- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - First-year coach Bill O’Brien would seem to have the star power in place to turn around the Texans in a hurry.

Andre Johnson is back. Arian Foster and Brian Cushing are healthy again. J.J. Watt now has Jadeveon Clowney to help him rush the passer.

The question now is how far quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can take them.

Fitzpatrick signed as a free agent in March and replaced Matt Schaub, who took most of the blame for Houston’s 2-14 season and was traded to Oakland. The 31-year-old Fitzpatrick is entering his 10th season and playing for his third team in three years.

“It’s never easy right away just getting thrown into another group of guys that you don’t know anything about,” Fitzpatrick said, “but I think being in the league and having to do it multiple times has made it easier for me in terms of being able to step in here.”

The Texans could’ve taken a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but opted for Clowney, the star pass rusher from South Carolina. The 6-foot-5, 266-pound Clowney is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 alignment and he’s getting constant pointers from Watt, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year.

“Every day we work a little something,” Watt said. “As you’ve seen in the games, he’s a very talented player. I just try and teach him a couple of the things I’ve learned in my time in this league and ways that we can help each other because I really think it can be a lot of fun.”

Jerrell Powe will line up at nose tackle. Powe played three seasons in Kansas City when Crennel was the defensive coordinator and became head coach in 2011. Jared Crick, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, is tabbed as the other starting defensive end.

O’Brien hired former Patriot Mike Vrabel to coach Houston’s linebackers, and Cushing returned to practice on Aug. 13. The standout inside linebacker tore a left knee ligament and broke his left leg in a Week 7 game against Kansas City. He also had his 2012 season cut short by an injury to the same knee. He got his first live snaps last weekend in Denver, 13 plays.

“I don’t know if it was rusty or just time,” Cushing said. “I felt good, and most of all just the experience getting back out there, new system, making the calls, the checks - all of that was important.”

Brooks Reed will move inside after playing outside in his first three seasons in Houston. Reed set career highs in tackles (87) and tackles for loss (nine) last season.

The secondary was a weakness, producing a league-low seven interceptions. Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson return as the starting cornerbacks and the Texans added Kendrick Lewis and Chris Clemons to bolster the safety position.

Foster, meanwhile, missed eight games last season with a back injury that required surgery. O’Brien has been playing it safe with Foster, sitting him out of the first three preseason games. Foster ran for at least 1,200 yards in the previous three seasons.

Most of the carries have gone to second-year pro Jonathan Grimes and rookie Alfred Blue, a sixth-round pick out of LSU. The Texans also signed former Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown.

Here are some things to watch for about the Texans heading into the franchise’s 13th season:

SWEARINGER’S SPOTLIGHT: Second-year safety D.J. Swearinger won’t adjust his hard-hitting style just because of a highlight that’s getting plenty of attention.

Swearinger delivered a shoulder-first shot on Wes Welker in Saturday’s preseason game in Denver, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Welker left the game with a concussion. Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass on the next play, then ran down the field to confront Swearinger.

“I haven’t thought (to) change,” Swearinger said. “It won’t change. I’m the player that I am. That’s why I got here. It hasn’t changed since I’ve been in the league. It’s me.”

O-LINE: Brandon Brooks, who started 15 games last season at right guard, returned to practice in Denver after missing most of training camp with an undisclosed injury. His return gives Houston four of its five starters on the offensive front back from 2013. Rookie Xavier Su’a-Filo, a second-round pick, is competing with Ben Jones at left guard. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2012, has played all 32 of his games at right guard.

KICKER’S CORNER: Shane Lechler returns for his 15th season and second with the Texans. The 38-year-old Lechler is the NFL’s all-time leader in gross punting average (47.6 yards). Last year against Arizona, he set a franchise record by averaging 58.9 yards on seven punts.


AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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