Texans Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line


Dec 10, 2012; Foxborough, MA USA; Houston Texans nose tackle Earl Mitchell (92) runs onto the field during introductions prior to a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 42-14. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Looking to the defense of the Houston Texas before camp starts, their defensive line is a solid group that should continue to be one of the better defenses in the NFL.

Last season, the defensive line was a big part of their being able to hold opponents to 225.8 yards per game passing and 97.5 yards of rushing per game, good enough for seventh-best in the NFL.

The defensive line is led by third-year pro J.J. Watt (left defensive end), the 11th overall pick in the ’11 draft. In ’12, Watt had 81 combined tackles (69 solo) with 20.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, as he was the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. For his career, Watt has 26 sacks and 137 combined tackles.

Jan 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) is introduced before the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

At the conclusion on the June mini camp, Texans’ defensive line coach Bill Kollar told houstontexans.com, “Obviously, J.J. had a great year last year. We’re hoping that he can definitely take off from that. Did a heck of a job in the run game, made a lot of plays in the backfield. Rushing the passer, he did an outstanding job. He led the league in sacks last year and batted balls.”

Watt is the most important piece of the Texans’ 3-4 defense as he increased his overall totals from his first year to his second year. The Texans will need him to continue that trend going into his third season.

No. 1 on the nose tackle depth chart is Earl Mitchell, and the right defensive end is Antonio Smith.

Mitchell is entering his fourth season, drafted 81st overall in the ’10 draft. At nose tackle, he not only opened up the field of vision for the linebackers, but in his three seasons, he’s totaled 86 combined tackles (51 solo) with two sacks, coming in his first two seasons. He’s played in 47 regular-season games, 16 in each of the past two seasons. Mitchell also forced one fumble in ’12.

“We’ve always been impressed with the way Earl’s played,” Kollar told houstontexans.com. “He always gives good effort and good chase. The nose position is a tough position, but I think that Earl’s ready to take over the reins and become a starter. We’re pleased to have him.”

Smith will be playing in his ninth NFL season, playing with the Texans since the ’09 season. Last year, Smith totaled 30 combined tackles and seven sacks. He forced two fumbles, recovering two.

For his career, Smith has played in 124 games, playing a full regular season in seven of his eight seasons, missing four games his rookie year in ’05 with the Arizona Cardinals.

“Antonio’s really quick, and he plays a lot stronger than you’d ever think for his size,” Kollar said to houstontexans.com. “He weighs between 280-285, but plays a lot stronger in there. He really has good quickness rushing the pass and good hands and stuff.”

From looking at the current No. 1 players on the depth chart, the Texans have good durability at defensive line for their 3-4 scheme, coached by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Others on the defensive line include defensive ends Tim Jamison, Sam Montgomery, Jared Crick, Keith Browner and David Hunter; and defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Chris Jones.