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Practice report: Texans 99% healthy


The Texans are almost entirely healthy heading into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh. Ahman Green and Andre Johnson are ready to start. Offensive tackles Ephraim Salaam and Rashad Butler are expected to provide relief off the bench. The only player sitting out will be rookie linebacker Xavier Adibi, who will use this week to rest his Achilles.

A different gear: Teams flip a switch when the regular season begins. Players run and hit harder. Meetings last longer. Even the security at practice tightens.

All of this hold true for the Texans, and head coach Gary Kubiak could be happier with how the team is handling its business.

"I thought we had an excellent practice today," Kubiak said. "You can tell the focus right now. Our guys know that they have a tremendous challenge, and where they're going they have to be at their best. You could see that in their focus today.

"Tomorrow is another day. We have to have another good one before we go down there. But our players know, our coaches know that we'll have to be at the top our game, and that's what it takes to go in there and find a way to beat this football team at their place. We're looking forward to the challenge, and the way they worked today, to me, they're getting ready for the challenge."

{QUOTE}After missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson is looking forward to matching up against a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league last season.

"I think everyone is excited that it's finally here, the regular season," Johnson said. "You kind of get tired of playing the preseason games, but I think everyone is excited that the season is here.

"They are a great defense, very disciplined defense, very physical, real fast. So, it's going to be a challenge for us. We just have to pick our spots and attack the spots that we pick."

Breaking down the Steel Curtain: So how to the Texans counter a physical defense that ranked third against the run and third against the pass in 2007? By running the ball and playing hard-nosed football.

"If you look back through the years, the only people that find a way to get out of there with a win are the people that find a way to run the ball and pound with them," Kubiak said. "So that's a big challenge for us. But we know if we go in there and we throw it 40 times we're probably in trouble. They are going to play physical. We have got to match them physically."

The Texans will look to use short-yardage runs to create manageable first-down situations.

"You're not going to hit these guys for eight or nine yards at a time on the run," right tackle Eric Winston said. "A one or two-yard run in this game is going to be just fine. It's going to set us up for third-and-five or third-and- four, and eventually we're going to just keep pounding and we'll break one.

"We've just got to stay on schedule. We can't keep getting tackled for a loss. That's the big thing. We can't sit there on third-and-ten and expect to convert a lot of those. With how good they are on defense and how much stuff they bring, we can't let them have that kind of advantage. We've got to be able to stay on schedule with the run, hit some play action passes and just stay in our offense, stay in our normal rhythm to stay successful."

Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau is famous for calling complicated schemes and moving around his players after the ball is snapped. So the Texans are getting ready to have everything thrown at them.

"They're a 3-4 defense," guard Chester Pitts said. "It's difficult because they flip-flop back and forth between 3-4 and 4-3 and sometimes give you three down looks and four down looks. They're a good physical, fast team, and they're so good kind of entrenching into the system that they know exactly what they are doing so they never miss a beat. That's what makes them more difficult."

Sizing up Hampton: Steelers mammoth-sized nose tackle Casey Hampton occupies a lot of the field. The Galveston native is listed at 325 pounds, but coach Mike Tomlin placed him on the PUP list when Hampton reportedly showed up to training camp weighing over 380.

"He's a big man," Pitts said. "I'm not going to call him huge. He's a big guy and he's a smart player and always finds a way to put himself into position to make plays. I'm definitely going to have my hands full."

Hampton got into shape and returned to the field in August. The four-time Pro Bowler will be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday.

"He does it all," Pitts said. "His first step is just as fast as anybody else in the league. (He's) a very production player. He can time up the count, get up the field. He's smart. He's kind of all over the place. He's not one of those that goes hard for two plays and then take five off. He's going to go hard all seven."

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