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Most of the discussion on how to fix what's wrong with the Texans has centered around drafting a quarterback. In all the hubbub over whether to take Brigewater, Manziel or Bortles, the only defensive possibility has been the Clowney option.
While the defense did keep the yards allowed at a respectable seventh in the league last season, points allowed were 24th. This discrepancy was a result of placing dead last in red-zone scoring percentage, according to Team Rankings. Quarterback is of paramount importance, but the restocking of the defense should not be neglected in the process.
Teams that run a 3-4 defense must be fully stocked with an array of linebackers. Accordingly, the run-stuffers for defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel should resemble the players from his best defenses with the New England Patriots.
The inside men were Tedy Bruschi (6’1”, 250 pounds) and Ted Johnson (6’4”, 255 pounds). Bruschi was a stocky defensive end from Arizona State who seamlessly made the switch to the second level. Johnson, a radio host with Sports Radio 610 in Houston, has a massive frame that dominates the attention of everyone who catches him at his many public appearances.
Brooks Reed (6’3”, 260 pounds) is no slash-and-dash pass-rusher and is a better fit on the inside where his bulk can be put to better use. Reed could line up with Shayne Skov from Stanford or Chris Borland from Wisconsin, both 245-pound interior linebackers who would be available when the Texans pick at the top of the third round.
Where does Brian Cushing fit in this rearrangement? He goes back to the outside, where his knack for backfield penetration makes him more valuable. His only full season at inside linebacker was 2011, when he had the most combined sacks, hurries and hits of any ILB that year as recorded by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Whitney Mercilus is long and rangy with a nice burst off the snap. His problem is getting tangled up when he engages blockers because he has not learned how to use his hands to get free.
Mike Vrabel, who played with Bruschi and Johnson, did not have the athleticism that Merculis is blessed with. He just knew how to use his head to outsmart the opposition. As the Texans’ linebackers coach, he will be able to get the most out of Mercilus’ talent.
Danieal Manning is as good as gone and a younger replacement with more potential is needed. Shiloh Keo played better than anyone could have predicted going into 2013. It’s just that his ceiling at free safety has already been reached, and the position demands more athleticism than Keo can offer.
Calvin Pryor of Louisville has the versatility to play over-the-top or underneath at safety, with above-average makeup speed. Many NFL teams use multiple receiver sets that a team’s top three cornerbacks cannot always handle what is coming at them. Therefore safeties need to have the ball skills to play like a cornerback on vertical routes and deep slants.
Pryor is ranked just behind Ha Ha Clinton-Dix among free safeties by CBS Sports and will still be on the board at the start of the second round. He also brings some size to the defensive backfield at 6’2” and 208 pounds, something the Texans have lacked since Bernard Pollard left town.