Notes from the Texans' practice and locker room on Thursday at Reliant Stadium:
The Texans remain relatively healthy, although running back Derrick Ward (ankle/shoulder), cornerback Sherrick McManis (hamstring) and fullback Lawrence Vickers (illness) didn't practice Thursday. A handful of players, including Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and Kareem Jackson were limited in their work at the Methodist Training Center, but head coach Gary Kubiak wasn't overly concerned.
He cited Jackson's knee as being "a little sore" and that it was good to have Williams in the fold after getting some work on Wednesday.
"I think yesterday really helped him," Kubiak said of Williams. "He needed those reps. We needed him out here and he practiced fine today."
Ward and WallaceSteelers wide receiver Mike Wallace amassed nearly 1,300 yards receiving last season, and is off to a great start in 2011, ranking second in the NFL with 377 yards. Paired up with veteran Hines Ward, those two comprise an impressive duo to throw to for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"Well, you got one guy who's been probably one of the top players in this league for a long time, tremendous slot player, smart player, physical player," Kubiak said of Ward. "Then you got probably the best speed in football right now outside, so it's a big combination with Ben. They've been making big plays."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said that Wallace's speed is just one component of his complete game as a pass-catcher.
"Wallace can run well after the catch," Phillips said. "Usually, the guys that are speed guys are only speed guys. He's speed and movement and I think that makes a difference."
Defensive end Antonio Smith has a trio of sacks in 2011 and has been a force in the 3-4 defense. Phillips sung the captain's praises after practice on Thursday.
"Antonio's a vital part of this defense," Phillips said. He's a really good pass rusher and we try to put him in positions where he can get one-on-one and the time's he's been one-on-one, he's really done well. I like his attitude. He was voted one of the captains of the defense this year, so I think he's got a lot of respect from his peers."
Smith, for his part, is going about this game against the Steelers like it's business-as-usual.
"I'm going to approach the game the same," Smith said. "I said that in an interview that that's the exact same way I got my chance and got my chance to shine."
Quotable"Me personally, I got to say it, I just don't like them. They took my Super Bowl from me. They got my rings in their back pocket. There's a couple snaps out there I wish I could have had back, so every time I play them, they're going to get the ninja and the dog, two in one." –Defensive end Antonio Smith, on facing the Steelers.
"Hell, it hadn't been good enough, so we got to do something different, something better." –Texans head coach Gary Kubiak on the improving in the red zone.