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Camp spotlight: Chester Pitts

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Pitts has held his own this preseason during pass rush drills.

When he came to the Texans seven years ago, guard Chester Pitts was a fresh-faced, starry-eyed guy who was quick with a smile and always seemed to have a little twinkle in his eye.

Now 96 consecutive starts later, he is old. So old, even older offensive lineman Ephraim Salaam jokes about Pitts' longevity.

Salaam says Pitts has "dinosaur bones" in his giant body. Because dinosaur bones last for millions of years.

The 6-4, 310-pound Pitts laughs out loud. He and Salaam are close friends who did a wildly popular TV commercial during the last Super Bowl and still hang out together often.

"That's really funny," Pitts said when reminded of Salaam's comment. "At least these big old bones keep me upright."

{QUOTE}The joke is also a testimony to Pitts' staying power, his ironman status on the team. He's the only player to start all 96 games in Texans history and is hoping to keep that string going to at least a perfect 100 this season.

He's a good bet to do that and much more. Pitts is so durable, he not only has never missed a start – he has missed only six plays in his professional career. And he remembers every one of them almost as if they were an affront to his indestructible reputation.

"I missed four plays in the Indianapolis game two years ago," Pitts said. "It was a coaches' decision. They decided to rotate Fred (Weary) and me. That didn't last long because Fred got hurt in that game."

And the other two missed plays? Those were even more disagreeable. Pitts missed a couple of plays in the Tampa Bay game last year when he jammed his neck hard. They were a harrowing two plays on the sideline.

"I was pulling around and there was a pileup and I kind of dove over the top," Pitts said. "I landed badly and my legs went numb. They were numb for a good two minutes."

With the catastrophic neck injury problems faced by former Texans lineman Cedric Killings and ex-Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett, the moment was not lost on Pitts.

"You get kind of scared for a hot second," he said. "Obviously, it was nothing like the kind of injury those guys had. But you think about it for just a minute

"I just don't like missing plays. I figure if I'm on the sidelines, I'm not doing my job."

He has never been sidelined for long, of course. The franchise's most consistent and resilient player has answered the call every other play in team history, which encompasses a wide variety of success and failure.

Pitts has seen the Texans' offensive line when it was – pardon the pun – the absolute pits of the NFL. That's when Houston set the NFL record for most sacks allowed with 76 in 2002.

But he also has seen it gravitate toward excellence, as it did last year when it allowed a franchise-low 22 sacks. That was the sixth-best mark in the NFL last season and was nearly half what the team had allowed the previous year. The reduction of 21 sacks in one season was the third-best improvement for any line in the league.

Pitts, though, knows there is a fine line between success and failure.

"It's amazing how fast you can go from zero to hero," he said. "When we first came here, we had a lot of rookies. Our best offensive lineman was Tony Boselli and he never made it on the field.

"That plus the fact we weren't very good offensively. That affected a lot. When you find yourself down 17 points at the half, you have to throw the ball twice as much in the second half and the other team knows it."

Those days are gone and the Texans' line seems destined for even greater things now, especially with offensive line guru Alex Gibbs joining the team as assistant head coach/offense this year. Gibbs has a reputation for coaching superb offensive lines.

He also has a reputation for being quite exuberant. His personality is considered the opposite of the laid-back Pitts, but the veteran lineman says that has been overstated.

"Truth be told, there's been a lot of media hype about that that just isn't right," Pitts said. "There really isn't that much adjusting for either of us.

"He's a regular coach who teaches very good techniques. All I have to do is listen and I'll be fine. He's got a lot of energy and he expects a lot. But I'm an easy student. Just tell me what you want to do and I'll do it."

Pitts does expect the Texans to be a much better team after they impressed many observers by going 8-8 last year. Like many, Pitts has high expectations for this team.

"It's a nice feeling that the expectations aren't just to survive or just to get by," he said. "They are to play well and do well. I kind of like the vibe and I like the added pressure. You know, good players, when the pressure is on… the cream rises to the top.

"(8-8) is the best we've done. But at the end of the day, it's nowhere near where we want it to be. It's better than what we've done and every year, as long as we are getting better, then we'll be fine."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Carley is a veteran Houston sportswriter who has covered the NFL for more than 25 years. He has worked for such newspapers as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Houston Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the National Sports Daily covering such teams as the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders.

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