Defensive end Connor Barwin is seen here against the 49ers last season. (Source: YardBarker.com)

Texans Position Breakdown – Defensive Line

Defensive end Mario Williams will look to continue his dominance in 2010. (Source: YardBarker.com)

In 2009, the Texans defensive lines took strides at improving the area overall. Mario Williams, the former 1st overall pick in 2006, continued his domination role at the right end position last season. After the acquisition Antonio Smith in 2009, the Texans finally bolstered a defensive line comprised of true 4-3 scheme players. The former defensive end opposite former pick Mario Williams was Anthony Weaver, a player signed from the Ravens in 2006 to attempts to patch the other DE spot. After that project failed, people were a bit iffy about the arrival of Smith, some saying the Texans overpayed for him as they did Weaver. Also, Amobi Okoye, a Texans 1st round pick from 2007, was being called upon to finally have his performance live up to his potential. At the other defensive tackle spot, Travis Johnson was shipped off, and the Texans signed Shawn Cody from the Lions to replace him. In our continuing breakdowns of each position group on the Texans, we now take a look at the Texans defensive line.

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Mario Williams (2009)

43 total tackles – 9 sacks

2 forced fumbles – 6 passes defended

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Antonio Smith (2009)

34 total tackles – 4.5 sacks

2 forced fumbles – 1 pass defended

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Amobi Okoye (2009)

38 total tackles – 1.5 sacks

0 forced fumbles – 3 passes defended

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Anthony North -

This season, the Texans will boast a progressed defensive line led by former number one overall pick defensive end Mario Williams. Once a controversial pick for the Texans, Williams has proved to be worthy of that number one selection by being on of the most dominant players at his position. Although he only had 9 sacks last season, Williams continued to be a disruptive force on defense. He also plays very well against the run just as he does pass rushing.  Williams will continue to attract double teams this season just like his has through his career. It will be up to the players around him to take advantage of much the offense’s effort being committed to himself.

Opposite Williams is Antonio Smith, a free agent from 2009 that has played well at left defensive end. Smith has brought a much needed mean personality to the Texans defensive front. Just like Williams, Smith can pass rush, but also plays very well against the run. Even though he hasn’t had the numbers to prove it, he has been a constant game changer in 2009, most notably by rushing Peyton Manning play after play. While he was a big investment for the Texans as a free agent, Smith is living up to the money he’s getting paid.

Still one of the youngest players on the team after 4 seasons is former first round pick defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. After having a very successful rookie season, Okoye hasn’t showed much for what he was drafted for, which was to be a consistent pass rushing tackle. Even though he is another player who has played very well against the run, Okoye hasn’t really been improving the Texans 25th ranked pass rush. In the offseason Okoye has lost up to 20 pounds to increase his speed and quickness, and so far it’s been showing. This will probably be for the better considering he is not in any way known as a power defensive tackle. He’ll need to take advantage of his finesse to be a successful player on defense.

Defensive end Antonio Smith brings a lot of emotion to the young Texans defense. (Source: YardBarker.com)

Next on the line is defensive tackle Shawn Cody, who was brought over as a free agent in 2009 and started most of his games last season. As a former first round pick of the Lions in 2005, Cody has pretty much been a bust in the NFL. Without anything really impressive in his arsenal, Cody is simple a one dimensional player that fills in the last starting spot on the line. He’s big, slow, not very strong, and definitely not a long term option at the position for the Texans.

As a rotation player at end, second year end Connor Barwin will look to increase his role in 2010. Barwin is primarily a pass rushing specialist at this point in his career. While he’ll look widen his specialties in the future, he can definitely take advantage of the skills he has now. After finishing with the most sacks among rookie ends in 2009 with 4.5, he can expect to see more action in the pass rushing rotation this season. Barwin is a player the Texans really need considering the mediocre pass rushing options at end behind him.

As third round pick from April, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell will hopefully bring more pass rushing capabilities to the middle of the Texans defensive line. Mitchell has impressed his coaches a lot during the offseason workouts and now Training Camp. He is very quick off the snap, uses good moves to break free into the pocket, and helps to take pressure off other players on the defensive front. He could and probably will end up starting at some point this season, likely in the place of Shawn Cody.

Also on the roster is undrafted rookie Malcolm Sheppard, a player that is similar to Earl Mitchell and could end up making the team as the final defensive tackle. Also at tackle is Frank Okam, a big player with a lot of power but has yet to show it. Another tackle is DelJuan Robinson, a player who has seen very limited action the past couple seasons with the team. Back up ends Tim Bulman and Jesse Nading will likely be competing for the final defensive end spot, and the team will likely only carry one of them for the following reason.

