Left tackle Rashad Butler could have picked a better time to make his first NFL start.
The angry Cowboys are coming to town with linebacker DeMarcus Ware, one of the nastiest (meaning best) pass rushers in the business.
Actually, Butler didn't pick the time; it was mandated for him when starter Duane Brown was suspended for four games under the league's performance enhancing drug guidelines.
Still, Butler says he's ready.
"I've been preparing for this about five years now, so I'm going to make the best of it," Butler said. "I'm nervous a little bit, but not because of who I'm going up against, Demarcus Ware. I'm nervous because everybody is counting on me now and I don't want to let anyone down, especially myself."
Butler is trying this week to prepare just like all the other weeks.
The difficulty in that is he's getting almost 100 percent more attention.
"I try to prepare the same," Butler said. "I prepare like I'm a starter if I'm not and I'll try to keep it all the same this week. After all, we're just playing football."
Butler doesn't expect the offense to lose a step without Brown, and that's what coach Gary Kubiak is expecting, too.
"He better believe that way, that's what we want him to believe," Kubiak said. "It's an opportunity for him in his career. It's a tremendous opportunity. Last year, late in the season, he played well for us.
"We've got a lot of confidence in him, but you don't replace players with one guy, you replace players by the whole team picking it up."
Butler was drafted in the third round out of Miami (Fla.) by the Carolina Panthers in 2006 and will be playing in his 26th NFL game Sunday against the Cowboys, who are pretty upset with themselves for starting the season 0-2.
Brown, the Texans' No. 1 pick in 2008, was suspended without pay on four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. The revelation shocked Kubiak.
"I hate to see players miss time for anything other than injury," Kubiak said. "Players are short in this league and opportunities are short and he's a fine young man. I just hate to see it.
"This organization is relentless in its educational process for all those issues," Kubiak said. "That makes it tough. It's disappointing. I'm as disappointed for the kid as I am for the football team."
Brown's suspension begins immediately. He will be eligible to return to the Texans' active roster on Monday, Oct. 18, following the team's Oct. 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Butler has played mostly on special teams for the Texans. He played the second half last season against St. Louis when Brown was injured.
"This is better because it gives me four games to show that I can play in this league," Butler said.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson expects Butler to play well.
"It's disappointing (about Duane), but at the same time we can't hang our heads," Johnson said. "We feel bad for Duane, but we all just have to step up our games and pick up the slack. I'm sure Rashad will step in and play real well. He's been working his butt off. We have to move on."
Butler realizes he's facing a big challenge in Ware.
"He's a Pro Bowl player," Butler said. "He has speed and power and he does a good job of using both. A lot of guys go wrong because a lot of guys aren't sharp on their technique, so this week I'll just worry about myself first, and foremost get my technique right."
Kubiak doesn't intend to alter the Texans' offense because of Butler's inexperience.
"We're going to run our offense," Kubiak said. "We've got to be smart as coaches and understand that here's a young man who hasn't played in the last two weeks. We're going to do what we do best as a team and we expect Butler to do his job and the people around him to help him do his job."
The Texans signed former offensive lineman Ephraim Salaam to play a backup role.
"Ephraim knows exactly what we're doing," Kubiak said. "There are other things we could do like moving players around, but Ephraim comes in, he's able to walk out there Sunday and be our swing guy, so I'm comfortable with that."
The Texans aren't as comfortable about facing Ware. What are his attributes?
"You don't have enough time," Kubiak said. "He's an exceptional player. He's a mismatch for anybody in this league, so you better be conscious of him in everything you do.
"The only problem he's ever had is maintaining weight, and we've been able to get that under control, so here's a chance for him to prove that he's a starter in this league."
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips doesn't see much difference in the Texans' lineup with Brown or Butler at left tackle.
"Sometimes you have to help certain guys," Phillips said. "Against DeMarcus, he usually gets a lot of attention anyway. He usually gets more than one guy. So I don't think it'll be a whole lot different."
Brown has started for the Texans since his rookie year and has become a trusted blindside protector for quarterback Matt Schaub.
"It's disappointing but we expect Rashad to step in and play well and we're just going to pick up the slack," Schaub said. "He's played in this league. He knows our scheme. He's been a good player for us and we have a lot of confidence in him.
"It's not going to be just one guy filling that spot. We're all going to have to pick up our play a little bit and do a little bit more."
Butler said he spoke briefly with Brown.
"I told him to keep his head up and when he comes back everything will be normal," Butler said. "We are trying to take it game-by-game and I told him I've got your back and the team has your back."
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 teams.