Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 11/25/11
The solemnity had passed. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was still limping around the practice facility and locker room with a boot on his injured right foot yet his teammates appeared enthusiastic nonetheless. Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson will start on Sunday in Jacksonville after missing six games with a hamstring injury. And the Texans will welcome back free safety Danieal Manning, whose miraculous recovery from a broken fibula suffered at Tennessee on Oct. 23 inspired levity. "I asked him the same thing," Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of Manning and his surprisingly expedited return. "I think he rubbed some of that red clay they've got down here in Texas on it, just trying to heal him up a little quicker. It's just a great deal to have him back. It's sooner than expected, but hey, we're glad." Two days after Schaub was placed on injured reserve the Texans were hardly dispirited. Schaub will have season-ending surgery next week yet lent his expertise tutoring his replacement Matt Leinart, rookie T.J. Yates and veteran Kellen Clemens, who was signed on Wednesday. Johnson will play for the first time since going down in the second quarter against the Steelers on Oct. 2, and he won't have to answer the same banal questions regarding his health and playing status. Manning, who initially assumed his season was complete after breaking his fibula on an interception of Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, will reinforce a defense that has been as resilient as it has been dominant. If losing Schaub was a shock to the system, the realization that Johnson and Manning are back in action serves as an immediate emotional boost. "It always feels good when you get your top guys back, especially this late in the season," Texans inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We've got great players that we're going to add back to our team, and they're big-time playmakers. That's going to be a difference for us." Despite missing six-plus games, Johnson is third on the Texans in receptions (25) and receiving yards (352), and is tied for second with several others with two touchdown catches. His return allows Leinart, who'll earn his first start in two seasons, to make the smoothest transition possible knowing he has Johnson plus stellar tight end depth and an exceptional receiving tailback in Arian Foster at his disposal. If the defense is required to shoulder a heavier burden in support of the Schaub-less offense, having Manning back in the fold make that task easier. Troy Nolan did bang-up work in his absence, but Manning was second on the Texans in tackles (32) and interceptions (two) when he was lost. His productivity is undeniable, his return worthy of exultation. "It feels great," Manning said of being cleared to start against the Jaguars (3-7). "I had a week to think about it and get a lot of thoughts together, and the biggest one I could come up with is I'm just so grateful. I'm so grateful to be able to be back out there and be able to play football with these guys, be a part of what they're doing, be a part of making some history and be able to hopefully be in the playoffs and win the Super Bowl." Manning wasn't alone in his exuberance. Ryans noticed the energy of this week's practices and recognized the rejuvenation of his teammates. The Texans have survived the grueling portion of their schedule and enough injuries to dismantle a lesser team. All that remains is to finish what they've started this season, a project that continues in Jacksonville. "We know that there's a lot for us to accomplish this year," Ryans said. "We're in a good place right now coming out of the bye; we feel good about where we are. But with that being said, we still know that we have a lot of work to do. "But our focus can't change. Like our focus the first 10 weeks everybody was focused on that game, that team, that week, and that was their only focus. So right now we can't get caught up in focusing on six weeks because there's nothing we can do about those other games right now. Our focus is just on Jacksonville." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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