For most Texans players, the offseason started in mid-January. You wouldn't know it if you walked through the training room at Reliant Stadium on any given morning.
The Texans finished the 2011 season with 12 players on injured reserve. Many of those players are still on the mend from their season-ending injuries, while several others had surgery after the season ended. Quarterback Matt Schaub, linebackers Mario Williams and Darryl Sharpton and punter Brett Hartmann are among those at Reliant just about every day for rehabilitation.
"We're really busy in here," Texans director of sports medicine/head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan said in his office, glancing through a large window into a crowded training room. "We have about 15 guys or so coming in every morning. Guys are very focused. Guys are very committed to getting well and to making next year even more successful than 2011 was, and everybody is just working hard towards that goal."
Players start coming in for rehab every day around 7:30 a.m. Kaplan and his staff – which consists of five athletic trainers, two of whom are physical therapists – arrive an hour earlier, between 6 and 6:30 a.m. The last players typically leave around 1 p.m.
During rehab, players do exercises designed to help them regain their function, with an emphasis on flexibility, strength, coordination, balance and endurance. Every player does a core or trunk stabilization program.
Kaplan likes to say that "the training room never closes." He and his staff have not had a vacation day since the lockout ended in late July.
"Those guys all do a phenomenal job," Schaub said. "All the things they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis in the season and now in the offseason, having to deal with all the guys that are rehabbing little nicks and bruises or surgeries and whatnot, just to get us ready for OTAs and training camp, it's a year-round thing for them. They do a great job of putting together our rehab plans and getting us back healthy."
For Schaub, 13 weeks have passed since he had surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his right foot. He arrives at Reliant Stadium between 7 and 8 a.m. every day, or 9 a.m. if he's taking his oldest daughter to school.
Some offseason, huh?
"I'm here every day, working out, working on my foot and just rehabbing everything," Schaub said, laughing at the question. "Everything's going real well. I'm here each day 'til about noon, and then my offseason consists of taking care of my kids and being over there with the family. So that's the fun part."
Players lean on each other throughout the rehab process, often telling stories and cracking jokes with their teammates, the trainers and other team personnel who pass through the training room.
"There's a lot of camaraderie," Kaplan said. "Guys use each other for support. It's a long grind a lot of times when you have a season-ending surgery or an offseason surgery. Rehab can be anywhere from a few weeks to 6-9 months, and it takes a lot of support from your teammates."
That friendly banter is an essential part of the rehab process.
"You got to (do it)," said offensive tackle Rashad Butler, who has been rehabbing from a ruptured triceps since September. "The hard part is just being in here and knowing that you have a good 45-50 guys that are vacationing right now and you're in here working. It's good to joke around, kind of keep your spirits loosened up so we can pretty much not really think about what the other guys are doing."
Guard Mike Brisiel is one of several Texans rehabbing from offseason surgery. After playing through a broken leg in Week 14 at Cincinnati, having surgery the next day and then coming back to play in the Texans' two playoff games, Brisiel had arthroscopic ankle surgery to repair a minor, pre-existing injury.
Instances like that are common this time of year. Players routinely get elbows and knees scoped to clean out loose cartilage or other issues that accumulated over the course of one season or several.
"I think that's part of being a successful NFL player," Kaplan said. "You have to be able to play with stuff. For lack of a better analogy, it's very similar to your car. Your car takes a lot of wear and tear. You have to take it into the shop periodically for tune-ups or oil changes for tire rotations. Every once in a while, you've got to get new tires and get work on your engine.
"These guys are high-performance athletes. There is an extreme amount of wear and tear on their bodies, and the offseasons are a very important part of keeping their career and their longevity going. It's important that these guys get well so that they can be the best football players they can be in the fall."