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Texans TE Daniels targets training camp for return from torn ACL

Owen Daniels has spent so many days alone in the training room that it's a treat to be on the field with his Houston Texans teammates.

Even if he's just watching practice.

Daniels was quarterback Matt Schaub's favorite target last season before the tight end tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the eighth game. The Texans look for Daniels to return to form next season, but he first must finish recovering from surgery.

Daniels expects to be ready for training camp, even if Texans coach Gary Kubiak isn't so sure.

"If I had to go to one place that's going to be the sticking point throughout camp as we work ... it's our tight end position, because O.D. and (backup) Anthony Hill will not be participating in training camp," Kubiak said Wednesday, according to the Texans' official Web site. "You go carrying six tight ends when you get through training camp, you've got other problems at other spots, so we've got some work to do from that standpoint."

Kubiak said if Daniels is able to participate in training camp, he'll be limited so he doesn't suffer any setbacks before the season.

"He's way ahead of schedule, he's doing very well, but it's been thought of all the time that if we get to camp that he would do some possible work in seven-on-seven, non-contact type of stuff, but (we would) not throw him right back into full banging, so to speak," Kubiak said. "So there's going to be some maneuvering to do."

So far, the most work Daniels has done this offseason is catching passes thrown by a machine instead of Schaub.

"The whole thing is getting ready for the season and making sure I'm ready for Week 1," Daniels said. "So we're working on that. I've got to do what I can since I'm not practicing, at least be around the guys and help out during practice and get some work in catching the balls."

Daniels had 40 receptions for 519 yards and five touchdowns last season, including a 123-yard performance in the game before his injury. He averaged 13 yards per catch, and his five TD receptions equaled his total from the previous two seasons combined.

Daniels became such a big part of Houston's offense that the unit took some time to adjust after he went out with the injury. The Texans lost four consecutive games.

"I was playing well individually, and we were playing really well as a team, and knowing that I wasn't going to be able to be a part of that for the rest of the season was tough to deal with," Daniels said. "Then even tougher was watching and seeing us struggle in those four games after I got hurt. I just wanted to be out there helping. It was tough to watch, so hopefully no more of that."

Daniels has been Houston's top tight end since his second NFL season, and he started each game in 2007 and 2008 (when he made his first Pro Bowl). He finished with more than 750 receiving yards in each of those seasons, but he was on pace to finish with more than 1,000 yards in 2009 before the injury.

Daniels credits that success to better preparation and some extra conditioning and drill work last offseason.

"I think it comes with experience," he said. "It was my fourth year in the league, and I had gotten comfortable with this offense and was getting more confident in my abilities. I think I'll even be more prepared this year mentally. Since I can't do all the physical stuff right now, I'm looking at the game a little bit differently and hopefully it will help out."

For now, Daniels is helping the Texans' younger tight ends in their adjustment to the NFL. The team picked up Garrett Graham in the fourth round of this year's draft, and it also has two second-year pros in Hill and James Casey.

Hill also had his 2009 season end early because of a torn ACL. His injury came more than one month after Daniels', and Kubiak said Hill "realistically probably won't be ready until the beginning of the season."

Four-year NFL veteran Joel Dreessen and free-agent signee Michael Gaines are the other tight ends on Houston's roster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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