Chester Pitts should receive some kind of award – for toughness, resiliency, durability, call it what you will, but the three-year offensive lineman is one sturdy fellow.
Pitts stands alone on the Texans squad as having played every snap on offense since the team's inception three years ago. Translation: 2,284 plays, including 441 so far in 2004.
That's pretty darn impressive.
The Texans 2002 second-rounder has started all 39 games in the Houston's three-year history, taking over the challenging post at left tackle as a rookie and now transitioning into the left guard position, where he's part of the most cohesive offensive line the Texans have put together yet.
How has Pitts kept himself healthy and strong for such an impressively stable stretch?
"I'm lucky," Pitts smiled. "(Zach) Wiegert says I'm built like a box, and how can you hurt a box?"
At 6-4, 329 pounds, Pitts is no box, and he's getting a chance to show even more athletic ability in his new role.
At left guard, Pitts is right in the heart of the action, where the defenders rush full throttle, head-on. The quick tempo has helped him better learn to use crafty technique to win matchups rather than raw athleticism.
"I think he's gotten a lot better," head coach Dom Capers said. "It's forced him to play with his hands inside and use better technique where when Chester first got here, his technique, when he was outside, was to hold on for dear life. You can't use your strength and power so he understands leverage more now and keeps his hands inside. And he certainly does have the strength."
Pitts started his very first NFL game at the left tackle position, a critical protection post that must keep the quarterback's blind side clean. It was a huge undertaking for a rookie, especially since Pitts didn't even play his first down of football until he walked on with the San Diego State football team, where he didn't allow a sack at left tackle his senior year.
With just three seasons of football experience under his belt, Pitts joined Houston and has been a huge asset to the team's offense since day one, proving that his intelligence and natural talent has only just been tapped into.
Now at guard, the Texans coaching staff believes he can show even more growth and value.
"I think that Chester is a natural left guard because he's got the body type; he's got the athletic ability; he's got the intelligence," Capers said. "I liked what Chester did for us at tackle, but I think he has a chance to be an outstanding guard."
So far this season, Pitts and the rest of the offensive line have helped pave the way for the Texans ground attack and have played a crucial role in establishing solid pass protection to give the Texans sixth-ranked passing unit time to do some serious damage.
Overall, Houston's offense has improved from a 31 st offensive ranking last season, to eighth in the NFL in 2004. With Pitts now at guard, Seth Wand taking over the reins at left tackle, the addition of mammoth right tackle Todd Wade and veteran returners Steve McKinney and Wiegert, the line is starting to click.
"I think our line is developing some real cohesiveness and confidence in each other," Capers said. "That's what really good lines have is when they know what the other guys are doing. More than any other position, there has to be a cohesion, like putting on a glove, with the offensive line."
The unit has also improved dramatically in preventing sacks since the Texans inaugural season. Last week against the Jaguars, Pitts and his offensive line teammates didn't allow a sack for the second time this season (last vs. Raiders).
"That's what every offensive line strives for, to play every game and not have a sack," Pitts said. "That's really big and that's a goal every week."
It's a hard challenge to fulfill each week, but the boys get some extra motivation from their signal caller – David Carr.
"No sacks and we win, he (Carr) takes us out for a steak dinner."
Last night, the group savored every minute of their juicy steaks and no-sack performance. It was their second outing of the season, and if Pitts has it his way, they'll be plenty more of those bonding dinners to come.
But Pitts doesn't need a 22-ounce ribeye dangled in front of him as incentive. He'll line up and play his heart out any time, any place, in any position with any ailment.
"I've been blessed," Pitts said about his young career. "I like playing and it's going to take a whole lot to keep me from playing. I guess it's just part of the job. You're supposed to play with a little ding or some hurt. It's part of the game.
"I'm like a ball. I just keep rollin'."