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Monday, July 25, 2011
Texans back-to-work FYI

By Paul Kuharsky

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: Quarterback Matt Schaub and rehabbing linebacker DeMeco Ryans took on the major leadership roles for a team that did a lot during the lockout. Schaub led a regimen of offseason workouts right in line with what coach Gary Kubiak would have run. Position groups worked together, and the whole gang got together for minicamp gatherings. Ryans has a pretty good handle on the basics of Wade Phillips’ new 3-4, but he hasn’t played in it. The defensive front will have a lot of learning to do, but Phillips has promised that it’s not as big a transformation as many anticipate.

Biggest challenge: The 3-4 transition is a big deal, despite what Phillips says publicly. Three guys in particular will be under the microscope. Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell are expected to play effectively at nose tackle, a key spot in a 3-4 even if Phillips doesn’t need a mammoth guy. And Mario Williams will be an outside linebacker who will often look like a fifth defensive end. Can those three guys and the rest adapt to new responsibilities?

High expectations: Kubiak kept his job as the franchise pinned its hopes of a turnaround on Phillips. He’s got a long history of first-year turnarounds. Does he extend it or see it end? And how does Arian Foster, a player who led the league in rushing yards last season, handle success and perform in his second season as the featured back?

Key players without contracts for 2011: Receiver Jacoby Jones, quarterback Matt Leinart, tackle Rashad Butler.