HOUSTON – Houston coach Gary Kubiak didn't need even a second to think before answering the question of what left tackle Duane Brown means to his team.
"Everything," Kubiak said.
The team certainly has much bigger names, including Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt. But to Kubiak, Brown's solid play has been one of the keys to his team's success.
"First off, he's a tremendous worker," Kubiak said. "Big respect as a player from what you see. Duane is respected around the league, but yet everyone watches him work as hard as he possibly can work. Very proud of Duane. Great player, but great man, too, and a big part. Very important."
Brown was a first-round pick in 2008, drafted to shore up an offensive line that had been terrible through the first few years of Houston's existence. He did just that, moving into the starting job immediately and starting all 16 games as a rookie. Brown started each game for Houston last year and has missed just four games in his five-year career with the Texans.
Brown, who has blossomed while protecting quarterback Matt Schaub's blind side, believes training camp will be important to the line developing an identity.
"Having a starting five and starting to gel and blend that chemistry and continuity means everything," Brown said. "The offensive line is all about being in sync and in rhythm, so having five guys solidified there means a lot."
He anchors a line that has veteran Chris Myers at center, but plenty of questions on the right side. Third-year player Derek Newton and rookie Brennan Williams are competing to start at right tackle, and Brandon Brooks, who is in his second year, is a front-runner for the right guard spot.
Brown doesn't believe the right side of the line will be the weak spot on the team that many expect it to be.
"I don't think so, those guys are working hard over there," Brown said. "We've got a solid starter in the right guard position; we still got two guys battling at the right tackle position right now. And I think that'll be solidified here in a couple of weeks. I don't think it'll be a problem at all for us."
The Texans have had great success in their run game since employing a zone blocking scheme under Kubiak. Foster has run for more than 1,200 yards in each of the last three seasons behind that blocking.
Foster has been on the physically unable to perform list since the beginning of camp with a calf strain and a sore back. Brown hopes Foster can return soon so the group can get on the same page with him.
"You like to have your ones in to get that chemistry going," he said. "Running backs have to get a feel for the linemen, get on the same page and get in sync. We've all played together long enough to get a good feel for each other. The main thing is getting healthy. That means more than anything to have a healthy back, back there."
Kubiak has marveled at the development of Brown from when he was drafted to last year's Pro Bowl season. The coach believes he was helped by having to face off against former Colts lineman Dwight Freeney twice a year early in his career.
"He's taken his play to the next level," Kubiak said. "When your peers start to recognize you and put you in that game in February that they play in Hawaii, then they're telling you that you've become a big-time player. Duane's taking care of his business."