There is the possibility the the team will be looking to sign an additional veteran defensive end to the roster. There has been the possibility of Aaron Schobel coming to Houston. He could be brought in before the regular season, but doesn’t appear to want to participate in long two-a-days (sounds like Favre). But the reason for bringing him in could also be to help compensate for injuries, such as the lingering problems for Mario Williams or even the news that Tim Bulman may be placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. We should find out shortly on what may happen going forward.

Grade B-
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Jonathan Reyes -

Going into 2009, the Texans were looking for answers along the defensive line to help out Mario Williams, along with getting pressure on opposing Quarterbacks. They brought in Antonio Smith from Super Bowl runner up Arizona, Shaun Cody from Detroit, and Connor Barwin through the draft. Fast forward through 2009, Antonio Smith didn’t have the numbers many Texans fans we’re hoping for in the sack department with only 4.5. However, just because he did not get many sacks does no say he wasn’t disruptive. Smith had 15 quarterback hits and 30 quarterback pressures. Going into his second season with the Texans, look for his numbers across the board to perhaps rise.

As for Smith’s opposite, Mario Williams, it was just another year at the office for him. Even with an arm injury, Williams and his disruptive self had 9 sacks, 17 QB hits and 29 QB pressures. Now that Mario is healthy, look for him to get back to double digit sack numbers, as he did in 2007 and 2008. By the way, don’t you think he’ll be just a little motivated by the owners comments?

Next we have 2nd year guy Connor Barwin, in which looks to improve upon his rookie numbers, in which he posted 4.5 sacks in limited duty. Barwin’s versatility and speed allows the Texans to move him around, giving the defense different looks. Expect the Texans to do exactly that and should he see an increase in playing time, also expect his numbers to increase.

At defensive tackle, we have the young 23 year old Amobi Okoye. While Okoye hasn’t quite lived up to the tenth pick in 2007, he has been good enough to get the job done and to keep his starting position despite additions made to the roster. Last year, Okoye has a career high in tackles with 38 and also had 1.5 sacks. Coming into camp this year, Amobi has slimmed down; down to 283 pounds from 315. Quite a jump. However, Okoye hopes this helps him with his quickness and pass-rushing ability, which isn’t a strong suit of his(only 8 career sacks). Remains to be seen what this weight loss will do to him – help or hurt? Nonetheless, it appears it’s now or never for Okoye.

Amobi’s counterpart at DT is Shaun Cody, who aforementioned came over from Detroit. Cody didn’t have a particularly great year, having only 21 tackles and half a sack. No doubt he’ll be pushed by guys like Earl Mitchell and Malcolm Sheppard, both looking for starting jobs.

Coming in via the 2010 via draft, is hometown product and ex-Wildcat Earl Mitchell. While we don’t know too much about Mitchell, it’s safe to assume he will be challenging for a starter spot. Like most of the other Texans defensive tackles, Mitchell isn’t big but he does have the first quick step to beat opponnents off the ball. He has earned the high praise of the Head Coach during OTAs: “I think he’s going to steal some guys’ lunch money up front,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “They better play hard and they better do a good job, or he’s going to run some of them off. This kid plays extremely hard. He’s not real big, but he’s all about effort, and I’ve been really impressed with what he’s done.”

Others vying for playing time and/or roster spots are Tim Bulman, Pannel Egboh, Tim Jamison, Jesse Nading, Mitch Unrein, Frank Okam, DelJuan Robinson and Malcolm Sheppard.Tim Bulman has been a solid contributor off the bench at Defensive End. Expect no change there. Pannel Egboh, Tim Jamison, Jesse Nading, Mitch Unrein will be fighting for roster spots at the Defensive End spot. Depending on how many Defensive Ends they carry on the roster, some of them will be cut and/or could be bound for the practice squad. If I had to guess, expect them to cut 2 and keep 2. At Defensive Tackle, Okam, Robinson, and Sheppard will be fighting for roster spots. Okam has been given playing time before but is inconsistent. Same could be said for DelJuan Robinson. And lastly, there is the undrafted rookie Malcolm Sheppard out of Arkansas. Like Earl Mitchell, Sheppard has earned high praise from the Head Coach, with him saying he has been a “pleasant surprise” and “is making a good push to make the football team”. Expect exactly that – Mitchell will make a push to make this team.

Overall, with the Texans having a young and inexperienced secondary for the most part, they are counting on the Defensive Line to get the pressure on the QB, making it easier on the secondary. It’s also not to forget at picking up where they left off last year at stopping the run, ranking tied for 10th in rushing yards allowed per game. If they can get pressure AND stop the run as they did last year, that will go a long ways in determing how their season shakes out. Let’s hope it’s for the better.

Grade B-

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Tags: Aaron Schobel Amobi Okoye Antonio Smith Breakdown Connor Barwin Defensive End Defensive Tackle Earl Mitchell Jesse Nading Malcolm Sheppard Mario Williams Raheem Brock Shawn Cody Tim Bulman

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