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Your Texans: John Benton


John Benton was elevated from Texans assistant offensive line coach to take over the line this season. So he obviously had to step up to the challenge with a solemn, no-nonsense attitude.

No whoopee cushions, snapping towels or other such high jinx. This is a serious place of business.

Then there's the Texans' offensive line. So maybe you change the plan a little.

"We've got some characters and everyone will kind of feed off each other," tackle Eric Winston said of the Texans' linemen. "Ephraim (Salaam) will get something started and then Drew (Hodgdon) will carry it on and Jordan (Black) will finish it off.

"And it's always a big laugh and (Benton) is good about it. Some coaches think having fun is not part of the game, especially this time of the year when you're working so hard and you're working so many hours. You've got to have a few laughs. You've got to have a good time when you're doing it or it just becomes unbearable."

Benton, an offensive lineman at Colorado State from 1983-86 before starting his coaching career, knows that all work and no play makes for unhappy linemen. And after working with the Texans last year, he knows none of the linemen are dull.

"It's a fun group to be around," Benton said with a smile. "There's really good chemistry in the room. Probably the most vocal guy is Ephraim. He's always got something to say about everything.

"Then you go to Fred Weary who never says a word . . . even when asked. You can't understand him anyway. And of course (Mike) Flanagan is constantly playing some kind of joke on somebody.

"You go on down the line, Catfish (Chris) White, he's quite a character. Mike Brisiel always seems to be the butt of a bunch of jokes. Eric Winston's good for one stupid question every day that he already knows the answer to. You get to know each other real well, as much time as we spend around each other."

Stupid questions or not, Winston likes the way Benton handles the diverse personalities on the line.

"He's good about giving us our space to be our own personalities," Winston said. "Some coaches want to shape you, shape your personality and it just doesn't go well, especially at our age and on our level. We're shaped the way we are and it's just a matter of fitting us all into a puzzle."

That is something Benton appears to do well. His players like the way he fits them together, handling each the right way.

"I respect coach a lot," Salaam said. "He's very knowledgeable. We had a chance to work with him as the assistant O-line coach last year and he worked a lot with the tackles.

"That let me see how knowledgeable he was not only with the tackles but with the whole offensive line. I think he's a good coach. He's a players' coach, but he's firm enough where he doesn't cross that line.

"Older guys get a chance to teach themselves sometimes. When you do something wrong, he doesn't jump down your throat. He'll ask me, 'Hey, what did you do wrong or what could you have done better?' And I can respond to that instead of somebody yelling at me telling what I need to do."

Benton knew he would need to evolve in his new role.

"It's changed pretty dramatically for me," he said. "Last year, I really worked closely with (assistant head coach) Mike Sherman (who handled the offensive line). He was the lead man and I was helping him out.

"Now, with Mike moving on to coordinator duties and (assistant offensive line coach) Frank Pollack moving in to help me, it's a different deal when it's all on your shoulders. It's an area obviously with the Texans that we want to improve in and I think we've made strides. So there's a lot going on when you've got the responsibility as opposed to helping someone out."

The players recognize the change.

"He was with us last year and he didn't talk as much because he didn't have the same leading role," guard Chester Pitts said. "But he has taken the bull by the horns now. Every day he comes in fired up off his seven cups of espresso coffee from Starbucks. He's jacked up and getting us ready. He takes his time and pays attention to details.

"He's a former offensive lineman. He knows what it's all about. He obviously rides youngsters a little more than the older guys, which makes sense because they make a lot more mistakes."

The younger players like the way he works with them as well.

"He's a great teacher," said Winston, in his second pro season. "Last year when he was an assistant, he always made time for one-on-one time and watching films with us and just working on the little tidbits about blocking and things like that.

"He teaches us really well. He puts it in a way that you understand it and if you don't understand, he'll put it in another way so you can understand. I think he just communicates really well what he wants."

The 2006 line trimmed 25 sacks off the previous year's total and Benton expects that trend to continue, though he isn't setting a precise goal for sacks.

"Not so specific in that we're going to try to reach this number or that number," he said. "But obviously we have to improve on the sack total. We want to be in the top 10 percent of rushing teams in the NFL and the other things will take care of themselves.

"The whole thing's a journey. You put all the pieces together and you improve on everything and the statistics will come and the wins will come."

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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