HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Last year this time, some Texans players were hopping fences to high school football fields and holding sparse offseason workouts wherever they could because the team’s facilities were off limits due to the NFL lockout.
But that isn’t the case this offseason.
Monday was the first official day teams were allowed to hold voluntary workouts and Reliant Stadium was abuzz with most of the Texans anxious to get started and build on last season’s magical run. The Texans won their first AFC South title, made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and advanced to the second round of the AFC playoffs.
Even bigger things are expected in 2012, which has only adds to the team’s motivation this offseason.
“I think there is more excitement around here than there ever has been going into an offseason program,” tight end Owen Daniels said Monday morning before beginning workouts. “Obviously, after the year we had, everyone’s fired up to get started and continue on that path. So, a lot of smiling faces in the building right now.”
That’s a lot different than last year this time when Reliant Stadium had no players roaming around. They were forced to gather in small groups wherever they could get workouts in.
Now the players have the normal access to the team workout room, facilities, training staff and most important their position coaches. That was obviously huge void last year, especially on the defensive side where Wade Phillips had been hired to install the 3-4 defense but had no players to teach it to until training camp opened in the summer.
“Last year, we were locked out and when we came back, it was straight into camp and so we were still learning the defense as we were going through the season,” said Grove Quin, who was forced to make the transition from corner to strong safety without the benefit of offseason preparation. “So I think getting a chance to have an offseason and work with the guys, work with the coaches and dive more into our playbook and more into our looks and things like that, I think we’ll benefit from it.”
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who was big free agent acquisition during last summer’s hastened signing period, figures to be one who will benefit greatly from a chance to be around his teammates and learn more of the intricate parts of the defense. Joseph was a big reason for the defense’s dramatic turnaround last season but now with the benefit of OTAs, he should have a chance to have an even greater impact this upcoming season.
“I’m ecstatic just to be here with the guys and walking in with them this morning,” he said. “The offseason felt pretty short, but for me, it also seemed like a long time since I have seen a lot of the guys since December and January. It will be a good feeling just to get back going.”
But for most of the players it will be a little different because of some of the familiar faces that won’t be around this offseason. Stalwart players like outside linebacker Mario Williams, right guard Mike Brisiel, right tackle Eric Winston left as free agents, while veteran leader DeMeco Ryans was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for salary cap relief. The Texans let go starting fullback Lawrence Vickers and allowed key reserves Jason Allen (cornerback) and Joel Dressen to leave in free agency.
So the makeup of the team does look slightly different, though the players seemed confident others will step in and that the leadership void left with the departure of Ryans will be filled.
“That’s just the nature of the beast. That’s the way things go,” Daniels said. “New players come in. I think we have a really good nucleus of guys still around here and a lot of big-time players that are just going to take this thing to the next level. Yeah, obviously you’ve got to give those guys credit. We’ll remember those guys and they’re still our friends and hopefully they do well on their new teams. But we’re excited of everything we have here. ”
Adding to the excitement is the presence of starting quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed the end of the season with the Lisfranc injury to his right foot. Schaub has had two surgeries and will have another minor procedure next month to remove more of the hardware.
Schaub said he felt better and looks forward to being 100 percent by the time training camp rolls around. In the meantime, he will continue rehabilitation.
“I’m right on schedule, because where the hardware removal takes place in this procedure is right where we are, and so from here, we just move forward and just keep going,” said Schaub, who is entering his sixth season with the Texans and ninth overall. “But we have a lot of time left to get ready, and there’s no doubt I will be ready.”