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What we learned: Houston Texans are getting healthy

Bad news for the rest of the AFC South: The Houston Texans are getting healthy just in time for the start of the regular season.

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NFL Network's Brian Billick, who coached Ed Reed early in the safety's Baltimore Ravens career, stated confidently during Fox's broadcast of Sunday's preseason game that the All-Pro would return from hip surgery in time to play in the Texans' season opener versus the San Diego Chargers.

Even if he wasn't quite as bold as Billick, Texans coach Gary Kubiak expressed optimism that Reed soon would be activated from the physically unable to perform list.

"Ed is leaving tonight to see a surgeon, we'll see where we're at in the middle of the week," Kubiak said. "But I know we're very, very close and hopefully sooner than later."

Reed is close to joining three-time Pro Bowl tailback Arian Foster, who has the team feeling confident after his return to full practice Friday.

The next step will be getting impressive first-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins back from a concussion. Kubiak said Friday that "Nuk" was feeling a lot better but still was in stage 1 of the recovery process.

Once the Texans get that trio back on the field, their roster might stand toe-to-toe with any team in the AFC.

Meanwhile, Matt Schaub's offense had little trouble moving the ball against the Saints on Sunday, racking up more than 300 total yards and four scoring drives in the first half.

Here's what else we learned during Sunday's two preseason games:

  1. With Foster still rounding into game shape, Texans backup running back Ben Tate upgraded his portfolio entering a contract year. Tate showed his usual blend of power and speed en route to 74 yards and one touchdown on just 11 carries. The Texans will lean on him more heavily this year than last.
  1. Andre Johnson hasn't lost a step at age 32. He ran free throughout the Saints' porous secondary, racking up 131 yards and seven catches in one half.
  1. Overshadowed in previous years, the Texans' No. 2 tight end, Garrett Graham, appears to have an increased role in the passing game with H-back James Casey now in Philadelphia.
  1. The Saints can talk up an increased role for Mark Ingram, but Pierre Thomas isn't going away. Thomas started the game and totaled 70 yards and one touchdown on five touches versus Ingram's 52 yards on six touches. Ingram does have more bounce to his step this season; he's still not a better player than Thomas.
  1. If there were any remaining doubts about rookie Kenny Stills nailing down the Saints' No. 3 receiver role, he emphatically answered them Sunday. Stills came down with a 40-yard circus catch over Texans starter Kareem Jackson. A few plays later, he beat top cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a 14-yard touchdown.
  1. Christian Ponder provided the usual grab-bag of shaky pocket presence, poor decision-making and the inability to challenge defenses down the field mixed with just enough bright spots to keep faith alive in the Vikings' passing game. The quarterback desperately needs Adrian Peterson on the field to sustain drives and consistently move the offense.
  1. Speaking of Peterson, his 2013 preseason debut lasted just two plays. Per the Vikings' plan, both plays were passes to avoid any risk of injury to the franchise running back. There might not have been any logic to Peterson's appearance beyond getting him back into a comfortable routine for the regular season.
  1. Vikings All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams went down with what appeared to be a nasty knee injury on a low block. He likely will be sent for tests Monday.
  1. Kendall Hunter appears to be Frank Gore's primary backup in San Francisco. Hunter erased doubts about his health with a strong burst on a 15-yard scamper. It was the most impressive form we've seen from any running back directly returning from Achilles surgery. The key will be avoiding the nagging leg injuries that have hampered those recovering tailbacks in the past.
  1. Marlon Moore couldn't get on the field in three years with the Miami Dolphins, but he has started in all three preseason games opposite Anquan Boldin on a Super Bowl contender. If Moore is the favorite to start the season as the 49ers' "X" receiver, then fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton might be the clubhouse leader in the slot. Sidelined by a fractured finger since the beginning of training camp, Patton tallied 35 yards and one touchdown while operating as Colin Kaepernick's No. 3 receiver.
  1. Over the past two weeks, Justin Smith has proven to be the same dominant player he was before the triceps tear that sapped his effectiveness down the stretch last season. There's plenty left in his tank.
  1. Even with the injuries to Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin, the 49ers and Seahawks still boast the league's deepest, most talented rosters. The NFC West superpowers are the class of the NFL after three weeks of preseason action.

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