Just win­ning won’t cut it in Hous­ton this sea­son

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By chris Dun­can

‘Guys don’t just look to­wards just get­ting to the play­offs. They look for­ward to get­ting to the Su­per Bowl.’

An­dre john­son

Tex­ans re­ceiver

HOUS­TON — The Hous­ton Tex­ans missed the play­offs by one vic­tory in 2009, set­tling for the fran­chise’s first win­ning record as the sea­son’s defin­ing ac­com­plish­ment. That won’t be good enough this year.

The Tex­ans opened their ninth train­ing camp Fri­day with higher-than-ever ex­pec­ta­tions, and for good rea­son. Most of the key play­ers re­turn, an­chor­ing the deep­est, most tal­ented ros­ter in the ex­pan­sion team’s his­tory.

Hous­ton boasted the league’s top pass­ing of­fense last sea­son (291 yards per game), and the de­fense ranked among the top five over the fi­nal 13 games, al­low­ing only 299 yards per game un­der first-year de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Frank Bush.

The steady im­prove­ments un­der coach Gary Ku­biak have the play­ers be­liev­ing they can achieve more than just the team’s first post­sea­son berth in 2010.

“Guys don’t just look to­wards just get­ting to the play­offs,” star re­ceiver An­dre John­son said, “they look for­ward to get­ting to the Su­per Bowl.”

John­son led the NFL with 1,569 re­ceiv­ing yards in 2009 and topped 100 catches for the third time in four years. He caused a stir when he skipped three vol­un­tary work­outs in the sum­mer, draw­ing un­wanted at­ten­tion to his de­sire for a new con­tract.

John­son has five years left on his cur­rent $60 mil­lion deal. He said Fri­day that he doesn’t want to be­come a team dis­trac­tion, and he’s con­tent in feel­ing that the two sides will reach an agree­ment soon.

Tex­ans owner Bob McNair is con­fi­dent John­son will sign a

new deal be­fore train­ing camp ends.

The Tex­ans signed their top two draft picks — cor­ner­back Ka­reem Jack­son and run­ning back Ben Tate — just be­fore camp be­gan.

Jack­son will com­pete for the start­ing cor­ner­back job va­cated when vet­eran Dunta Robin­son signed with At­lanta in the off­sea­son.

Glover Quin, who started 12 games as a rookie in 2009, is the front-run­ner to start on the other side. Vet­er­ans Jac­ques Reeves and Fred Ben­nett will also be in the mix dur­ing camp.

Ku­biak also has to set­tle on an early-sea­son re­place­ment for De­fen­sive Rookie of the Year Brian Cush­ing, who’s sus­pended for the first four games for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s drug pol­icy. Cush­ing is al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in train­ing camp, and said af­ter Fri­day’s prac­tice that he’s put the con­tro­versy out of his mind for now.

“I’ve got to have a good camp. I’ve got to have a great pre­sea­son,” Cush­ing said. “I’ve got to pre­pare my­self for when I’m back and I’m go­ing to train harder than ever and I’ve got to top last year. That’s my biggest con­cern, help­ing these guys win as best as I pos­si­bly can.”

Vet­eran Danny Clark, who signed in the off­sea­son, and Xavier Adibi will vie for the start­ing strong­side linebacker po­si­tion un­til Cush­ing re­turns.

The Tex­ans ranked 30th in rush­ing last sea­son (92.2 yards per game), and used their sec­ond-round pick on Tate, who ran for 1,362 yards for Auburn last sea­son.

Tate and Arian Fos­ter will push Steve Slaton, who ran for 437 yards and coughed up seven fum­bles in 2009. Slaton is com­ing off cer­vi­cal fu­sion surgery to fix a neck in­jury that landed him on in­jured re­serve last De­cem­ber.

The Tex­ans lost five games by seven points or fewer last sea­son, partly be­cause they couldn’t rely on their run­ning at­tack to ex­tend pos­ses­sions in the fourth quar­ter.

“I think it’s very im­por­tant to know that we can line up late in games and close games out and con­trol the ball bet- ter in some sit­u­a­tions where we weren’t able to con­trol or fin­ish some games last year,” Ku­biak said. “Ob­vi­ously, we’ve been poor in that area and it’s a big point of em­pha­sis in this camp.”

Ku­biak said he’s al­ready look­ing for­ward to pre­sea­son games against New Or­leans (Aug. 21) and Dal­las (Aug. 28) to size up po­si­tions.

“I think they’ll be set­tled over the long haul, and it will be very, very com­pet­i­tive from that stand­point,” Ku­biak said.

“We’ve got an ex­cel­lent pre­sea­son ahead of us. We play three play­off teams and Su­per Bowl teams so you know, what more could you ask for from a com­pe­ti­tion stand­point and check­ing ev­ery­one out?”

Gary Ku­biak Hous­ton coach led the Tex­ans to their 1st win­ning record last sea­son.

Ro­ge­lio V. So­lis

The Tex­ans have signed their draft pick out of Auburn, run­ning back Ben Tate, to round out op­tions be­hind Steve Slaton.

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