Houston's offensive line has emerged as one of the strengths of the Texans in their 2-0 start.
A big reason for the improvement from last season is the development of right tackle Derek Newton. Running back Arian Foster, who has rushed for 241 yards through Houston's first two games, raved about him as the Texans prepare for this weekend's game on the road against the New York Giants.
"He's grown leaps and bounds from when he first got here and even last year ... he's just a totally different player than he was," Foster said. "Anytime you see somebody kind of thrown into the fire as a young player, you see their confidence grow throughout their career. It's always a great thing to see."
Newton started each game for the Texans last year, but had his struggles as the team dealt with injuries and finished 2-14. Players and coaches said Newton seemed different when they began, and he has built off a strong camp to excel early.
"He has worked extremely hard since I've been here," coach Bill O'Brien said. "He had a very good offseason. He was here the whole time. He became stronger, he came back in better condition. He's athletic."
Veteran left tackle Duane Brown has taken a keen interest into helping Newton since he joined the team as a seventh-round pick in 2011. He always believed he could be a great player and is excited to see him beginning to live up to that potential.
"When you come in as an athlete it takes a while to develop because there's a lot of technique that's involved in being an o-lineman, especially a tackle," Brown said. "He's really worked hard on his technique and really put it together, and now you can see the addition of his athleticism and technique put together."
The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Newton said that along with working out and conditioning, he spent time this offseason thinking about all the things he needed to do to become the player he wanted to be. He said one key to his improvement is that he has finally learned not to overthink things on the field and just rely on instinct from what he's learned on the practice field and in meeting rooms.
He knows he was often singled out last year for his mistakes and is happy to have put that trouble behind him.
"Every player has ups and downs but it's all about fighting through it," he said. "Everybody goes through adversity, it's all about how you overcome it. Everything is going well now so the sky's the limit."
Newton has improved so much this season that O'Brien said he would be comfortable playing him at left tackle if they needed someone to fill in for Brown. Brown is confident he could do the job, too. He was wowed when he watched Newton line up in his left tackle position during a preseason game and effectively control Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
The Texans are eighth in the NFL in yards rushing with 151.5 per game, and new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't been sacked through two games.
Brown and the rest of the linemen take pride in those two statistics and said that along with Newton's growth, their success has hinged on the closeness of the group and the time they put in together.
"We really work with each other, talk among each other about tendencies, routines and make sure we communicate and we're in synch up there whenever we get out there," he said. "That's what it's all about."
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL