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Changing of the guard


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In the matter of a few moments in last week's game against Tennessee, the Texans' offensive line picture took a dramatic change.

Or two changes.

Veteran Fred Weary went down with a broken leg and not long afterward, his replacement Chris White went out with a knee injury.

The O-line, already playing without starting center Steve McKinney since late September, suddenly was one of the thinnest areas of the team.

Even Mike Brisiel wondered what the Texans would do. Brisiel is the Texans' lineman from Colorado State who has been on the practice squad the past two seasons. He played last spring for the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe.

Last Sunday, he was watching the Texans on his television set at home.

"My first reaction when I saw Fred hurt was I hoped it wasn't serious," Brisiel said. "You never want to see a teammate hurt. Then they replaced Fred with Chris and when he went down, I still didn't know exactly what that would mean to me."

Brisiel found out quickly. He was activated this week and now is competing along with rookie Kasey Studdard from the University of Texas for the starting right guard position.

Either way, the Texans will be going against Tampa Bay with a right guard who has little or no NFL experience. Brisiel hasn't suited up a game in his career and Studdard has been inactive for 10 games this year and played only briefly in two, including the late going against Tennessee last week.

Both players know this is a big week for them.

"Any time you lose a chunk of your line like we did, drastic changes are going to be made," Brisiel said. "It's a big-time opportunity for me. I just have to step up and show I'm ready."

Studdard was a more heralded player in college. He helped lead the 2005 Longhorns to the national championship and started his last 38 games at left guard.

{QUOTE}The All-Big 12 pick was a sixth-round draft choice by the Texans. Some people thought he was not fast enough or tall enough (6-2) to play professionally, but the Texans still believe that Studdard has promise, which he will now have to prove in a hurry. It's a tall order.

"I think it's difficult anywhere you go," Studdard said. "They drafted me for a reason and it's my time to step up and show that they made the right decision. I feel ready. That's what this game's about, stepping up and being a contributor and I want to do that now.

"I know I have to learn from the veterans and prove to the coaches that I'm trustworthy, that I'm ready to play."

Studdard admits the NFL is much different than playing in college.

"It's hard coming in (as a backup) after being a starter for three years," Studdard said. "I know that once I got to the Texans and watched the older guys work, I knew there was a lot more to this game than there was in college.

"You're going against guys who are 10 times better and everyone you play here is good. You have to be real sound with everything you do."

Studdard knows it's not just a matter of tougher competition in the line. It's also a different mental game in the NFL.

"The defenses are a lot more sophisticated and they try to hide a lot more things," he said. "It's just a matter of always knowing your keys on everything."

In the pros, it's the little things that count most.

"Technique," Studdard said when asked what he needs to improve most. "You have to be real sound with your techniques. You can't freelance or anything like that."

Brisiel feels the same way.

"Up here, you've got to improve in all parts of your game," Brisiel said. "Coming from college, you find the speed is so much faster here. Basically, it's just a different game."

Brisiel knows a lot is expected of him this week.

"I have big shoes to fill," he said. "This is just a big opportunity for me and I'm going to try to make the most of it.

"I think I'm ready for it. We'll see how it goes."

Studdard knows he can depend on help from veterans, like center Mike Flanagan.

"He's so smart," Studdard said. "He knows everything. You can sit down with him and he'll explain it in any way that you need to have it explained.

"The whole offensive line has helped me from Eric (Winston) to Fred to Flanagan to Chester (Pitts), everyone has come around individually and helped me."

In college, Studdard was able to use his 300-pound frame to overpower people.

"I can't do that any more," he said with a smile.

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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