Texans' Lovie Smith: 'We are different with Justin Britt out there'

Hunkered over the football at the line of scrimmage, Texans veteran center Justin Britt delivered a shotgun snap and powerfully engaged defensive linemen.

It was a routine training camp play for Britt, but being healthy and playing football aren't things that Britt takes for granted.

Britt, who dealt with a knee injury last season and was given a veteran's day off Friday by coach Lovie Smith, is one of the toughest players in the NFL and embraces the physical aspect of the game.

He signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason to remain with the Texans. 

Britt rebooted his NFL career last season with the Texans, providing a gritty presence and leadership for an overhauled roster. Signed to a one-year, $5 million contract last year, Britt overcame a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in 2019 that prevented him from playing in 2020. He gave a technically sound and tough skill set for the Texans and was voted the winner of the annual Ed Block Courage award by his teammates.

“I'm grateful to be able to be out here," Britt said. "I'm grateful that my body is holding up and it's being strong and I'm really appreciative of the vet day and the chance for my knee to recoup and kind of adapt back into football. I'm confident and I'm ready to go. 

“Biggest thing for me is it just needed reps and whenever the thing happened in Week 3, that's just not what I could give it. Offseason has been real beneficial. Our athletic training staff, strength staff here, they gave me all the tools and they gave me the chance to come out here and be able to do this for however long I want to.”

Britt routinely arrives for work at NRG Stadium at 4:30 a.m. as the first player to get there. Britt said that he tries to get there before Texans coach Lovie Smith, but joked he might be a 3 a.m show-up-to-work guy.

There are no questions about his work ethic. The Texans just want Britt to remain healthy.

"We are different with Justin Britt out there," Smith said. "It all starts with our center. He does an awful lot for our team. He's a good player, but again our offense will perform a lot better with Justin out there.”

Britt battled through a lingering knee injury and was activated from injured reserve to regain his role as a starter last year.

What can Britt do to remain on the field?

“Wear a knee brace," he said. "I'm going to stay away from people. But ,I mean, some of it's inevitable and you've just got to go out there and play carefree and you can't really worry about that. I'm doing little things. I show up really early in the morning, so I have time to warm up the knees, get loose, stretch and make sure everything's working properly. 

"Then just staying on top of the strength and conditioning. I mean, it's a grind. It's a battle. We are going to be going still February hopefully, so it's just staying on top of that and building a routine and really buying into it.”

Besides Britt getting hurt and also missing time with COVID after testing positive, the Texans plugged in several different starting combinations.

Now, it's Britt at center with Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil back, rookie Kenyon Green projected as the new starting left guard, former Jacksonville Jaguars starter A.J. Cann as the new right guard and Tytus Howard back to his natural right tackle spot.

Britt sees a ton of progress from starting quarterback Davis Mills, who had nine touchdowns and two interceptions in his final five games of the season after being named the starter ahead of Tyrod Taylor. 

“He's not a rookie," Britt said. "He's got experience under his belt, knowledge. He understands the system, him and (offensive coordinator) Pep [Hamilton] get to work further together and the relationship between him and the line, what it needs to be and how we control things is very professional.”

Under Hamilton, promoted as the replacement for former offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, the Texans are implementing new strategies and plays. Hamilton previously worked with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

“I think Pep brings a lot of energy and juice to the offense, good mixture of run and pass and aggression," Britt said. "Without giving anything way really, it's going to be a fun year. The playbook is exciting and it all makes sense and it's crystal clear and it gives us a chance to go out there and execute at the highest level.”

The Texans are rebuilding still, but general manager Nick Caserio added some talented players this offseason following a 4-13 season under coach David Culley. Culley was fired and Smith was promoted along with Hamilton. The Texans are optimistic that they've improved, including the vibe surrounding the team.

“I mean, the first thing I've noticed is the energy," Britt said. "I mean we have the energy but the energy from the fans and people attending, there's a different vibe. There's a rejuvenated sense and whether that's Coach Lovie, Pep on the offense, it's just a good feeling. You could feel that in the summer and spring, but you get back to camp and you really start rolling, you start to feel it and you start to gain that confidence and it makes it exciting to come to work at 4:30."

Playing for a former NFL Coach of the Year and Super Bowl coach makes a big difference, too. 

“Lovie's name holds a lot of weight in this game," Britt said. "If you've played football, if you've played in the league or at least college, you know his name. And so when he speaks, we listen. And, when he leads, we follow.

"He says every day, show up, show out. We're here for a reason, and Monday will be fun when we get pads on and it gets to be more like football. But, I mean, everyone here is just excited to compete, excited to be here, and this has been, even though it's really hot down here, it's been a really fun camp so far.”

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars

Photo: Getty Images

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