Brooks Reed isn't looking like a backup.
The Texans suffered a major blow when linebacker Mario Williams was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 5 against Oakland. Reed stepped quietly into the starting job and has improved steadily, and he was a key force in Sunday's 30-12 demolition of the Cleveland Browns.
"It's crazy," Reed said. "If you'd have told me this a year ago, I wouldn't have believed that I'd come in as a rookie and contribute so fast. It's amazing."
A rookie second-round draft pick from the University of Arizona, Reed had his biggest day as Williams' replacement against the Browns. He had two sacks, five tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
"It was a weird experience," Reed said. "They were setting me free off the edge. I don't know if it was their protection scheme or if it was the crowd noise that they couldn't hear the checks. It was surprising. I did miss a couple of opportunities. I couldn't believe they didn't block me. I don't know the reason.
"It feels good to contribute. That's my job."
Reed now has four sacks for the season, and that's what his teammates expect.
"The thing about our team is it's always the next guy up," linebacker/defensive captain DeMeco Ryans said. "We've evolved over the years to where we have enough talent in our backups that we don't expect a fall-off. We expect guys to go in and play well. Mario is one of the most dominant players in the league, and we'd love to have him back.
"(But) Brooks is holding his own and doing his job, and that's what we expect from him: Not to be Mario, but to be Brooks and to make plays."
Reed decked Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy late in the second quarter for a four-yard loss. On the next play, safety Quintin Demps intercepted McCoy and returned it 42 yards.
"I feel pretty comfortable, week to week," Reed said. "I can only thank Coach Wade Phillips for putting me in the right position. I wouldn't be in that position without my teammates. We can only get better from here."
Reed dropped McCoy again early in the third quarter and was still roaming free through to the end of the game.
"The way they set the protection, I could have had more sacks than I did," Reed said. "I did convert on a couple. There definitely could have been more than two.
"They explained to me that's what I was drafted for, to fill in for guys who went down. Unfortunately, a great teammate went down, and I had to step up and make plays."
Reed's performances haven't gone unnoticed by coach Gary Kubiak.
"He just continues to get better," Kubiak said. "He's a very smart player; he knows what's going on. He's an effort guy, so he makes a lot of hustle plays. The key to our season is going to be guys like Brooks raising the level (of their play)."
Reed started the season in a reserve role, playing mostly on special teams. He has quickly impressed his teammates.
"We knew Brooks was a great pass rusher," safety Glover Quin said. "He can't do the things that Mario could do because Mario is a big-body guy. But we knew he had great pass-rushing ability coming off the edge (and) we'd have to rally around him and he can make plays, and that's what he's done."
Defensive end Antonio Smith watched Reed closely after Williams was lost for the season.
"That's what I said when Mario went out, that this is opportunity to show what he can do, to showcase his skills, and he's doing just that," Smith said. "Just let him play his game and it's working out for him.
"That position that he plays, is basically a position he's comfortable playing. It's built for a player like him. He's kind of a 'tweener, like a linebacker/pass-rushing defensive end. That position suits him. You're out on the edge, sometimes you rush the passer and sometimes you come free. That position suits him really good."
Reed has felt improvement each week.
"Now that I'm staying at the Sam position, I'm learning new things every week," he said. "That's the thing for me. I'm coming in and playing the defense as fast as I can learn it."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.