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Just the Beginning: Texans exude confidence in bright future


Less than 48 hours removed from their season coming to a close, Texans players and coaches are already looking towards the 2024 season and doing so with plenty of optimism about the future of the franchise. 

"I feel like this year was a stepping stone in the right direction," Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. "We're going to continue to strive for that. Everything's possible. Everything's out there." 

Of course, coming off a 10-win season, claiming the AFC South Championship, hosting and winning an AFC Wild Card Round playoff game are all major factors for the regained excitement inside NRG Stadium.

But their positive outlook isn't just because of what they did on the field but rather for what's been built inside the building by first-year coach DeMeco Ryans and staff. 

"I don't think people understand how much better we're going to be next year," Texans defensive end Will Anderson Jr. said. "It's so easy to come into this place and really just connect with the guys in here and be able to come into the culture that's been built here and how to operate throughout that culture. It's all just mindset and mentality." 

In the aftermath of the Texans season coming to a close at the hands of the Ravens in a 34-10 loss in the AFC Divisional Round on Saturday, Anderson was visibly upset while at his locker.

The emotion of the ending of the season had hit Anderson, who set a new rookie franchise record with seven sacks, but then one of the team captains walked up. 

It was rookie C.J. Stroud. 

"I said, 'We're going to be back in this moment, I can promise you that.'," Stroud said of the exchange. "I don't know when it's going to be, how it's going to be, who's going to be on this team, but we're going to get back." 

Anderson's response? 

"My bad, Cap says we're going to be good next year," he said while reenacting the interaction by wiping away tears with a smile during Monday's final media availability. "So, I dried my tears up and I looked at it from his perspective after we talked.

"He was like, 'Bro, just think about where we've come from, how much better we're going to be next year. We're headed in the right direction."

As Stroud wrapped up what most likely will be a season worthy of the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and Anderson being among the top contenders for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, fellow rookie Tank Dell cheered them on from home and the sideline as he recovers from injury. 

Dell was off to an electrifying rookie season before suffering a season-ending injury with a fractured fibula against the Broncos on December 3. 

The rookie receiver, who built a tight repor with Stroud throughout the season, is excited to be back into the fold later this offseason and fully back as a weapon for Stroud in 2024. 

"That was just a starting point of where we want to be," Dell said. "Everybody knows the end goal is Super Bowl. From this day forward, that's what we're working towards." 

Stroud and Dell connected 47 times for 709 yards and seven scores, including a game-winner against Tampa Bay in a come-from-behind victory. 

Entering his first full offseason, Stroud is excited to work with Dell again and build on the already strong bond they have created in just a short time. 

"We're really close and that chemistry has shown on the field and we're going to build that, if you know what I'm saying," Stroud said. "It's going to happen naturally though because we're boys and you don't force stuff with your boy. We both are tremendously excited to keep this going and work really hard to be great, and hopefully do whatever we need to do to be great here and we're excited for that."

Just like his rookies, Ryans will join them on this journey of transitioning from his inaugural season as a head coach to year two, which the page quickly turns from one year to the next in the NFL.

Now, after establishing his culture in the locker room and getting a full 19 games to see where they are as a team, there is excitement for Ryans to build around their young core. 

"Moving into the future and next year, we like where we are with the young nucleus of guys that we have," Ryans said. "I feel like we have a good group to build off of, and you still have to add more pieces. You're always adding and always looking to acquire talent and get better, and that's where we'll look to spend our offseason. Who can we find to help us get better?"