Amid changes, Texans ready to get started

The Houston Texans are eager to return to practice after losing

several key players.

The Texans will open OTAs in late May after sacks specialist

Mario Williams, tight end Joel Dreessen and two starting offensive

linemen signed with other teams in free agency. Linebacker DeMeco

Ryans was traded to Philadelphia, perhaps the most stunning move of

all.

A quartet of Texans – tight end Owen Daniels, center Chris

Myers, receiver Kevin Walter and backup quarterback T.J. Yates –

played in a pro-am event on Monday leading up to this week’s

Houston Open at Redstone.

Walter, third on the team with 39 receptions in 2011, said he’s

not concerned that the team will have to rebuild chemistry with so

many gaps to fill.

”We’re going to miss a lot of those guys,” Walter said. ”I

wish them the best of luck, and it’s tough. They’re key guys. But

we’ve got guys who are going to step up and make plays, and we have

a lot to look forward to. Next year is going to be a lot of

fun.”

The Texans are coming off a breakthrough season that culminated

in their first AFC South championship and first playoff victory.

They lost in Baltimore in the divisional playoff then started

losing core players in free agency.

Williams, the top overall pick in the 2006 draft and Houston’s

career sacks leader, bolted for a big payday in Buffalo and right

tackle Eric Winston landed in Kansas City after the Texans

surprisingly cut him. Winston started every game for the Texans

over the past five seasons and was a respected leader in the locker

room.

Right guard Mike Brisiel signed with Oakland, but Houston was

able to keep Myers, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2011. Antoine

Caldwell, who made only three starts last season, will now man

right guard and Rashad Butler, who spent last season on injured

reserve, is now the starting right tackle.

”It’s an unfortunate way of the business,” Myers said.

”Unfortunately, the Texans had to experience it. It was my first

time as a UFA (unrestricted free agent) and this year, a lot of

guys aren’t going to be on the team. Now it’s time for a lot of

guys to step up and play.”

The Texans traded Ryans to Philadelphia for draft picks, a

surprising deal that left some players shaking their heads. Ryans

was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and team captain, but saw limited

action in 2011 after Houston switched to a 3-4 alignment.

Dreessen then opted to join Peyton Manning in Denver, rather

than stay in Houston and split time with Daniels for another

season.

”There are always changes,” Daniels said, ”but I think the

big difference this year is there’s been a big change with guys

who’ve brought us to this point, that have been here for five or

six years. We’ll all get together here in a couple of weeks and

start that bonding process again and we’ll be in good shape. We’ve

got a lot of guys who are excited, a lot of guys who are eager to

get their chance to play and show what they’re all about. That’s a

good thing for us.”

Yates will be ahead of the learning curve after starting the

last five games in the regular season, and both of Houston’s

playoff games. A fifth-round draft pick, Yates won his first two

starts, but then struggled later in the season.

Matt Schaub is expected to return healthy from a broken right

foot, and Yates will return to the less-pressurized role as the

backup. He’ll get to study the game and hone his fundamentals this

offseason, something he didn’t have much of a chance to do when he

was thrust into the spotlight following injuries to Schaub and Matt

Leinart.

”Last year, it was kind of all about getting the offense down

and working the offense and being able to go out there and

produce,” Yates said. ”Now, I’m going to start focusing on

learning defenses, learning what I’m going up against, and try to

take that next step.”