The Houston Texans enter the 2012 season with higher expectations than any previous year.
After giving the Baltimore Ravens fits in last year's divisional playoff round with backup quarterback T.J. Yates, the Texans are now saddled with all the added expectations that come with Matt Schaub returning to the huddle.
The Texans lost several key veterans last year as they trudged towards the playoffs. Â The loss of Schaub was easily the most devastating.
The Texans have a roster full of Pro Bowlers and other talented veterans. Â It's difficult to point to one as the most important, but it's clear if this team is going to win a Super Bowl, they must have their franchise quarterback in tow.
Here are five reasons why Matt Schaub is the team's most important veteran.
Offensive Line Changes
John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
Matt Schaub enters the year with a new right tackle and right guard protecting him. Schaub will be depended on to protect these new players with smart quarterbacking and quick decision-making.
Houston Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak recently named second-year right tackle Derek Newton the starter over Rashad Butler after a long competition for the job all through camp.
Kubiak spoke about the competition to Nick Scurfield via the Texans official website:
âLooking at the body of work, I think it was very, very close, as I told yâall all along,â Kubiak said on Monday afternoon. âI think the thing that has moved this toward Newton is watching his progress, watching where he was the end of last year going to the offseason, going through camp, watching him get better and better and better. (Heâs a) young player that we thinkâs ascending.â
The move wasn't an easy one to make for Kubiak, and Newton will certainly be tested by opposing defensive coordinators right away. Â If Newton is going to progress the way Kubiak expects, Schaub will have to continue to play at a high level.
The Texans' new right guard Antoine Caldwell has more experience in Houston's offense. Â However, he isn't a proven player as a starter in the league yet.
The best way for the Texans to overcome these changes on the offensive line is for Schaub to run the offense like he always has. Â Quick passes and screens to the right side will take the pressure off of Newton and Caldwell.
Schaub's execution will be key to the offensive line maintaining its high level of play again this year.
Developing Young Wide Receivers
John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
Matt Schaub is tasked this year with breaking in some young, inexperienced wide receivers who could end up playing big roles on the offense down the line.
Keshawn Martin could have the biggest impact early on. Â He's already working with the first team in some packages, and it looks like that could be the case when the regular season comes around.
Schaub and Martin already hooked up for a touchdown in last Saturday's preseason game. Â Schaub will help Martin have a smooth transition to being a productive NFL wide receiver.
Another one of Houston's young receivers, Lestar Jean, has a much less defined role on the offense right now. Â All of the receivers on the roster have different skill sets, and it's a matter of finding their roles in the offense.
Gary Kubiak likes the chemistry he sees developing between Schaub and his young receivers. Â He spoke about it to the Texans official website in his Sunday press conference:
Heâs comfortable now with Lestar (Jean). Heâs comfortable with Keshawn (Martin), with these new guys on the team, with Garrett (Graham). I think Matt has grown into a better player here over the course of the last three weeks through some trials of the other things that were going on with our offense. Boy, heâs had one heck of a camp. Last night was a great statement that âHey, Iâm ready to play.â
Houston's offense may have unproven receivers, but they also haven't had this many receivers with upside in franchise history. Â Schaub can take the Texans' offense to a new level with these new additions.
Offense Helps the Defense
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
Matt Schaub hasn't had much help from his defense in his Texans career. Â The media seems to downgrade him for his 32-34 career record without factoring in all the years of terrible defense he has had to suffer through.
However, the Texans' defense broke through last year under Wade Phillips, ranking second in the league in total defense. Â It was no coincidence that Schaub was 7-3 in ten games last year when he was able to play with the new defense.
Much is made of the theory that some of Wade Phillips' defenses historically have struggled in the second year under him. Â While there likely isn't anything to that theory, Schaub could make it much easier on the defense by remaining productive and staying healthy.
The Texans' offense clearly lost its firepower in the passing game when Schaub went down last year. Â The lack of big plays put a strain on the running game and defense, and it led to the eventual loss to the Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs.
Matt Stamey-US PRESSWIRE
Matt Schaub might be the most important leader on the roster. He's been a captain every year since he's been in Houston. Â
Schaub's teammates have never hesitated to attest to his importance as a leader on the team.
Center Chris Myers spoke to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle about Schaub:
"'T.J. (Yates) did a great job, but Mattâs always been our leader,' Myers said. 'And heâs going to be our leader until the day he calls it quits. Heâs got all the ability in the world, and I canât wait to see what heâs going to do this year.'"
Schaub's Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson also echoed the same sentiment:
"'He has the confidence of all his teammates,' said Andre Johnson, who is Schaubâs favorite receiver. 'We believe heâs the guy. Heâs got all the qualities a good quarterback needs.'"
Losing Schaub's leadership in the huddle last year was just as devastating as losing his play on the field. Getting him back this year will help the Texans offense regain its reputation as one of the best in the league.
Super Bowl or Bust
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It's no secret that the Texans and their fans have Super Bowl aspirations this year. Those aspirations are all tied to the health of Matt Schaub once again.
Schaub isn't afraid to talk about the team's Super Bowl expectations. Â He had this to say to the AP's Kristie Rierken via Yahoo! Sports:
''With the pieces that we have in this locker room and the guys that we have, anything less won't be getting the job done,'' he said. ''We took the next step as a team and the only next step after that is to get to the Super Bowl and win it. So anything short of that will be a disappointment in our eyes.''
Schaub's presence in the Texans huddle is the difference between this team being a Super Bowl contender or not. Â
The Texans have a locker room full of talented veterans, but Schaub is easily the most important to the team and their future success.
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