At Pro Bowl, Schaub right where he belongs

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Matt Schaub has now gone through two days of practice as the AFC's starting quarterback for the 2010 Pro Bowl. The Texans' first-time Pro Bowler is loving every minute of it.

"It's been awesome," Schaub said on Thursday. "To be out here in South Florida, getting to know all these guys and coming out to practice and just relaxing by the pool, on the beach, it's a fun experience. It's a good time, and I'm enjoying it."

Schaub was the league's leading passer this season with 4,770 yards, the sixth-highest total in NFL history, but he wasn't selected to the original Pro Bowl roster in December. He was added to the AFC squad in January to replace Tom Brady, who dropped out due to injury after the season.

With Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning also withdrawing from the game in subsequent weeks, Schaub became the starting quarterback for the AFC.

"I was very excited when I heard Matt had made it," said Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, who's playing in his fourth Pro Bowl on Sunday. "He deserves it. He led the league in passing yards. There was no doubt in my mind that he should have been in this game.

"I always said if we were able to keep him healthy, there's no telling how good he can be, and he showed it this year. He played the full 16 games and he led the league in passing, so that speaks for what type of player he is, and hopefully we'll keep on keeping him healthy and we'll get to the playoffs next year."

Schaub is the trigger man for the league's top passing offense in Houston, but he couldn't help but smile when asked what it's been like to break the huddle with the likes of Johnson, Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Gates and Chris Johnson.

{QUOTE}"As a quarterback, you're just licking your chops," he said. "It's 'pick your poison' defensively – just pick a guy out and go to him. We've got unique weapons all over the field. We've got some big receivers to throw to and our backs are phenomenal, and you've got Antonio Gates and Heath Miller inside."

Despite all of the weapons at Schaub's disposal, he said there's a persistent temptation to throw the ball to Andre Johnson every time he drops back to pass.

"Definitely, because I know him so well," Schaub said. "It's definitely tempting to go his way, but we've got some routes that other guys are really good at, so I'm trying to spread it around. But when all else fails, I know No. 80's over there."

Of all the new experiences surrounding Schaub's first Pro Bowl, there's one thing that has surprised him the most.

"How easy practices are," he said with a laugh, after completing a 90-minute walkthrough session on Thursday. "We're used to those tough, grueling practices that Coach (Gary) Kubiak puts us through, and then you come out here and you're barely breaking a sweat just walking through and jogging through things just so we know what we're doing on Sunday."

The 2009 season was a vindicating one for Schaub, who was heavily criticized after missing 10 games in his first two seasons as a Texan. Schaub started all 16 games this season, had nine 300-yard games and led the Texans to their first-ever winning record.

Those accomplishments have begun to sink in for Schaub this week as he practices with the NFL's best.

"(It has) a little bit, but I think Sunday night's going to be when it really hits, when you put on the uniform and go out to play," Schaub said.

The 2010 Pro Bowl, which will be televised on ESPN, kicks off Sunday at 6:30 p.m. CT in Miami.

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at *twitter.com/NickScurfield or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/.*

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