Brisiel back in the mix


Mike Brisiel didn't have an easy ride into the NFL. As an undrafted free agent, he scratched and clawed from the Texans' practice roster, to the NFL Europe League, back to the practice roster and, finally, he got his shot in 2008.

Everything Brisiel had worked for finally came to fruition. He started all 16 games at right guard in 2008. The Texans had a good running game led by rookie Steve Slaton, and Brisiel was a contributing factor.

Brisiel kept his spot for the first five games of 2009; then he was smacked back to the bottom of the pile. A broken left foot sent him to injured reserve for the rest of the season and he's worked double-time in an offseason rehabilitation program just to be on the field again for the start of two-a-days.

It's a treacherous road traveled by many players who fight their way into playing time and then must almost start over after an injury.

"Camp is camp, it is hard work every day," Brisiel said. "You have to come out here and grind to find your place on this team, wherever that might be. That's what I'm trying to do. It's going to be pain. I don't want to say I'm a certain percentage of being back. I'm out here and that's all that matters."

{QUOTE}The Texans signed Brisiel as a free agent out of Colorado State in 2006. He played for the Hamburg Sea Devils in Germany the following year and returned to the Texans after winning an NFL Europe League title.

Buoyed by four starts in 2007, Brisiel took every snap in 2008 and was off to a good start last season until the Arizona game, when he suffered a fracture and dislocation on his left foot. Now, Antoine Caldwell is the starter and Brisiel is trying to fit into the mix once again.

"There's not a lot different," Brisiel said. "I've run through a number of plays in my mind when I was off the field on injured reserve. That's just one of those things. I've got to adapt and evolve. You have to do that every year."

Brisiel would be most comfortable at right guard, but with only seven offensive linemen likely to suit up on Sunday, he's got to be more flexible.

"A lot of times coaches don't want to dress more than seven offensive linemen, so they've got to have one guy who can play guard and center," Brisiel said. "This camp isn't much different. I'm getting a chance to play a little center and I'm still in there at guard. We'll figure after preseason where to call home."

The Texans have more depth this season, more players who had been in competition. That's good for the Texans and intriguing for players trying to get one of those spots.

"There are five players competing for those three inside spots," offensive line coach John Benton said. "In both cases - as a starter and as the swing player we'll take into games on Sunday - he is very much in the mix.

"He's not all the way back to where he was, but you can see improvement every day. We're going to give him every opportunity to keep improving and show he's got a chance to win that starting spot, just like the rest of those guys in there."

Competition is stiff. Brisiel must compete against guards Kasey Studdard and Wade Smith at guard and to support Mike Myers at center.

"This year, one thing is everybody is competing," Brisiel said. "We've all been in games. This year is different because we're competing and they can't keep everybody. It's one of those things we have to figure out who plays best with each other.

"I'm working for PT (playing time) just like everyone else. I feel more comfortable at right guard because I've done it for so long, but you go through some adversity and you have to change things. And you have to work through it."

The Texans lost both starting guards last season. Chester Pitts also went down, forcing shuffling by Benton. Injury-free seasons don't happen often.

"That's normally a dream scenario where only five guys played every snap during the year," Benton said. "You have to prepare seven or eight deep when you go into the season. Mike Brisiel was on the practice squad when we called him up to be a starter because of a couple of injuries.

"You have to be working all the way up. You need four tackles going into a season and five or six centers or guards. From a numbers standpoint, you normally suit up seven for a game, but each week who knows which ones you need to have ready.

"The first priority is to get your first five guys on a functional level to win games. Then, the next one is to bring up that second level to feel comfortable with the next tackle going in, the next guard going in."

Brisiel had confidence he could play, even after he went undrafted. That's one reason he's going so hard this season.

"I don't ever want to plateau," he said. "Sometimes in this heat, I feel myself get so exhausted. You just try to survive the practice instead of pushing through it. You have to get used to it.

"I had confidence in myself. I knew that I had what it takes to play in this league and I'm still trying to prove that. Day in and day out, it's a battle for me."

Brisiel played a key role in the final offensive play that gave Houston a comeback 29-28 victory over Miami in the 2008 season. He threw a key block that broke quarterback Matt Schaub to score the winning touchdown.

Brisiel is looking to make more plays like that this season.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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