NFL Nation: David Hunter

HOUSTON -- The question is the same today as it was during the week.

Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph will play, but how well? His groin injury hurt his performance in Houston’s last two games, a win at the Jets and a loss to the Packers.

He didn’t do much this week as the team looked for rest to help him get back to form. Before the injury, he ranked as one of the most effective corners in the league.

How much he’s able to contribute to preventing big plays from Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin is likely to be a giant storyline as the Texans and Ravens vie for AFC supremacy.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is active for the Ravens but will not start. How much he contributes after his quick return from a torn Achilles is another big story in this very big game.

The inactives:

Texans
Ravens
HOUSTON -- Even the regulars who stay late had disappeared from the Texans’ practice fields after Tuesday morning’s practice.

But at the far end were Jared Crick, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, David Hunter and Hebron Fangupo, four defensive linemen who collectively account for one regular-season NFL game appearance.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Smith
Brett Davis/US PresswireAntonio Smith, a nine-year veteran, is not shy when it comes to teaching inexperienced players some of his rushing techniques.
They stayed after practice to work with veteran lineman Antonio Smith, who patiently talked with them and showed off tips against a tackling dummy. There were pointers about technique, hand placement, swipes, lean, leverage, balance, reading blockers and more. And everybody took a turn working against the dummy after each little lesson.

Smith said he just re-started the sessions, which he’s done before but had faded during the daily grind of camp.

“Now that practices are starting to lighten up, we’ve got time to work on technique,” Smith said. “A guy named Chike Okeafor used to work with me in Arizona, before and after practice.

"When someone who’s been in the game awhile and has some knowledge could see what I was doing, was paying attention to what I was doing and could tell me how to do it better, I think it helped me a lot.”

Now as he looks to pay it forward, Smith said he keeps no secrets.

“If there is something I can do that they want to know about, I’m an open book," he said.

It’s one of the subtly striking things about being teammates in football. While a guy will fight like hell to keep his job, he’s also expected to assist a guy who plays his position and may ultimately take his spot. Veterans who don't offer such help or respond well to questions are typically not regarded as team guys.

Smith’s hardly at risk now, and among today’s pupil’s Crick may be the only one to stick. The rookie end was a fourth-round draft pick.

“If you can see a guy like Antonio who’s been in the league coming on a decade, putting in all the little work, you realize why he’s been in the league that long, why he’s been that successful,” Crick said. “You’ve just got to follow that lead. Hopefully down the road I can be as good as him some day and do that for somebody else.”

Smith’s versatility is a key piece of the Texans’ successful front. He’s an end in the base defense, but moves inside and plays tackle in nickel.

The post-practice period was not the only impressive work I saw by Smith.

Tuesday during a pass rush period of practice, with Connor Barwin outside him, the two rushers worked in tandem, often against starting left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Wade Smith. I thought the defenders looked just about unstoppable in that setting.

“Me and Connor have got to the point where we basically know how each other is going to rush, whether it’s a designated game or we both are doing our own rush,” Smith said. “We know how we’ll end up and can work off each other.”

Smith said he likes both end and tackle, but has always liked rushing the three-technique the best.

“I think it’s more banging, grimy on the inside,” he said. “And it’s the quickest pathway to the quarterback. It’s the hardest to rush, but the quickest path.”

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