Dreessen continues improving

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Something happened to Joel Dreessen last season that he hadn't felt before as a Texans tight end. He felt he truly belonged. It was the second game after a dismal season-opening loss to the New York Jets.

"We were at Tennessee," Dreessen said. "I made that catch on fourth-and-two to move the chains. That's when I really felt like I was a part of this team. They counted on me on fourth down."

It was one of many wow moments Dreessen had in a breakout season and he hopes to continue this year as the starter at least until injured Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels returns.

Dreessen caught 26 passes for 320 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown catch against New England in the final game of the season.

He became more of a factor as the season progressed. He had three catches for 22 yards against Seattle, three for 40 yards against St. Louis, four for 65 yards against Miami and six for 81 yards against New England.

{QUOTE}"I just want to be on the field as much as possible, help this team as much as possible and be counted on," Dreessen said.

There was an adjustment period between Dreessen and quarterback Matt Schaub early on. By the end of the season, they were synchronized.

"It was a matter of Matt getting comfortable and the coaches getting comfortable with what I could do," Dreessen said. "It was more experience and I thought I was getting better toward the end of the season and had more understanding.

"I'd say experience was the big thing, getting out there with the starters and being on offense every single play and everybody getting comfortable with each other."

Dreessen got his chance when Daniels suffered a season-ending injury. He started 11 games and came on strong as the season wound down with the Texans having a chance to make the playoffs. His 2009 totals more than doubled his output in his first three years in the pros. He remembers the Miami game late in the season as another big moment.

"During that Miami game, both of us (Miami and Houston) were sitting there, our records were 7-7 and the winner gets to continue hoping for the playoffs and the loser is out of it," Dreessen said. "We went down there in a playoff atmosphere and we took it to them. We jumped up 27-0. I felt I was in a groove and helping the team. That Miami game stands out like a playoff atmosphere."

Tight ends coach Brian Pariani is glad Dreessen was ready to plug into Daniels' starting spot.

"Ever since Joel has been here, he's been working with the first group or the second group in the tight end packages that we use," Pariani said. "So when he got in the games, it was just a matter of him getting comfortable with Matt and what we were doing in the passing game.

"Now we can go back to what we were doing in the last four games. He was making plays and we were winning games."

An unfortunate aspect of Dreessen's elevation was the injury to Daniels.

"Owen is one of my best friends on this team and he's one of the best NFL players that there is," Dreessen said. "It was devastating to see him get hurt for many reasons. But it was an opportunity for me to be a starter, to be No. 1. That meant a great deal to me. Last year was my fifth year in the NFL and I'd never been a starter."

Dreessen, a perfectionist on his blocking and receiving, was ready for the challenge.

"As a football team, we're only going to be better because of it (Daniels' injury)," Dreessen said. "When Owen is healthy, it's not going to be a problem. It will be a good thing to have a couple of very good tight ends."

The Texans have made certain there is plenty of competition at the tight end position. Last year, they drafted James Casey and Anthony Hill. This year, they drafted Garrett Graham and signed free agent Derek Fine. Six tight ends in camp doesn't bother Dreessen.

"That's the NFL, either you get better and hang onto your job or you get replaced," he said. "I'm comfortable with that. Tight end is a very important position on this team. We need to be productive at that position. That's my job. If I want to keep it, I have to get better and that's what I intend to do.

"I want to be more of that for this football team, be recognized as a leader, be more productive, have more catches, more tackles on special teams, just be that much better and productive."

Although he carried a heavier load last season, Dreessen has been a big part of the highly productive Texans' offense.

"Just because Owen Daniels has been the starter doesn't mean we don't use a lot of two tight end sets in our offense," Pariani said. "Depending on the personnel at the time, (Dreessen) is in the game. Now, the ball might not be thrown to him, but he's a good blocker and a good pass protector and he's turned out to be a good football player."

Pariani likes having plenty of competition at the position.

"Any time you get competition, it's good for a group," he said. "We finally got some competition with Anthony and James and this year with Garrett getting drafted and Derek Fine coming in. Any time veteran guys see veterans that have played in the league or young guys who can play, it always pushes their game to make sure they are on the field and not the other guys."

The Texans ranked 30th in rushing last season and that's been the focal point this season.

"That starts up front with the line and with the tight end," Pariani said. "We have to be a better blocking group this year and do what we can to help the defense and help keep them off the field. If we can do that, we'll be successful."

Dreessen's fan base has expanded by at least one as the 2010 season begins. He has six-month-old son Dylan to cheer him on.

"He's awesome and my wife is awesome," Dreessen said. "He's a bruiser. He's already 23 pounds at six months with rolls and chubby everywhere."

And, no doubt, a future tight end.

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 sports.

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