Texans return to practice, deal with damage to homes

Mario Williams dodged downed trees to get out of his neighborhood and worried about the safety and security of his home as he left for practice with a tree splayed on one end of it.

He and the rest of the Houston Texans returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since Hurricane Ike, trying to concentrate on football when most didn't have electricity and many were dealing with significant damage to their homes.

"I feel very lucky," said Williams, the top overall pick in 2006. "My area is very bad. There's tons of trees that are down, lots of trees that fell through houses, but thank goodness no one was injured."

Williams said a tree crashed into his house during the storm, but he's still living there despite the damage and lack of electricity.

"It's really difficult, not just for myself, but for everyone," he said. "You've got to go work and you've got to make a living. But at the same time you're thinking: 'I hope my place is still all right."

The Texans had been off since Thursday night. They returned to work Tuesday on their practice field across the street from Reliant Stadium, whose retractable roof lost five pieces in the storm allowing large chunks of debris to fall into it.

They had a more than hour-long workout in the shadow of the damaged stadium where dozens of 18-wheelers lined up to prepare to fan out and distribute food and supplies to areas that were ravaged in the storm.

Defensive tackle Travis Johnson's home was destroyed in the hurricane. He lives in a suburb near the home of Williams' mother, whose roof was torn off during Ike.

"I lost the shingles first and then the water started coming in before my ceiling collapsed," he said. "I lost stuff. I lost a lot. But, you don't lose anything when you've still got your family."

Tight end Owen Daniels' home suffered extensive damage from Ike, with the ceiling in one room collapsing. Surprisingly he never lost power and despite its damage, his home became a refuge this weekend for teammates looking to escape from the sweltering heat.

Coach Gary Kubiak was encouraged by the workout on Tuesday and is trying to balance the need for his team to prepare for this weekend's game with concern for players and their families.

"Our families come first and we have to evaluate the situation with each player's family, each coach's family and do everything we can to put them in the best possible environment so they are comfortable and they can come up here and do their work," he said. "It's a juggling act right now but a lot of people are working extremely hard to make it work."

Andre Johnson's home was spared major damage in the storm, but he was without power until Monday night. Now that he has electricity, he's invited his teammates to hang out at his house until their service is restored.

Johnson, who dealt with several hurricanes growing up in Miami, said he was surprised by the extent of damage in the city.

"It was worse than I thought it would be," he said. "After the hurricane was over I just got in my truck and rode around to look at some of the things. I think the most shocking thing was when I saw pieces of the stadium missing off the roof. You wouldn't expect it to happen to the stadium."

Texans owner Bob McNair said getting back to football was a welcome respite from the events of the past few days.

"It certainly is for me," he said. "I'm tired of sitting around the house and feeling sorry for myself and the fact that we don't have power and we have trees crashed across the front of the house and all that sort of thing."

"We just have to get on with it and it's nice to get out here and start thinking about football and sort of get away from some of the other every day problems. That's one of the benefits of sports."

The Texans travel to face the Titans on Sunday after moving last weekend's game with Baltimore to Nov. 9. General manager Rick Smith said he's gotten advice on how to deal with his team in the wake of the hurricane from something of an expert on the subject.

"I've got Mickey Loomis on my speed dial," Smith said of the Saints general manager. "Obviously they have experienced it, so I've actually been talking to Mickey over the last couple of weeks about lessons that they learned, things that they would do differently and how we can try to approach our situation to try and work through it."

The Saints played all of their games away from the city after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Four games were played at LSU, three in San Antonio and one in East Rutherford, N.J., against the New York Giants.

The Texans are hoping that repairs to their damaged stadium can be completed in time for their next home game against Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

Johnson knows the Texans face a tough road in playing 15 straight games after their bye was moved to last weekend to accommodate the change in the schedule because of the hurricane. He hopes the team can fight through this and become an inspiration to the area as it recovers.

"I think we could be a bright spot for the city," he said. "A lot of people are going through tough times and maybe us going out winning games could make a lot of people around here happy."