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
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 situational substitutions.
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.
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."
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 fianc�e 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
"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.