HOUSTON - By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) -- Matt Schaub joined the Houston Texans in 2007 and helped build their offense into one of the most potent in the NFL.
When the Texans finally reached the playoffs last season, he was forced to watch as a spectator after a foot injury ended his season.
Now he's back, and coach Gary Kubiak believes missing out on the end of last season has made his quarterback more determined this year.
"When you're hurt, you don't feel like a part of it," Kubiak said. "That type of stuff makes it tough. But I think it makes you hungrier. So we need him to come back, stay healthy and continue to push this team to another level."
Schaub threw for 2,479 and 15 touchdowns in the first 10 games last season before going on the injured reserve with a broken right foot. He watched as third-string quarterback T.J. Yates helped the Texans to their first playoff berth.
Schaub is healthy and confident. He doesn't see why the Texans shouldn't expect to reach the Super Bowl after watching what they accomplished with several key players missing time with injuries last year
"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 isn't the only one with high expectations for the team, and the Texans are ranked No. 6 in the first-ever AP Pro32 Power Rankings that are voted on by a 12-member panel and were released this week.
Schaub had surgery in November to repair his injured foot and said this week that he feels like he did before the injury.
The injury ended a streak of two straight seasons where he threw for more than 4,300 yards and looked like the franchise quarterback the Texans envisioned him being when he arrived in a trade from Atlanta.
The 31-year-old knows that he's the de facto leader of the team simply because of his position. But he still believes it is important to embrace that role and be the one to steer the team in the right direction.
"It's about having a certain work ethic," he said. "Just demanding a lot, demanding the best out of each and every guy because that's how the whole group is going to be special is if everyone in their own right is special. So just trying to do that to everybody and making sure I'm handling my business ... everyone looks to you to set that example and be that guy that sets the tone, and you have to accept that responsibility, whether you like it or not."
Star receiver Andre Johnson, who spent the early part of his career languishing through losing seasons in an offense led by David Carr, takes any chance he can to make sure people know what Schaub means to him, and more importantly, the team.
"He makes plays when they need to be made," Johnson said. "He's a great leader. He has the confidence of all of his teammates. We believe he's the guy."
The biggest unknown for Schaub and Houston's offense this season is how they will fare with new faces on the offensive line. The Texans released right tackle Eric Winston and right guard Mike Brisiel left for Oakland in free agency. Rashad Butler and Antoine Caldwell, who appeared in just seven games combined last season, are expected to take over for Winston and Brisiel.
"I'm excited about it," Schaub said of working with the revamped line. "Those guys aren't new to the system, they aren't new to this place, we've all been around here for three, four years together."
Part of Schaub's confidence in the newcomers to the line could be because they'll join left tackle Duane Brown, who started each game for the Texans last season. Brown suffered a bone bruise in practice on Wednesday, but Kubiak said he'll be OK. He is expected to sit out a couple of days before returning to practice.
"Duane molded himself into, in my opinion, the best left tackle in the game," Schaub said. "I never have to worry about Duane and what he's doing and what he has on his plate because he's going to get the job done."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.