Fans can't wait for 2008

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It's safe to say, judging by the 16,000-plus Texans season ticket holders who showed up for the Texans All Access event at Reliant Stadium four months before the season kicks off, that the city of Houston is ready for football in 2008.

Head coach Gary Kubiak and his players aren't celebrating that the Texans had the best season in franchise history by going 8-8 last year, but fans see it as a clear sign of progress that their team is headed in the right direction.

As such, one word was common among fans at the event when asked about their expectations for the upcoming season.

"Playoffs," said Frank Carrera of South Houston. "Playoffs. That's it.

"We're stacked in the running game. We're stacked at receiving. We got somebody to protect Matt (Schaub) now (rookie left tackle Duane Brown), so I think we're alright."

Guard Chester Pitts has been a part of every game in franchise history after being drafted by the Texans in the second round in 2002. Like the fans, he looks forward to getting over the hump in this seventh Texans season and told fans his new motto is, "It's going to be a great 2008."

Fans share that sentiment.

"I'm just ready to go better than 8-8," said Heath Campbell of Houston. "I think we have a really good chance this year. I think it's going to be a good season for the Texans, for sure.

"I see playoffs in our future."

A hot topic of discussion among fans was the emerging Texans defense featuring core young players Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Dunta Robinson and Amobi Okoye.

{QUOTE}"I think our defense is going to be stacked," said Dan Khalid of Kingwood. "I'm just really excited about the defense, especially for all of those years that we had the first pick, especially for Mario Williams and everything. I'm just really excited."

"I think our defense is really going to come through this year," said Jeff Roy of Richmond, a season ticket-holder since 2002. "It's going to be a little bit stronger. We should have a strong defense, and I think that's going to help us out."

Season-ticket holders were particularly excited about the ongoing recovery of the injured Robinson, a fan favorite who assured those gathered at the All Access event that the team would be healthy and improved in 2008.

"I hope he gets back a little bit before half of the season, but I think we picked some good guys in free agency that are going to pick up the slack," said Campbell, noting the addition of former Cowboys cornerback Jacques Reeves, of one of the leaders of the young Houston defense. "Even if (Robinson) is not on the field, he's on the sideline picking up the slack, for sure."

Some of the Texans' offseason moves, particularly involving the 2008 draft, also have piqued fans' interest heading into the season.

"I want to see us make the playoffs," said Matt Richter of Katy, who has a Texans logo tattooed on his left arm. "I believe we're going to do it this year. I like Stevie Slaton, and I like that Frank Okam, that new pick-up from Texas."

Slaton was a popular subject among fans, who hope to see the running game improve to complement a Texans passing attack that set Texans records last season and finished 11th in the league in total yards thanks to quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels.

"With our new line coach (Alex Gibbs) and Slaton, this new running back, I'm anxious to see if he's going to be able to slide through this line and make some nice plays," said Preston Chauvin, also a season-ticket holder for all six Texans seasons. "Like the days when (Gibbs) was with Denver, because, you know, Denver's not what they used to be running the ball, so hopefully he's going to help us out a lot."

With that potential improvement in mind and Pro Bowl-caliber seasons expected out of Williams, Ryans, Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson, many fans have the ultimate goal in their sights.

"I'm excited to come out here and just see how they're going to perform and just see what they have this year," Alex Ortiz of Houston said. "I believe in them, and hopefully they'll go all the way this year and maybe win the Super Bowl."

And while the players aren't yet ready to make any predictions, they left the All Access event inspired by the vigor and faithfulness of the fans.

"It means a lot to me, just to know that we have their support and they're behind us," Ryans said. "To hear them say that and have their support just makes you want to go out and play even harder for them."

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