The 64-year-old Phillips returned to practice Wednesday in a more somber mood, though he's confident he'll be able to work from the press box Sunday when Houston (10-5) plays Tennessee (8-7) in the regular-season finale.
"It's good to be back," Phillips said. "It's not as funny now as it was before I was going in. I'm a little more sore than I thought I'd be. It's taken a lot out of me, but I'm working my way back, doing what the doctors say."
Phillips went on medical leave Dec. 14, and had surgery the next day. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring ran the defense in his absence, and the Texans lost their next two games.
The players got a pleasant surprise Monday when Phillips showed up at a meeting, and they got another emotional lift when he joined them on the practice field Wednesday.
"Even just seeing him out there and smiling and making calls," linebacker Brian Cushing said, "I know that means a lot for him, as well. To be away from football like that, it really hurt him. For him to be back out there, all of us are just happier to see him out there."
"It's good to have him back," Kubiak said. "I know it's good with the players. Got to be smart with him out here, make sure we don't get him banged around. But it's good to have him back out here and see that he's feeling much better."
Houston's defense has made a dramatic turnaround from 2010 during Phillips' first season, ranking second overall in total defense (280.7 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (17.0 points per game). The Texans have already set a single-season franchise record for sacks (41) and rank 10th in takeaways (26).
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press