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Texans fully loaded


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When they were both healthy, the Texans were 2-0 and talking about the playoffs.

Then Andre Johnson went down with a knee injury and the season started to unravel. Matt Schaub began to have his problems a few weeks later as Houston went 2-5 over the last seven games.

That seems like a long, long time ago in a far away place. But it really was only eight agonizing weeks ago for Texans fans, who can finally exhale.

Johnson is back. And so is Schaub.

The Texans might even have their standout running back, Ahman Green, back this week, though his return is still up in the air because of a troublesome knee. It still makes coach Gary Kubiak think about what might have been in the first half of this season.

"It'd be awesome," Kubiak said Wednesday of the possibility of all three returning for this week's game with New Orleans. "You could just tell in practice today, even though Ahman wasn't out here, just there was a lot of bounce in everybody's step having those guys back, especially Andre.

"It means a great deal to this team – not just the offense – just his presence."

{QUOTE}It also means a lot to Johnson, who admits he's chomping at the bit.

"I'm just anxious to get out there and just make a play because when you make that first play everything's back to normal again," Johnson said. "The biggest thing is just trying to get out there and make a play, but at the same time you don't want to do anything crazy, go out there and try to make a play too fast and do something to hurt your team."

The two-time Pro Bowler caught 14 passes for 262 yards his first two games and looked even better than he had when he led the league in catches with 103 last year. But late in the second game, he went down with the strained knee and the Texans were suddenly without perhaps the NFL's best receiver.

A receiver so good, he even affects the Texans' running game.

"He gets a lot of respect," Kubiak said. "People are very concerned about him. But regardless of if he's out there or not out there, we've got to run the football better and we have been doing it better here the past few weeks, so hopefully we continue to improve upon that."

Still, Johnson admits he's not 100 percent. But his 80 or 90 percent is better than most players' 100.

"I wouldn't say I was 100 percent," Johnson said after practice Wednesday. "But no one really is. As you go through the season, you're never 100 percent. But I'm good enough to go out and play without any problems or anything like that. I don't think I'm limited in any way, so I'm good enough to go out and play."

Schaub has started eight games for the Texans, but he hasn't always been healthy. His last two games – against Tennessee and San Diego – he didn't finish because of injuries, the most brutal being an illegal hit by Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence that left him with a concussion. Schaub missed the start against Oakland, but the bye week last week helped get him ready to play again.

"He looks good," Kubiak said. "He looked good Monday. He did everything (Wednesday). He came in and took his reps as normal, had a very good day practicing and he's very excited about getting back on the field, so everything looks fine."

Schaub says he feels great. And he feels even better to see Johnson out on the field with him.

"It's going to help everything," Schaub said. "It will help our running game. Obviously, you can't play Andre man-on-man every play. They're probably going to give the guy covering him some help and that will help our running game out and then open up everything, the passing game with the opportunity for big plays."

With Johnson out, receivers Kevin Walter and André Davis have made a big impression. Walter has led the team in receiving with 43 catches for 545 yards and a touchdown.

Davis has caught 23 and leads the team with a 19.2 yards-per-catch average, even better than Johnson's 18.7 mark before he was hurt. Schaub knows the emergence of the two receivers makes this offense even more dangerous now.

"It's huge," Schaub said. "It's a great problem to have when you have the receivers step up as they have all season and with the addition of Andre (Johnson), we have guys out there all over the field who can make plays and we have confidence in them to do so.

"I don't think you can put too much emphasis on Andre Johnson when you have guys on the other side of the field who can make big plays, too. You have to give them their respect and their due credit. Hopefully, that will balance the field out and let us have more opportunities on both sides."

Johnson agrees

"I always knew those guys were capable of doing the things that they did," Johnson said. "They just never really had the opportunities and they were given an opportunity and they made the best of it."

And one of the best aspects of his return is Johnson doesn't have to answer the questions any more.

"You all ask me that question every day," Johnson said with a half-grin. "I'm fine. I'm excited, just excited to be back out the field playing with my teammates."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Carley is a veteran Houston sportswriter who has covered the NFL for more than 25 years. He has worked for such newspapers as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Houston Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the National Sports Daily covering such teams as the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders.

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