The Texans' offensive line has a new battle flag: quarterback Matt Schaub's clean jersey.
Through two preseason games, Schaub's No. 8 has not been soiled by an opponents' sack. Yes, Schaub has yet to play a full game and yes, these are only practice contests. Still, considering past Texans' history, it's a sure sign of progress.
Texans tackles expect to help erase memories of the team's sad sack reputation.
Left tackle Ephraim Salaam, who has the job of protecting Schaub's blind side, doesn't talk about it. Don't mention to him that the Texans have allowed more sacks in six seasons than any other NFL team.
"That's all in the past. It's funny they never talk about the 25 fewer sacks we had last year," Salaam said. "The first thing they point to is that we've had more sacks than anybody.
"Progress is being made. It's the second year and with this offense being together, I look for those sacks to go down even more."
David Carr was sacked an NFL-record 76 times in the Texans' inaugural season in 2002. In 2005, Carr was decked 68 times. Last season, the Texans cut the sack total to 43.
Starting right tackle Eric Winston thinks the Texans have benefited from the zone blocking techniques second-year coach Gary Kubiak installed last season. This season, the tackles say they are ready to power block or play finesse.
"I don't think we're fully over there (as a zone blocking line)," Winston said. "I like to think of our offense as a hybrid right now. We're doing a lot of different things.
"A lot of teams are either power teams or zone teams. I think we have enough skill on this offensive line, the right combination of guys, that I think we can be a hybrid and that's going to pose a lot of problems for a lot of teams."
Salaam and Winston expect the line to be even more protective of Schaub, who is beginning his first season with the Texans, and the line is helping him feel comfortable.
Schaub has been sacked 12 times in three seasons as a backup quarterback. He has no idea of what Carr and the offensive line went through and he doesn't want to find out.
"I have 100 percent confidence in what they're doing," Schaub said. "And guys are really working hard on picking up the stunts and the blitzes that we're going to see, and the running backs and tight ends are mixed in there, as well.
"We're doing a phenomenal job of creating a pocket that we can step up into and make some throws."
Kubiak likes the improvement, including the backups.
"I think the biggest improvement on offense, when I look at it, was that our second offensive line played a lot better; every guy up front," Kubiak said following the win at Arizona. "I could go through all of them, but they played a lot better.
"(Offensive tackle) Scott Jackson came in, played right tackle in the game and did some good things. They all have a ways to go, but it was obvious that their second week together, they played much better."
The Texans already have had a major hit on the tackle position.
Charles Spencer, slated to start at left tackle, is on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a lingering leg injury. Salaam and Jordan Black, a free agent signee from Kansas City, are expected to fill the gap.
"This is my 10th year in the league and it feels like it's my second," Salaam said. "I'm having fun around a great bunch of guys and the coaching staff and the city. It's a perfect situation for me.
"I rededicated myself, hit the weights hard, got stronger, got faster and it's like a second wind for me."
The Texans have had difficulty keeping their left tackles healthy. It started with the expansion draft when they picked Tony Boselli to protect their quarterback. Injuries kept Boselli from playing.
Now Spencer is out and Salaam is ready for the challenge.
"I've been a left tackle for a long time. I'm not worried about that," Salaam said. "Actually, I'm trying to be the best left tackle in team history. My goals are high. I just try to get myself ready that when the season starts, I'll be a dominant left tackle."
The Texans beat the Cardinals 33-20 in their second preseason game. Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett was impressed with the Texans' protection scheme.
"That is a max-protection team," Dockett said. "They were keeping running backs in and running two-man routes. When you see those things, any time you rush three or four defensive linemen you are going against six people.
"With what they were doing, it was a good challenge for us because we might get the same thing during the season."
The Texans tackles are benefiting from a year in the new system.
"You're more comfortable with the terminology, what the coaches are expecting," Winston said. "That makes everyone a little better knowing what you need to do to go out there and be better and be a star on this team."
Winston believes the Texans are good enough to execute the offensive blocking schemes.
"Usually for power teams you have bigger, stronger guys and zone teams have smaller, quicker guys," Winston said. "A guy like (guard) Chester Pitts, Ephraim, those guys have been in a zone blocking scheme before. In college, we did both.
"It takes those kinds of guys to do both and we're fortunate to have those kinds of guys that we can do both."
Winston sees camaraderie along the offensive line and with his fellow tackles. They keep it light and hang out together off the field.
"Aside from Ephraim (listening nearby) everyone enjoys each other," Winston said, smiling at Salaam.
"All the offensive linemen, we genuinely like each other and that's important. When you go into something like this and spend hours together, if you don't like each other it's hard to work."
Winston and right guard Fred Weary have a close working relationship.
"We understand what each other is thinking," Winston said. "Fred and I make dummy calls. He knows what I want to do and I know what he wants to do. So whenever we're messing with them (defensive linemen) at the line, it has nothing to do with what we're actually going to do.
"It throws the defense off that much more and makes it better for us."
Salaam thinks the offensive line has an unusual makeup.
"We have a tremendous amount of fun together," he said. "It's rare that you get 14-15 guys on the same offensive line with the same personality. That's definitely what we have. We have fun, man. We have senses of humor. We don't take anything too seriously."
Except for keeping Schaub's jersey spotless. And so far, they're doing a pretty good job of that.
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.