Texans training staff staying busy during offseason

For most Texans players, the offseason started in mid-January. You wouldn’t know it if you walked through the training room at Reliant Stadium on any given morning.

The Texans finished the 2011 season with 12 players on injured reserve. Many of those players are still on the mend from their season-ending injuries, while several others had surgery after the season ended. Quarterback , linebackers and and punter are among those at Reliant just about every day for rehabilitation.

“We’re really busy in here,” Texans director of sports medicine/head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan said in his office, glancing through a large window into a crowded training room. “We have about 15 guys or so coming in every morning. Guys are very focused. Guys are very committed to getting well and to making next year even more successful than 2011 was, and everybody is just working hard towards that goal.”

Players start coming in for rehab every day around 7:30 a.m. Kaplan and his staff – which consists of five athletic trainers, two of whom are physical therapists – arrive an hour earlier, between 6 and 6:30 a.m. The last players typically leave around 1 p.m.

During rehab, players do exercises designed to help them regain their function, with an emphasis on flexibility, strength, coordination, balance and endurance. Every player does a core or trunk stabilization program.

Kaplan likes to say that “the training room never closes.” He and his staff have not had a vacation day since the lockout ended in late July.

“Those guys all do a phenomenal job,” Schaub said. “All the things they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis in the season and now in the offseason, having to deal with all the guys that are rehabbing little nicks and bruises or surgeries and whatnot, just to get us ready for OTAs and training camp, it’s a year-round thing for them. They do a great job of putting together our rehab plans and getting us back healthy.”

For Schaub, 14 weeks have passed since he had surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his right foot. He arrives at Reliant Stadium between 7 and 8 a.m. every day, or 9 a.m. if he’s taking his oldest daughter to school that day.

Some offseason, huh?

“I’m here every day, working out, working on my foot and just rehabbing everything,” Schaub said, laughing at the question. “Everything’s going real well. I’m here each day ‘til about noon, and then my offseason consists of taking care of my kids and being over there with the family. So that’s the fun part.”

Players lean on each other throughout the rehab process, often telling stories and cracking jokes with their teammates, the trainers and other team personnel who pass through the training room.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Kaplan said. “Guys use each other for support. It’s a long grind a lot of times when you have a season-ending surgery or an offseason surgery. Rehab can be anywhere from a few weeks to 6-9 months, and it takes a lot of support from your teammates.”

That friendly banter is an essential part of the rehab process.

“You got to (do it),” said offensive tackle , who has been rehabbing from a ruptured triceps since September. “The hard part is just being in here and knowing that you have a good 45-50 guys that are vacationing right now and you’re in here working. It’s good to joke around, kind of keep your spirits loosened up so we can pretty much not really think about what the other guys are doing.”

Right guard is one of several Texans who had offseason surgery. After playing through a broken leg in Week 14 at Cincinnati, having surgery the next day and then coming back to play in the Texans’ two playoff games, Brisiel had arthroscopic ankle surgery to repair a minor, pre-existing injury.

Instances like that are common every offseason. Players routinely get elbows and knees scoped to clean out loose cartilage or other issues that accumulated over the course of one season or several.

“I think that’s part of being a successful NFL player,” Kaplan said. “You have to be able to play with stuff. For lack of a better analogy, it’s very similar to your car. Your car takes a lot of wear and tear. You have to take it into the shop periodically for tune-ups or oil changes for tire rotations. Every once in a while, you’ve got to get new tires and get work on your engine.

“These guys are high-performance athletes. There is an extreme amount of wear and tear on their bodies, and the offseasons are a very important part of keeping their career and their longevity going. It’s important that these guys get well so that they can be the best football players they can be in the fall.”


Five things to watch: Texans at Ravens

Here are five things to watch when the Texans (3-2) face the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) at MT Bank Stadium in Baltimore in Week 6. Kickoff is at 3:05 p.m. CT on Sunday.

1. Life after Mario: With out for the season, outside linebackers and are moving to the forefront of the Texans’ pass-rushing plans.

Reed, a rookie second-round pick from Arizona, is taking Williams’ place in the starting lineup on the weakside. Barwin, a second-round pick from Cincinnati in 2009, will continue to play on the strongside.

“There were certain things that we would run that Mario was going to rush no matter what,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said on Friday. “Now, we have some versatility that they don’t who’s going to rush and who isn’t. That helps a little bit.”

Texans coaches love Reed’s intensity and burst off the snap. He had four tackles and two quarterback hits against the Raiders last Sunday after Williams left with a pectoral injury in the first quarter. Barwin has 2.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits and two pass deflections this season.

Williams has five of the Texans’ 15 sacks. Since 2007, he has 48.5 of the Texans’ 131 sacks (37.02 percent); n o player in the league has accounted for a higher share of his team’s total.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure,” Reed said. “I’m a rookie and first year playing and stepping in for a Pro Bowler. There’s pressure, but I like that. I think I’ll respond well to it.”

Undrafted rookie and practice squad call-up are the backups to Reed and Barwin.

2. Mason’s debut: Wide receiver will make his Texans debut on Sunday, just four days after being acquired via trade from the New York Jets.

A 15th-year veteran who has 12,006 career receiving yards, Mason played for the Ravens from 2005-10. He had 61 catches for 802 yards and seven touchdowns with Baltimore last season. He played at Baltimore two weeks ago with the Jets and had two catches for 37 yards.

“Derrick is a great route runner and has great hands,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who coached Mason from 2008-10, said this week. “Anytime he gets any kind of one-on-one coverage, he’s not going to be a guy you’re going to be able to cover that way. He’ll find a way to get open. Matt (Schaub) is a good timing passer and very accurate. He can get him the ball.”

