play by Williams and company can pick up the slack.
"It makes up for it a great deal," he said. "It makes people get rid of the ball. It makes people not cover so long. Those guys outside are depending on that down in and down out."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press