Texans confident in new right side of O-line

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The smiles and optimism on report-for-training-camp day at Reliant Stadium weren't affected by questions about the right side of the offensive line.

Instead, confidence and experience were trumpeted when Texans players were asked about who will replace last year's starters in right tackle Eric Winston and right guard Mike Brisiel.

"They're not new to this system," quarterback Matt Schaub said of tackle Rashad Butler and guard Antoine Caldwell. "They're not new to this place."

Butler has been a Texan since being acquired off waivers from Carolina in 2007, while Caldwell was selected by the club in the third round of the 2009 draft. Both have starting experience, as Butler filled in for left tackle Duane Brown for four games in 2010, while Caldwell swapped in and out with Brisiel at times in each of the last three seasons. Brisiel signed with the Raiders as a free agent this offseason, while Winston was released by the Texans.

Butler was pushed in OTAs (organized team activities) by second-year tackle Derek Newton. Caldwell was similarly pushed by rookie guard Brandon Brooks from Miami (Ohio), and he knows that nothing has been handed to him just yet.

"You have to prepare and get ready for a game, practice, season, all the same way," Caldwell said on Friday. "You feel pressure if you haven't done what you're supposed to do to prepare for a season, and I feel like I'm ready to do that. So right now, I don't feel like there's any added pressure to the situation."

That calmness from Caldwell is echoed by Brown, who thinks the veteran tandem of Caldwell and Butler should fare just fine.

"Both guys plugging in on that right side have a lot of experience in the system," Brown said. "Both have played together on the right side in practice a lot, so they have pretty good chemistry. I don't think we'll miss a beat."

Schaub, who observed the line's work during OTAs, is also impressed by the duo's chemistry with the rest of the unit up front.

"They've played in a ton of ballgames for us, so there's no lack of cohesion up there," Schaub said.

That cohesion has even extended beyond the realm of the current group to include Brisiel, who now plies his trade in Oakland. Caldwell still keeps in touch with the former Texan, and uses him as a sounding board of sorts.

"I learned a lot from Mike," Caldwell said. "Mike's a great football player. I talked to him the other day and he told me I gotta be ready to step up, 'Step in and do your job,' and that's what I'm just ready to do."

The job is undeniably important and multi-faceted: Keep Schaub upright and clear holes in the running game for the likes of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Texans' offensive line helped power the NFL's second-ranked running game in 2011, when Houston averaged a franchise-record 153.0 yards rushing per game. The Texans ranked in the top-four in the NFL in offense each season from 2008-10.

How the offensive line fares in the absence of two longtime starters is one of the biggest question marks of the Texans' offseason. But based on the offense's current mindset, no beats will be skipped should Caldwell and Butler wind up as the starters.

"I think it's natural for everyone to be concerned about it, but from a standpoint playing center on the offensive line and being with the two guys that are plugged in there, Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, they've been around here for a long time and they both have tremendous starting experience," Pro Bowl center Chris Myers said. "Being able to plug these guys in there, we're already a step ahead." 

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