That’s certainly what the Texans were hoping for when they made the decision to trade for Mason, 37, for a conditional 2012 draft pick.

“We’ve played maybe two-and-a-half games with three healthy wide receivers, so it’s really been scary from that standpoint,” Kubiak said. “We had a chance to go get a guy that still runs very well even though he’s played a long time in this league. He’s been very effective in this league. We feel like we can catch him up real fast, so that was a big key.”

3. Familiar faces: Two former Texans now play prominent roles for the Ravens after leaving Houston in free agency this offseason.

Fullback Vonta Leach, who played for the Texans from 2006-10, earned All-Pro honors last season after helping Foster lead the league in rushing. He signed with the Ravens in the offseason and has helped the Ravens imitate the Texans’ stretch zone running scheme.

“He’s been so well coached by that coaching staff that he’s helped us with some of the nuances that have helped us clean some things up,” Harbaugh said this week. “Also, obviously he’s a heck of a blocker, and he’s caught five passes for us. He’s the kind of guy we really needed.”

Bernard Pollard, a Texan from 2009-10, is starting for the Ravens at strong safety. Despite not being re-signed by Houston this offseason, Pollard said that he doesn’t harbor any resentment and that Sunday’s game is just another one on the schedule.

“I can’t look at it and be pissed about whatever because this is a business,” Pollard said. “This is what happens in this league. You make business decisions. You keep guys, you keep coaches. You let go of guys, you let go of coaches. That’s just what happens, so I have no hard feelings. I’m just ready to play football.”

4. Rolling on the road: The Texans have the AFC’s best road offense since 2008, averaging 391.0 yards per 26 games. They averaged 409.0 yards of offense in their first two road games of 2011.

Quarterback ranks second in the NFL since 2008 with 295.7 passing yards per game on the road. In 24 road games, he has completed 65.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 7,097 yards and 40 touchdowns.

Of course, Schaub had All-Pro wide receiver in most of those games. Johnson will miss his second consecutive game this Sunday with a hamstring injury.

“We all need to step up and make plays,” said wide receiver . “I think we all need to go out there and execute our game plan and fly around, and for the receivers, there’s some big plays to be made out there. Obviously, there’s some man coverage on third down and some different things that they’re going to do. We need to go out there and beat our man and make big plays. There’s some holes out there. We’ve all got to do a great job of making plays and executing them.”

The Ravens are tied for eighth in passing defense (212.0 yards/game). They have allowed only three passing touchdowns all season.

5. Rushing to win: This is the first time all season the Texans will have three top three running backs – , and – healthy in the same game.

Foster missed two of the first three games with a hamstring injury. Tate missed the last two games with a groin injury. Ward hasn’t played since suffering a sprained ankle in Week 1. The Texans still have managed to rank fifth in the NFL in rushing (132.8 yards per game) and third in time of possession (33:25 per game).

Tate, a Maryland native, will back up Foster on Sunday. Ward, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season, will be the third running back. Kubiak said that all three will likely get touches in the game.

The Texans are 3-0 this season and 26-3 since 2006 under Kubiak when rushing the ball 30 or more times in a game. The Ravens have the league’s second-best rushing defense, allowing 72.5 yards per game, but Foster ran for 100 yards on 20 carries against them last season at Reliant Stadium.

Phillips clarifies plans for Williams in “5-2” front

The Texans’ decision to move to outside linebacker has sparked plenty of hoopla and debate. Williams has been one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL as a 4-3 defensive end, and he’ll be an unconventionally large linebacker at 6-6, 290 pounds.

On Monday, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said that Williams essentially will still be an end in his defense – he’ll just be on his feet more.

“They say ‘3-4’, ‘4-3’, all that,” Phillips said at the Texans’ annual Charity Golf Classic. “We really play a 5-2. We play five defensive linemen that can rush the passer and two inside ‘backers who can tackle people. And we think Mario certainly fits in there.”

In that 5-2 front, Williams will often be standing up on the right edge of the defensive line as the Will (weakside outside) linebacker.

Along the line to Williams’ left will likely be at right end, or at nose tackle, at left end and or at Sam (strongside outside) linebacker. Standing behind them will be inside linebackers and .

“We have a lot of versatility,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. “Cushing gives us a lot of versatility. Connor Barwin gives us a lot of versatility. If … ends up being ours throughout this (free agency) process, he gives us versatility.

“So we’ve got a lot of good athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and the combinations we just added to it (in the draft) with J.J. and Brooks and those guys give Wade a great a lot of great talent to work with. We’ll have to see how it all fits, but there’s a couple of guys that can play multiple positions.”

Phillips often says that he fits his defense to the players, not the other way around.

“The more you can do with players scheme-wise helps you,” he said. “We’re going to put Mario down some, but we’re not going to tell them when. And same thing with Cushing: We’re going to play him inside most of the time, but sometimes he’s going to be rushing outside.”

Asked how much concern he has about Williams dropping into coverage, Phillips replied, “None.”

“We’re not going to drop him,” Phillips said. “We’re going to rush him. That’s why I say we’re more of a 5-2, in that those five guys are coming a lot of the time, especially the position Mario plays. DeMarcus Ware played that position, Bryce Paup – on and on, guys that have led the league. They didn’t lead the league in sacks by dropping a whole lot.”

Williams has 43.5 sacks since 2007, but he hasn’t finished a season in the top-10 in sacks since 2008. Phillips said that he has coached outside linebackers who have led the league in sacks from both the Sam and Will positions.

“We put (Williams) in the premier position,” Phillips said. “You’re rushing the passer more at Will, and so that’s where we put him. We were looking in the draft for the best pass rusher. Well, we had him on our team, and so we just moved him to that position rather than going the other way around.”