Staying healthy

The Texans will make some history when they take the practice field Monday afternoon.

The team has made it through 19 spring practices, training camp and four preseason games with no major injuries to its starters. Twenty-two men were placed at the top of the depth chart a few months ago and 22 will take the field to prepare for the season opener against San Diego Sept. 12.

It may not sound like much. After all, this is the way it's supposed to be.

But it's one of the best things that could happen for a Texans franchise that placed a league-high 17 players on injured reserve in 2003 and saw games slip away in the closing minutes.

"The longer I'm in this business the more I realize how important that is," Texans head coach Dom Capers said of avoiding the injury bug.

Starting defensive tackle Seth Payne played more than 30 plays in the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – his first time on the field in almost a year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Defensive end Gary Walker injured his groin two weeks ago and rookies Dunta Robinson and Jason Babin have each missed some time in the past week.

Running backs Tony Hollings (thigh bruise) and Jonathan Wells (knee) will return to practice Monday but is unclear how much they will participate.

Defensive back Jason Bell (concussion) will also return.

But all the defensive and offensive starters are expected to return to practice, giving an early advantage in preparing for the opening day opponent.

Starters will play an even more critical role across the league in 2004 since teams are allowed to keep eight players on a practice squad instead of five. Capers said the increase will limit the amount of talent a team can pick up during the season.

For the first time in team history the Texans will start no rookies on offense. Altered practice schedules helped keep the team fresh throughout training camp. Capers said the change was a result of hard work the team put in during spring drills.

That literally took some of the heat off training camp.

"Yes we altered some things," Capers said. "One of the things I told our team is if we got the kind of work done we wanted in the spring – those 19 practices we asked a lot of them. If we did that I felt like we could come back and have the type of training camp that we had."

Capers also limited veterans like cornerback Aaron Glenn, linebackers Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman and Walker to keep them fresh for the regular season.

The offense was also limited. Starting running back Domanick Davis got only two touches in the final preseason game while quarterback David Carr played only two series.

"I think it depends on your team," Capers said. "It depends on the experience of your team, the age of your team. Obviously young guys need a lot more reps to get ready.

"We don't run a lot because we practice at such a high tempo. I don't go to all the practices across the league but I would imagine that we have as high a tempo at practice as any team in the league."

Entering the season injury free is important, so the Texans are starting off the season on the right foot.

"The teams that are normally there at the end and fighting at the end are the ones that were able to stay healthy most of the year."

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