Green, a tireless worker, is out to prove there's plenty left in his tank.
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at San Diego
The King 500
77DeMeco Ryans, Linebacker
Ryans is 6' 1" and appears shorter. He weighs 239 and appears lighter. Yet he led the NFL as a rookie in '06 with 125 solo tackles and plays the demanding middle position in the Cover Two with uncommon speed and anticipation, stuffing the run and covering slot receivers. "Low man wins in football collisions," says Ryans, a second-rounder out of Alabama. "I learned that when I was 12. I stay low, all the time."
A year after passing on Vince Young and Reggie Bush, these expansionists start fresh with a new QB and No. 1 back
After five years at an aggregate 32 games below .500 and nary a winning
season, the Texans severed ties with face-of-the-franchise quarterback David
Carr, who in the spring of 2002 was the first player drafted in the team's
history. It was a decision that even Carr agreed with. "It's been a relief to
put the whole experience behind me," says Carr, who took his staggering 249
career sacks to Carolina as a free agent to work as Jake Delhomme's backup. The
savior's role now falls to Matt Schaub, Michael Vick's erstwhile backup,
acquired in a March trade with Atlanta. He can be expected to hand off 20 times
a game to Ahman Green, 30, signed as a free agent after seven seasons with the
Defensive end Mario Williams is no longer the reigning No. 1 overall draft
pick -- with all the pressure that designation carries -- and no longer suffering from
the plantar fasciitis in his right foot that nagged him as a rookie. The Texans
will keep him lodged at right defensive end rather than move him up and down the
line as they did last year. "There was a lot to learn," says Williams. "I'm
looking forward to staying in one place." Behind him the Texans will simplify
the defense, with a lot of Cover Two nickel, to avoid getting caught in too many
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
The Texans claim to be aiming for their first playoff appearance. "It's
time we made the next step," says owner Bob McNair. In reality the next step
would be simply contending for a playoff spot into December, rewarding their
fans with meaningful games in the last quarter of the season.
Schaub's performance will go a long way in determining whether that happens.
The Texans have entrusted their future -- and $7 million in guaranteed money -- to a
quarterback who has started two games in his three-year career while waiting for
his chance in Atlanta.
There's plenty of buzz about Schaub's potential. "I talked to guys I know in
Atlanta," says wide receiver Keenan McCardell, whom the Texans signed on the eve
of training camp for his 16th NFL season. "They told me he's a player. He's got
the arm. He's got the game."
Schaub will benefit from running a West Coast-style offense that's
similar to what he learned in college (Virginia) and with the Falcons. After the
trade he moved to Houston with his fiancée and began throwing with Texans
veterans like Andre Johnson, who caught 103 passes last year but had grown weary
of Carr's indecisiveness. "Matt gets rid of the ball," says Johnson. "He takes
his drop and lets it go. Period. You come out of your break, and it's
Says Schaub, "Look, I'm still young. This is my fourth year, and I've only
started two games. I can learn from guys here. And I'm anxious to step in there
and lead." It will help to find a solid second receiver behind Johnson.
The Texans are gambling that Green has some tread left on his tires after
nine seasons, 1,871 carries and 8,491 yards. He's a tireless worker who
practices Pilates and yoga to sustain his flexibility and explosiveness. "People
who know me -- they know what I've got left," says Green. Behind him the
well-traveled 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, Ron Dayne, will try to duplicate his
performance of a year ago, when he rushed for 612 yards in only six starts,
arguably the best season of his disappointing career.
The defense is talented, though still very young. Williams is expected to
improve, and he'll be joined on the line by precocious 6' 2", 302-pound rookie
Amobi Okoye, whose entire career has been conducted on fast-forward. He began
playing as a high school sophomore (after emigrating from Nigeria to Huntsville,
Ala., at age 12), played college football at Louisville at age 16 and was
drafted at 19. "He's athletic, just like everybody said he was," says Williams.
"I'm looking forward to playing next to him." Okoye's NFL debut comes one year
after middle linebacker and tackling machine DeMeco Ryans was named the league's
defensive rookie of the year.
The Texans could have as many as seven starters on defense who have been in
the league three years or less. Ryans and cornerback Dunta Robinson are
All-Pros-in-waiting. After a horrid start a year ago, in which they gave up
nearly 500 yards per game in the first three weeks of the season, the Texans
were a top 10 defense from October through December.
Coach Gary Kubiak promises to eliminate many of the mistakes he made last
year, his first as a head man after 12 years as an offensive assistant. "I
spread myself too thin, worrying about every little thing in the organization,"
he says. Offensive coordinator (and former Packers head coach) Mike Sherman will
call the plays, but they will all run through Kubiak's headset.
In the end Schaub and Green are gambles with a big upside. The defense could
be very good. December games should matter in Houston. -- Tim Layden