The Houston Texans have been without top cornerback Johnathan Joseph each of the past two weeks due to a hamstring strain, and head coach Gary Kubiak said on Thursday that he is moving in the right direction in his recovery and will likely practice on a limited basis today.
His status for Monday night remains uncertain, but signs appear to be pointing toward Joseph playing in the clash between AFC heavyweights.
"He has benefited from the fact that we've had an extra day here and not playing last week," Kubiak said of Joseph. "He did work out on Monday, and he will be involved in practice today, probably on a limited basis. We're heading in the right direction, he's definitely better."
If Joseph is unable to play again on Monday, the Texans will be without a player that Kubiak described as a huge addition in free agency when he signed prior to the 2011 season.
"I don't know that I could sit here and tell you enough about the acquisition of Johnathan Joseph and [safety] Danieal Manning to our team last year. Huge," Kubiak said. "We got two great players, two leaders.
"J-Jo [Joseph] had been very successful in Cincinnati, a Pro Bowl player, a Pro Bowl worker," Kubiak continued. "He brought that to our locker room, because this is a very young team from the standpoint of experience some of our guys have from a playoff standpoint, those type of things. They were huge for us."
Joseph isn't the only Houston cornerback dealing with injury issues, as Brice McCain, who started in Week 13 in Joseph's absence, was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday. With veteran Alan Ball also dealing with a foot injury, the Texans signed free agent Stanford Routt, formerly of the Chiefs.
The injuries could leave the Texans short-handed in their attempt to contain Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who Kubiak described as one of the "big challenges" in facing New England.
"Obviously Wes is a tremendous player," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for him, how he does his job, how he plays the game, and we're going against a tremendous passing game. We have big-time challenges, but we've got to have some young guys step to the plate this time of year."
Filling in for pivotal starters is a challenge Houston has faced before, as backup quarterback T.J. Yates was called upon to guide the team down the stretch in 2011, and nearly took the team to an appearance in the AFC Championship game.
The depth the Texans have built is due in large part to the shrewd evaluation skills of general manager Rick Smith, who Kubiak shared praised for on Thursday.
"He's done a helluva job," Kubiak said. "I think there's a lot of things that help you work through trials and tribulations in this league. We lost eight key football players last year that were big-time contributors to our team, so we knew from the start that replacing our depth and the coaches being able to catch up young players in our system would have a lot to do with our success this year."