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Texans Not Playing the Rushing Game

Pro football: Expansion team doesn't expect to be competitive yet, but odds seem to be in Houston's favor.


The Carolina Panthers reached the NFC championship game in their second year of existence ... and haven't had a winning season since.

The Jacksonville Jaguars made the playoffs four of their first five seasons ... and wound up with crippling salary-cap problems.

The expansion Cleveland Browns made their debut before a delirious crowd of 72,000 that chanted "Cleveland Rocks!" ... and collected two first downs in a 43-0 loss to Pittsburgh. They lost 27 of their next 32 games before finishing last season 7-9.

The Houston Texans are off to a bold start--they were putting the finishing touches on a deal Tuesday with Fresno State quarterback David Carr, who will be the No. 1 pick in this weekend's NFL draft--and time will tell if their plan works.

"At some point, we'll look like a football team," General Manager Charley Casserly said. "I'm just not sure when."

It's no wonder, then, why Texan owner Bob McNair shies away from making rash predictions about what the immediate future holds.

"By the third year," he said, "we want to be competitive."

A lot of people around the league think the Texans will be competitive right away. The franchise made out nicely at the expansion draft in February, picking up several standout players, including one of the league's best offensive tackles, Jacksonville's Tony Boselli; linebacker Jamie Sharper and receiver Jermaine Lewis, both standouts in Baltimore; and the New York Jets' starting cornerback tandem of Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman.

The Texans have 14 picks in the two-day draft, including the No. 1 selection, two picks in the second through sixth rounds--one at the beginning of each round, the other in the middle--and three in the seventh.

Many around the league think Houston is in a far better position than Carolina, Jacksonville and Cleveland were during their inaugural seasons. Among the reasons:

* More talent in the expansion draft: Because so many teams were hamstrung by the salary cap, and letting big-money players go in the expansion draft provided a quick-fix solution, the draft was loaded with talented players in the prime of their careers. The Texans made the most of that, selecting 19 players--all in their 20s--who could make an immediate impact.

First on that list was Boselli, the former USC standout who has been to five Pro Bowls and is also a quality citizen, a stabilizing influence on a young team.

"Tony Boselli is a Hall of Famer," Casserly said at the time. "We have our first Hall of Famer and we haven't even played a game yet."

Jacksonville, the team the star tackle left, also benefited greatly. Three players were taken off their list--Boselli, and defensive tackles Seth Payne and Gary Walker--representing $17 million in salary cap space. The Jaguars also saved $14 million when the contracts of linebacker Kevin Hardy and defensive end Renaldo Wynn expired in February. All of a sudden, the team that was a record $38 million over the cap a year ago, and $28 million over before the expansion draft, was a comfortable $3 million under it.

When the league staged an expansion draft for Cleveland, fewer teams were saddled with a cap crunch, so the caliber of available talent was much lower. The only legitimate starter the Browns selected was their first pick, center Jim Pyne.

They did miss on a couple of quarterbacks, however. St. Louis left Kurt Warner exposed--no one dreamed how good he would become--and Minnesota was ready to let Jay Fiedler go.

* Plenty of time to prepare. McNair bought the franchise for $700 million in 1999, so he has had ample time to put the pieces in place. Casserly, the former Redskin general manager, has had more than a year in his current position to scout players, hire coaches and iron out the wrinkles. From the time the franchise was awarded until their inaugural kickoff, the Texans will have have 35 months to prepare, nearly three times as long as Cleveland (one year). Carolina had 23 months and Jacksonville had 22 months of ramp-up time..

"Cleveland was quite hectic," recalled Joe Mack, whom the league appointed as the Browns' interim director of player personnel before the franchise had a management structure in place. "Everybody performed really well, considering the circumstances. Everyone did the best they could."

Mack, who earlier worked as assistant GM under Bill Polian in Carolina, had to get the Cleveland franchise up and running six months before the Browns even had an owner. For the first two months, he was a staff of one.

"For a long time, there really wasn't anyone to talk football with around here," he told Sports Illustrated in May, 1998. "The only discussions going on in this building were between me and my stomach about what to order on my pizza."

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