HOUSTON – Texans defensive end Antonio Smith sees the same growth potential in Houston that he did in his early years playing for Arizona.
The maturation of the Cardinals' defense led to the Super Bowl, and Smith thinks the Texans are on a similar path.
"I see everything that you need here, exactly what we had in Arizona," Smith said. "The only thing missing is us just believing in ourselves, and then going out there and doing it."
Houston opens its preseason schedule against Arizona on Saturday.
The 6-foot-4, 282-pound Smith played his first five seasons with the Cardinals before joining the Texans as a free agent in February 2009. Smith started in the Super Bowl earlier that month and made two tackles in the Cardinals' 27-23 loss to Pittsburgh.
Only 29, Smith is already one of the most seasoned players on the Texans' defense, with six years of NFL experience. The Cardinals were young, too, when they drafted Smith in 2004. They went 8-8 in 2007 to earn their first playoff berth in 10 years, then finished 9-7 in their Super Bowl year.
Houston went 8-8 in 2007 and '08 and 9-7 last year, the first winning record in the franchise's eight years of existence. The stated goal this year is earning the team's first playoff berth, and Smith wants to offer any help he can from his best seasons in Arizona.
"I just observe and when I'm needed, when I know something that they don't know, then I speak out and give them the knowledge," Smith said. "I try to give my heart to my team."
Last year, Smith made 33 tackles, including 4½ sacks, in 15 starts for Houston. The Texans have often moved him inside to his more natural tackle spot during training camp.
"That's really where he played most of the time in Arizona, was inside," Texans defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "He felt a little more comfortable there, and it took him a little while to sort of grasp playing the defensive end."
Houston has been trying to build depth at defensive end during training camp, with Mario Williams and Tim Bulman slowed by injuries. Williams, the top overall pick in the 2006 draft, is practicing again after missing a week with a hip injury, but coach Gary Kubiak said Bulman is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
The Texans have been in contact with pass-rushing specialist Aaron Schobel, who was released by the Bills last week and lives near Houston. Houston also hosted individual workouts for defensive linemen Raheem Brock, Dewayne White and James Wyche on Wednesday.
Smith said he favors the inside position on the line, but will gladly stay on the end if that's where the team needs him.
"The inside is more fun, 'cause you get to bang in there, and everything is quick," he said. "I can play them both. But on run plays, end is fun. On pass plays, (defensive) tackle is fun. As long as I'm having fun."
And Smith seems to always be doing that, joking with teammates and barking out playful trash talk to offensive players during practice. He'll also yell out formations and direct teammates where seconds before a snap.
"He isn't a guy who's trying to take charge and run the whole thing," Kollar said. "But guys end up knowing, when he's out on that field, that he's producing. They look up to him because he's doing what he's supposed to be doing."
NOTES: Kubiak said most of the starters will play the first quarter only in Arizona. He said backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky will take most of the snaps on offense. "We have got to get him to the level of playing better than he played last year and doing some of the good things he's done here in camp. We've got to find a consistency there." ... Kollar, who coached Schobel in Buffalo, said he's spoken with Schobel "a couple of times" since he was released by the Bills. Kollar said the two-time Pro Bowl selection is still "undecided" about whether he'll play this season or retire.