Part of the appeal of Texans linebackers coach Johnny Holland is that he's been there and done that.
"It's not just reading a book and coming out trying to coach linebackers," star pupil DeMeco Ryans said. "He's been through it and he knows how to play it. You really look up to a guy that's been through it over the years."
Holland and Ryans started out together as newcomers with the Texans a year ago.
They made quite a debut: Holland teaching and Ryans learning.
Holland brought with him a pedigree that included a standout career on Texas A&M's "Wrecking Crew" defense in the 1980s in an era when it also was often called "Linebacker U."
Holland went on to a solid pro career with the Green Bay Packers followed by pro coaching jobs with the Packers, Seahawks and Lions.
Ryans was a second-round pick from Alabama who started training camp in 2006 with potential. He didn't shine immediately. What he did was read about Holland's pro career with the Packers.
There was 1993 when Holland rebounded from a 1992 neck injury to lead the Packers with 145 tackles that helped them to their first playoff berth in 11 years. Ryans learned about the six consecutive seasons that Holland had 100 or more tackles with the Packers before his retirement in 1994.
Ryans knew he'd found a mentor he could trust.
Ryans immersed himself in Holland's lectures and film sessions. The result: He led the NFL with 126 solo tackles. He led all rookies with 156 total tackles, the most for a rookie over the last 20 years. He had nine games with double-digit tackles.
Ryans now listens to Holland about the added expectations this season.
"He just said to go out and continue to make plays," Ryans said. "Peoples' eyes are gonna be on you, so you just have to go out and continue to make plays and not think about it. Just come out here and continue to get better and better."
Holland isn't the loudest coach on the field. He might be among the most respected by his players.
"As a linebacker you have to set the tempo for the physical side of the game," Holland said. "You are the one stacked off the ball five yards and you have to come down hill and be physical.
"My demeanor is probably not like that, but I like to see physical linebackers that can dominate. That's something I emphasize in the drills and in the meeting room. When you have a chance to be physical, you have to be physical."
Holland watched with delight as Ryans absorbed his teaching last season.
"When he came in, he kind of reminded me of myself as a person," said Holland, also a second-round pro pick in 1987. "You very seldom hear him talk. He's not a very flashy guy, but when the chin strap is snapped, he's ready to go.
"Last year during training camp, he didn't stand out a lot. He knew what to do and we moved him to will linebacker and then moved him to mike linebacker. The first preseason game, we were playing Kansas City and the first 15 plays of the game, I said, `Wow, this guy's going to be a great player.'''
Holland has impressed Morlon Greenwood, too.
"Johnny, he knows how to motivate his players without the yelling and screaming and all that," Greenwood said. "And trust me, he's going to work you hard, but somehow he knows how to give you constructive motivation and constructive criticism and to try to make you feel good about yourself."
Holland's practices begin with an enthusiastic huddle. Then, it's time to sweat.
"Right now, we're practicing with six linebackers in training camp," Holland said. "We've had some injuries. Most teams have 10 (linebackers) right now. I like that because it gives our guys a chance to get to exhaustion and see if they can still go. I like to check players in the fourth quarter when they are 15 points behind and see if they still go."
Holland tries to pull out the most from his players with enthusiasm.
"As a player I played the way you can't let your teammates down," Holland said. "You have to be accountable. The game of football is a gut check.
"I try to motivate players with confidence. We have a little chant at the start of practice, try to get guys hyped up, jumping around. That's part of `Hey, you may be down right now, but now we've got to get everybody together, lock arms and have a great practice.'
"It starts with the coach. If you've got a coach who's dead and slow-mo, the players will go like the coach. So when I go out to practice, I enjoy doing it."
Holland sees a special surge in overall team enthusiasm from last year's disappointing 6-10 finish.
"I came here a few days before training camp and there were 80 guys over there working out," Holland said. "I'm thinking, 'Did I miss a meeting.?' Those guys are closer this year than last year. It starts with the leaders. They say, `We don't need coaches to go throw the ball or go on the field and do drills.' They took it on themselves."
And then, he recalls his own career and never misses a chance to tell his players they are blessed.
"This is a childhood dream," he tells them. "I remember sitting there stretching when I was in training camp and thinking, 'Man, this is going to be hard.'
"You look back at what a great opportunity it is and don't let it slip by."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.