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Buzz around Texans reaching new heights

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Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and Owen Daniels form a solid foundation for the Texans' future.

KO OLINA, Hawaii – In two previous trips to Hawaii, Andre Johnson never had a teammate join him on the AFC Pro Bowl roster. Now, he has two.

The difference may seem marginal, but to Johnson it's another clear sign of the Texans' progress.

"I think that it shows what we're becoming as a football team," Johnson said. "I think that we're gaining respect and if we continue to work the way we've been working, we'll have more guys come and make it."

The question marks that used to accompany the Texans are turning into exclamation points behind building blocks such as Johnson, Mario Williams and Owen Daniels.

"We've struggled in the past, but we're on the right track," Daniels said. "Having back-to-back 8-8 seasons is saying something. We're not losing anymore. It takes a lot to get that respect as a young team, a young franchise. But we're getting there. We're sending guys out to play with the best players in the league in the Pro Bowl. That's saying a lot."

While the team's first appearance on Monday Night Football in 2008 showed that the national media is catching on to the Texans, receiving three Pro Bowl selections for the first time in team history demonstrates a level of respect from the players' peers.

Johnson has noticed this week that the perception of the Texans has changed, particularly within the AFC South.

"The guys here, they have respect for all of the players that are here," Johnson said. "So just being around the guys from Tennessee, the guys from the Colts, they definitely have a lot of respect for the Texans. We always go out and play those guys tough. I think the thing now is we just have to become consistent as a football team to win those games."

There's no doubt that the Texans are built for the future with a young nucleus consisting almost exclusively of players drafted by the team. In fact, every Pro Bowler in Texans history is a product of either the expansion draft or the college draft.

{QUOTE}Johnson, a first-round pick in 2003, may be entering the midway point of his career, but Williams and Daniels remain relative newcomers. Counting DeMeco Ryans, who was a starter in the 2008 Pro Bowl, the Texans have sent three players from the 2006 draft to Hawaii. No other team's draft class from the past three years can match that.

"I think we're a talented bunch," Daniels said of his draft class. "Aside from Mario, DeMeco and myself, you know, Eric Winston is playing really well, David Anderson has done a lot of good things for us. Even Mike Brisiel, who was a free agent that year, has stepped in and done a lot of good things for our team.

"So that was a big class for us here coming in and I don't know if you guys would have thought there would be three guys in the first three years to go to the Pro Bowl. But I think that shows a lot about us and it shows a lot about the future for our team down here."

Three Pro Bowlers may just be the beginning for the Texans. Aside from wide receiver (Johnson), tight end (Daniels) and defensive end (Williams), the team boasts Pro Bowl-caliber players at linebacker (Ryans), cornerback (Dunta Robinson), running back (Steve Slaton), fullback (Vonta Leach), offensive line (Winston, Chester Pitts), quarterback (Matt Schaub), both returner positions (Andre Davis and Jacoby Jones) and kicker (Kris Brown).

As the team improves its consistency and plays more nationally televised games, don't be surprised to see more Texans become household names.

"We don't really get a chance to have a lot of televised games across the nation," Williams said, "but we're slowly but surely coming around."

Daniels sees only good things in the Texans' future. The 2009 Pro Bowl is just the beginning.

"We're getting more respect around the league from our peers, our coaches and fans," he said. "I think as we get to the playoffs and become a winning team, everyone will get a lot more recognition, not just a few guys at a time. We're getting there. We're close. And I think we'll learn a lot from this year and I'm looking forward to next year."


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