Team leader DeMeco Ryans returns to the Texans defense this season.
With talent on the D-Line, in the LB corps and in the secondary, the Texans are poised to be a disruptive factor for the talented AFC South offense of the Indianapolis Colts.
The following videos are highlights of some of the players that will solidify the Houston Texans defense for 2011.
I did not add a slide for the NT position because in my opinion, that position will be decided in training camp as Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody go head-to-head for the spot.
First-round draft pick J.J. Watt will be an immediate impact player for the Texans. At 6'5", 290 lbs., he has 4.8 sec 40-yard time, making him a prototypical 3-4 DE.
Last season, as a University of Wisconsin Badger, Watt led the team in tackles for a loss, sacks, quarterback hurries and blocked kicks. Additionally, he was second on the team in tackles, pass breakups and passes defended, tied for sixth in school history with 21.0 tackles for loss in a single season and his 91 TFL yards rank seventh in school history.
Watt was named AP and SI second-team All-American and was voted consensus first-team All-Big Ten. He also won the LottIMPACT Defensive Player of the Year award.
He will play defensive end opposite Antonio Smith and will most likely be a nightmare to defend against. I expect to see many double-teams on Watt, which could leave gaping holes for the ILBs to rush through.
Last season, Antonio Smith played opposite Mario Williams. For many fans of the team, the verdict is still out as to how well he played throughout the season, but in reality, his play was very solid. The ended his seventh season with four sacks and two passes deflected.
Antonio was constantly bringing pressure and disrupting plays. On downs where Mario was double-teamed, Antonio ran free and often decimated opposing quarterbacks. On downs where Mario and Antonio faced single coverage, Antonio still managed to bring pressure on both run and pass plays.
Perhaps the only drawback for Antonio is his short fuse. He was caught jumping off-sides many times last season and even instigated an on-field fight with his teammate Brian Cushing. However, I like the fire of Smith and can't wait to see him disrupt offenses again this season.
In what will be an experiment of monumental proportions, the Texans are moving former DE Mario Williams to the OLB position. This new assignment will find Mario rushing the edge much more often from a standing position.
Imagine if you will, a player two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than DeMarcus Ware rushing at you full-speed ahead.
That is what we will call Mario Williams.
Mario's ability to get pass defenders with both speed, agility and technique will be instrumental in making him a wrecking-ball against opposing offenses.
Coming off a career low 28 tackles, 8.5 sacks and two PDef, Mario's numbers should increase exponentially in his new OLB position.
This is, by far, my favorite move in the Texans defense and should produce some "smashing" results.
Much like Mario, Connor Barwin will be making the switch from DE to OLB in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
Barwin, who stands 6'4" and weighs in at 254 pounds, is a more typical linebacker. However, coming off a season-ending injury could mean that he lags slightly behind at the beginning of the season.
Connor will be playing opposite Mario, which means that he may be able to get to the QB more often than not, assuming that defenses will be attempting to double-team Mario. Otherwise, Connor may see single coverage and will be able to use his strength and technique to disrupt many plays.
Unlike Mario, Connor has more upside in that he will be able to drop into coverage and act as a third pass defender. This versatility may not have him rushing the QB as often as Mario but will still make him an integral part of the Texans' new defensive scheme.
I project that Barwin will have a career high number of sacks this year. First, though, he will have to defend his position against rookie LB Brooks Reed, who many believe could take that position from Barwin.
DeMeco Ryans is the heart and soul of the Texans defense. He pushes his teammates to be better and expects nothing less from himself. His a vocal and physical player who is always going after the ball on every down.
DeMeco will be returning to his MLB spot after leaving in week six of last season with a season-ending injury. In all reality, it was after DeMeco's injury that the Texans' defense really began to fall apart.
I expect to see DeMeco return to the field with the same fire and vigor with which he left the team last season. He will be starting next to Brian Cushing, and between the two of them, will be shutting down the middle of the field.
DeMeco left last season with one sack and two PDef, but should be able to easily improve those numbers this season...assuming he remains healthy.
In 2009, Brian Cushing made a name for himself as the Defensive Rookie of the Year for the NFL. Then, in 2010, his status was questioned after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (which were never proven to have been taken). He was suspended for four games and will be looking to put all of that behind him this season.
Cushing is a beast.
He has a relentless passion for the game and tracks down the ball like a hawk after prey. He plays hard and hits even harder. He talks a big game and plays a game that matches his talk.
Cushing will be looking to improve on his 1.5 sacks and four PDef from last season. He is a tangible threat on every down and, with DeMeco, will be a serious disruption against opposing offenses.
I expect Cushing to return to his former self and be a serious menace on the field this season.
For weeks, I had suggested that the Texans needed to pursue Johnathan Joseph to help secure the CB position. Sure enough, when free agency finally arrived, the Texans inked Joseph to a five-year, $48.75 million dollar contract.
Johnathan is considered to be the second best cornerback in the NFL. His top speed and ability to get vertical make him a serious threat for the defense.
Coming to Houston from Cincinnati, Johnathan finished last season with three interceptions, eight PDef and a touchdown. While these numbers may not seem like much for a CB in the NFL, they attest to the fear-factor that he induces in opposing QBs.
Look for Johnathan to be a huge playmaker for the Texans. The CB position was the greatest weakness of the Texans last season and is now more secure.
For all intents and purposes, Kareem Jackson was the weak link of the Texans defense last season. Taken in the first round of the NFL draft by the Texans, Kareem was supposed to be a shutdown CB for the team. What the team got instead was a rookie CB who struggled to keep up with defenders, did not communicate well with others and allowed too much cushion for opposing WRs.
Not all of the blame can be cast on Kareem. Though he was a first-round draft pick, he was added to a team that already had a weak secondary. Adding Kareem was like adding a metal chain link to a plastic chain (not very effective altogether).
With added pressure on the QB Kareem will be able to play WRs with added pressure. He has tremendous speed and size for a CB and is very athletic. Given the right players supporting him, he will begin to flourish in the NFL.
Look for Kareem to mature this season, especially under the defensive leadership of Wade Phillips.
Glover Quin is another player on the move for the Texans. After watching hours of film on Quin, Wade Phillips felt that Quin had the potential to be one of the league's best safeties. Going into the 2011 season, Glover will be moving from CB to Free Safety for the Texans.
Quin is entering his third year in the NFL and should be a solid player at the safety position. His football intelligence, speed and awareness will play well into his new position.
He led the team in PDef last season (14) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (three).
Quin spent most of the offseason preparing for his transition to the safety position and should be well-prepared come time for the beginning of the season. He will be starting deep for the Texans opposite strong safety Danieal Manning.
In what I consider to be one of the league's most underrated free-agency signings, the Texans added Danieal Manning to their roster. Manning comes to the Texans from the Chicago Bears, where he was an impact player in the backfield.
The addition of Manning, although not quite equivalent to that of J. Joseph, will make a huge difference for the Texans pass defense.
Manning was used as both a KR and S in Chicago, but will, in my opinion, only be used as a safety in Houston. His value at the position is too great to risk injury on kick returns.
Manning brings great ball-awareness and speed to the deep threat that the Texans often face. His ability to make big plays on the ball will help the Texans keep opposing points off the board while the offense gets to work.