Texans left tackle Duane Brown returned to practice on Tuesday after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The Texans went 2-2 with Rashad Butler filling in for Brown, their 2008 first-round draft pick who said that he unknowingly took a tainted supplement.
"It was the longest four weeks of my life," Brown said. "You get used to the day-to-day regimen of coming in here and practicing every day, and then when you get away from that, it really hits home… Just sitting there and watching my guys through the highs and lows, it was tough. It was definitely a life lesson and something that will never happen again."
Having learned from what he characterized as a careless mistake – "I was being a little bit naïve, and it got me," he said – Brown is eager to restore his reputation. The athletic left tackle started 34 consecutive games before his suspension.
"I haven't really been much into supplements in my professional career, even in my collegiate career," he said. "I (don't) want to let my teammates down, let my fans down or my family down. I feel like this is my chance to redeem myself. I've still got a half of a season left to go out and get the job done, so that's what I plan on doing."
With the Texans on their bye week, Brown will have two weeks to get up to speed. He stayed in Houston during his suspension, working out six days a week with a personal trainer.
"He looked good," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after practice on Tuesday. "He told me that his personal trainer worked him out real good… It was not much fanfare when he came back, but it's good to see him back."
Brown's return means that Butler, 26, will revert to a backup role. A fifth-year pro out of Miami (Fla.), he made the first four starts of his career in Brown's absence.
"He's back. He deserves his job," Butler said. "It's not like he lost his job to performance. It's just business as usual. I just go back to being the swing tackle and preparing like a starter."
According to STATS LLC, Butler allowed three sacks in his four starts. Among the pass rushers he faced off against were the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, the Giants' Osi Umenyiora and the Chiefs' Tamba Hali.
"I'm proud of him," Kubiak said. "He had his chance in this league and he helped himself. That's all you can do. He's got a lot of good film out there for us to look at as the Houston Texans and the people of this league. That's what you want for players. You want them to take advantage of opportunities, and Butler did that."
As for Brown, his 'welcome back' present will be a game against Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts, two weeks from now on Monday Night Football. Freeney had one sack against the Texans in Week 1 and has 5.5 sacks against the Texans since Brown was drafted in 2008.
"Hey, it doesn't get much harder than that," Brown said. "We're going against Indy on the road, going out there against Freeney. It's just the life of a left tackle and life in the AFC South. Couldn't come back to a bigger game. It's going to be huge, and I'm excited."