HOUSTON (AP) - Former Dallas linebacker Bradie James jumped at the chance to reunite with Wade Phillips and Reggie Herring in Houston.
The rest of the Texans? Well, they began spring conditioning drills on Monday with many of the familiar faces missing.
Houston went 10-6 in 2011, winning its division for the first time and earning the franchise's first playoff berth. The roster then underwent significant change in free agency, with career sacks leader Mario Williams, tight end Joel Dreessen, right tackle Eric Winston and right guard Mike Brisiel among those who signed with other teams. The Texans also traded All-Pro linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia.
Houston acquired the 6-foot-2, 246-pound James to fill the void left by Ryans' departure. James played his first nine NFL seasons with the Cowboys, including the four-year span when Phillips was the head coach and defensive coordinator, and Herring became his linebackers coach.
"Wade is kind of laid-back, but not too laid back," James said. "If you want to get Wade riled up, miss an assignment and he'll get after you. Reggie is the guy that is a `spit on the side of your face' type of guy. He's just on you like an old nagging woman, but they complement each other. You can just tell how the guys rallied around those two last year and there is talent all over the field out here."
The Texans felt like James is a better fit for Phillips' 3-4 alignment than Ryans, who was drafted along with Williams and Winston by Houston in 2006, coach Gary Kubiak's first season. Tight end Owen Daniels, the last remaining holdover from the class, thinks the Texans were lucky to keep the roster intact for that long.
"That's just part of the business," Daniels said. "Obviously, I wish all those guys the best, but we've still got a lot of good players here and a lot of guys that contributed and a lot of up-and-coming guys that we're excited about. I try to focus not necessarily more on who's gone. You have to give them credit for helping and contributing to get us where we got to, but a lot of the guys here have been working hard to continue that process."
Quarterback Matt Schaub didn't go anywhere, and he said he is "right on schedule" in his recovery from a broken right foot that sidelined him for the final six games and the playoffs. He had a procedure last week to remove pins and screws from his foot, and he expects to be fully healed by the time training camp begins.
"It's hard for me to tell you a certain date, or June or something like that," he said. "All I know is come time for training camp, I'm going to be 100 percent ready to go and that's all that really matters, in my mind."
The Texans set a franchise record for yards rushing (2,448) and ranked second in rushing offense (153 yards per game) in 2011, a key to their first playoff appearance. Winston didn't miss a game between 2007-11 and Brisiel started 25 games over the past two seasons.
Rashad Butler, who spent most of last season on injured reserve with an elbow injury, will take Winston's spot; Antoine Caldwell will take over at right guard after making only three starts there last season.
Schaub expects an easy transition.
"They are guys that have played for us and played in this system and played in this league, so they have experience," he said. "Looking forward to just getting them out there and getting a more integral role in what we are doing."
"It means a lot, and I'm just going to try and go out there and earn the respect of the rest of my team and just try and do my best," he said.
The Texans were just glad they were able to use the training room at Reliant Stadium, unlike last year when the lockout forced them to find other places to stay in shape. More than 30 players gathered for several workouts at nearby Rice as the labor dispute dragged on.
"I think this year will be a lot smoother," Daniels said. "We'll be able to obviously have the guys around, build that continuity within in our team. As many guys as we had together last year, we'll be able to have the whole team around this year, working together from day one. That's going to go a long way, I think, for us and our preparation for the season."