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Texans rally around Leinart as they head into bye week


The Texans had a brief practice on Tuesday before taking off for their bye week. When they come back to work next Monday, Matt Leinart will be their starting quarterback.

Shocked as they are about Matt Schaub's potentially season-ending foot injury, the Texans are all-in in their support of Leinart.

"We have confidence in him, and he knows that," wide receiver Kevin Walter said. "We're excited about the opportunity for him to come in. It's tough for Schaub. It's tough losing him; he was playing at a high level. But we're going to get it done. We've fought through adversity this year. We're going to continue to run the ball well and just make plays. That's what it's about."

All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson, who will return from a hamstring injury after the bye, has never played in a game with Leinart. But he said Tuesday that he has seen Leinart's confidence grow in practice since last season and that "there's no doubt" the 7-3 Texans can rally around him.

Like many Texans players on Tuesday, Johnson emphasized that the entire team will have to step up in the wake of Schaub's injury.

"Matt (Leinart) can't go out and do it by himself," Johnson said. "We still have to go out and play the game and continue to make the plays and continue to run the ball well like we've been doing and our defense continue to play the way they've been playing.

"Injuries happen. When I went down, when Mario (Williams) went down, nobody thought we'd be 7-3. And we surprised a lot of people. We lost another teammate for some time, but we have to pick up the slack."

Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was a freshman at USC when Leinart was a senior in 2005. Leinart led USC to the BCS National Championship Game that season after winning the Heisman Trophy in 2004.

Cushing was asked Tuesday if Leinart has the right mentality to handle taking over as the Texans' starter.

"No question," Cushing said. "Even playing with Matt for that one year and just seeing the kind of pressure and things he dealt with, how smooth, calm and collected he was with everything was just astonishing to me. He's a great football player, and I think we all have confidence in what he's going to do."

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson, who played with Leinart in Arizona from 2006-07, said he thinks Leinart is "going to shock some people" with how well he plays.

"I know he can get the job done," Johnson said. "Matt is a playmaker. You could see it when he was at 'SC. He made plays when he was at Arizona, and I definitely think he can make plays with us.

"We have tons of playmakers on this offense. The game plan is just right there for him. He just has to go out there and start the car and start driving."

The Texans rank eighth in the NFL in offense (396.2 yards/game) and fifth in points (27.3), despite missing Andre Johnson for the last six weeks. They rank third with 158.1 rushing yards per game and lead the league with an average of 33:51 in time of possession.

How much will that offense have to change with Leinart under center?

"I honestly don't think it's going to change a whole lot," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We're going to run our system. We're going to do what we do and I don't think too much is going to change. We're going to keep running the ball and we get 'Dre back, which is a huge thing. We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing."

Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate both rank in the top-10 in the league in rushing yards. Foster doesn't expect that production to slow down, just as he doesn't expect a drop-off with Leinart at the quarterback position.

"We always expect big things out of us, and we're going to continue to try to play well," he said of the running backs. "This is not any added or additional pressure. Andre has been missing for some weeks, and that definitely puts a hamper on your offense when you don't have the best player in the game in there, and now our quarterback is down.

"Matt's going to step in, and I think he's going to do just as well for us."

For a team that just lost its starting quarterback, there appears to be surprisingly little alarm among the players in the locker room.

Leinart included.

"Everyone's bummed for Matt (Schaub), but everyone's been real supportive and positive of me," Leinart said. "I think they've seen just the hard work I've put in last year and being here. It's exciting. It's just time to go play ball now. They just said, 'Be yourself. You've been in a lot of games.'

"I've been around in the league for a while. Obviously, I haven't had a lot of playing time, but I've been around this game. I've played with some great quarterbacks and been on some winning teams. I understand what that takes. I understand what it takes to lead a football team. I keep emphasizing the team aspect. Everyone has stepped up and made plays on this team, and I know everyone's going to continue to do that."

Well aware of the talent around him, which includes the league's No. 1-ranked defense, Leinart said he knows he doesn't have to "try to be a hero" for the Texans to continue winning.

"The great thing is we have such a great team," he said. "We emphasize that around here, that it's such a great team on both sides of the ball. With the running game and the guys that we have, it's important for me not to feel like I have to put everything on my shoulders; just go out there and manage the game.

"You look at the numbers in the last couple games, Matt (Schaub) has just gotten us into the right plays and he's throwing the ball a little here and there and we've won the games the old fashioned way, running the ball and playing great defense. That's all I'm asked to do, and I'm excited about that opportunity."

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