The stated goal of the offseason for Houston was to improve the defense and the Texans have accomplished that in a big way.
It began right after the season when the Texans brought in former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips to be their defensive coordinator and general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak wanted the defense to fit Phillips' vision.
It continued at the draft when the Texans selected six defensive players with their eight total picks. They selected players with high-end talent and filler talents to add depth.
The lockout kept them (and every other team) from being able to make any personnel moves early on, but once the lockout was lifted, they got to work by bringing in key free agents in the defensive secondary, their biggest single need.
Seven individuals in particular will have a huge impact on Houston's defense in 2011,
The biggest addition to the Texans defense is the defensive coordinator himself. Phillips brings a history of success and credibility to the coaching staff. Those were things sorely lacking with former coordinator Frank Bush.
Bush was a popular guy with his players, but he had never been a coordinator before, and thanks to that lack of a track record, he had little credibility around the league.
Phillips will bring his version of the 3-4 defense with him. Knowing that the Texans defense is mostly made of players that were meant for the 4-3, he is going to use both defenses in part.
The impetus behind using parts of the 3-4 defense in Houston is trying to find more ways to get pressure on the passer. In Bush's vanilla 4-3 defense, offenses knew exactly where the rush was coming from every single time.
Now, the hope is that offenses won't be able to keep up with all the pressure the Texans are bringing.
Phillips has a reputation of being something of a miracle worker in his first year on location. Even if he doesn't turn the Texans around completely right away, he can't help but make them a little better.
The biggest need on the Texans defense was competent cornerback play. Johnathan Joseph will bring much more than just competent play.
Joseph was the consensus second-best corner on the market behind Nnamdi Asomugha. He isn't the same type of cornerback as Asomugha, but he comes much cheaper. With the money saved, the Texans were able to go and make some other moves.
Joseph, a teammate of former Texans corner Dunta Robinson at South Carolina, has 14 interceptions in his five-year career. He had a career high six interceptions in 2009.
His arrival will take some pressure off of Kareem Jackson. No longer will Jackson be expected to defend the opposing team's best receiver. It also allows the Texans to move Glover Quin, the other starting corner last season, to safety.
Not only does Joseph bring talent to the position, but he improves the team's depth by allowing them to slide everyone down the depth chart to a more fitting role.
The signing of Johnathan Joseph rather than Nnamdi Asomugha allowed the Texans to go out and get help at safety in the form of Danieal Manning.
The Texans needs at cornerback were highly publicized, but the need at safety was almost as great. Veterans Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson struggled mightily and were allowed to walk this offseason.
That left the team seriously void of both talent and depth at the position. They started to address that in the draft by selecting former Idaho Vandal Shiloh Keo.
Houston really took a big step in the right direction, however, by bringing in former Bears safety Danieal Manning. Manning has seven career interceptions in his five seasons, a solid number for a safety.
Best of all, Wade Phillips can use Manning in a variety of ways. He can come up and play the run, but he also has the speed and agility to play one-on-one with most receivers.
The recently drafted J.J. Watt is a huge key for success in Wade Phillips' new defense. Watt is an ideal defensive end in the 3-4 defense, and in those instances when Phillips wants to use some 4-3, he can slide inside to become a pass-rushing defensive tackle.
Watt is an expert at finding ways to wreak havoc along the defensive line. He is a relentless pass-rusher, a surprisingly explosive athlete and he bats balls down at the line of scrimmage better than any defensive lineman the Texans have ever had.
Watt's presence along the line allows other players to focus on other things. For starters, it will allow Mario Williams to slide back to outside linebacker. Phillips' vision is to slide Williams around and bring him from every possible angle. That wouldn't be possible if they still needed him to play defensive end on every snap.
With Watt holding his own on the line, it will also keep Phillips from having to lean on the blitz too much. In previous years, the Texans had to blitz just to get any pressure, leaving their defensive backs prone to getting burned. Now, they can afford to lay their linebackers back in coverage to help their secondary.
Brooks Reed is the ultimate toy for Wade Phillips to play with on his defense. Reed, a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, plays like his hair is on fire.
Reed, a four-year letter winner at Arizona, had 17 career sacks and was an All-Pac 10 selection in 2010.
Reed is an ideal pass rusher at outside linebacker in the 3-4 and he is strong enough to put his hand on the ground and play defensive end in the 4-3.
Reed also gives the Texans some insurance in case Mario Williams' transition to outside linebacker doesn't go so well. If Williams struggles, the Texans have a lot of confidence that Reed will be able to at least challenge his production.
Brandon Harris, a rookie out of the University of Miami, won't be expected to come in and start right away, but his selection in the 2011 draft gave the Texans much-needed depth at cornerback.
Having Harris on the bench will allow the Texans to go with the hot hand. If Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are both having success, they can stick with the lineup as it is. If Harris shows well during the week and either of those two slip, they can feel confident that Harris will step in and do the job.
Beyond the on-field attributes, Harris is a good player to have on the team. At training camp practices, the other defensive backs rally around the rookie and Harris is among the more active players in camp.
Unlike Jackson last year, Harris will be given the opportunity to develop at his own pace. Don't be surprised, though, if Harris is ready sooner rather than later.
Much like Brandon Harris at the cornerback position, Shiloh Keo will allow the Texans to have some flexibility at safety.
For my money, Keo was one of the more overlooked defensive prospects in the entire draft. At 5'11" and 215 pounds, Keo is a strong, compact safety who can come up and pack a punch on a running back or receiver.
The accolades for Keo in college are nearly endless. He was a 2006 Sporting News honorable mention, All-Freshman Team member, 2007 Rivals.com All-WAC punt returner, 2007 Phil Steele's second team All-WAC safety and punt returner, 2007 second team All-WAC safety and punt returner and 2009 First Team All-WAC at safety. He ended up second on Idaho's all-time punt return yardage list and he finished his career with 293 tackles.
Keo will back up Danieal Manning at strong safety, but expect him to see more playing time later in the season as he will be given a chance to prove he belongs.