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2008 Rewind: Offensive line


One of the biggest moves the Texans made in 2008 was hiring zone blocking guru Alex Gibbs as the assistant head coach. Gibbs has made a career out of improving a team's run game and he did just that in Houston, as the offensive line made huge strides in his zone scheme.

Last season, the Texans carried the ball 432 times for 1,846 yards, compared to 383 yards for 1,416 yards in 2007. The team averaged 4.3 yard per carry and 115.4 yards rushing per game, which was good enough for thirteenth in the NFL.

The Texans struggled in pass protection early on and allowed 32 sacks on the year. However, they did see the maturation of starting rookie left tackle Duane Brown, who became a valuable member of an offensive line that was the foundation of the NFL's third-ranked offense.

Looking back

The Texans' offensive line had three new starters last season, beginning with Brown, the 26th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The rookie faced a baptism of fire, going against two of the NFL's top-five defenses (Pittsburgh and Tennessee) in the month of September. However, Brown settled down, improved his technique and began to hold his own against some of the top defensive ends in the league.

"He progressed a lot like we thought he would," offensive line coach John Benton said. "When he started out the season, it's a different game at this level and it took him a while to adjust, and we knew it would. But I thought he did nicely all the way through, and I had the same conversation with him (after the season). He really finished up being a pretty consistent performer for us."

Left guard Chester Pitts, a second-round pick in 2002, served as the anchor of this young line and continued his streak of being the only player to start every game in team history.

{QUOTE}Making the calls at center was Chris Myers, who joined the team via a trade with the Broncos. Myers had played in a similar zone scheme in Denver, and his athleticism and agility made him a natural fit for Gibb's offense.

Mike Brisiel, who was signed off of the practice squad in late 2007, started every game at right guard and was key to the success of the run game.

Right tackle Eric Winston, a third-round pick in the 2006 draft, also took his running-blocking skills to the next level. He helped to open up huge plays for running back Steve Slaton, including Slaton's 34-yard scamper in the Texans' 13-12 win over Tennessee.

11th-year veteran Ephraim Salaam served as the primary backup option at swing tackle, often relieving Brown every third series.

Under Gibbs, the Texans' offensive line developed into one of the most consistent and cohesive units on the team. Not one starter missed a game because of injury, and all five worked together to get to the second level and pave the way for Slaton, who finished the year with 1,282 yards rushing.

"Those guys as a group, they won't leave the field," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "I know we've been fortunate they've been healthy, but as a group, that's part of their bond. They're not going to leave the field. They're going to play together.

"As I've said from the start, they can become the strength of the team. There's no doubt in my mind that they have kind of headed in that direction. And the longer those guys play together and work together and stay together, the better you are."

Looking ahead

All five starting offensive linemen will return to the lineup in 2009, and Kubiak thinks they could be strongest part of the team.

The unit excelled in the zone scheme late in the season, and Brown will have a year of experience under his belt and should be much improved in pass protection.

"I know Chris is locked in for a while," Kubiak said. "Eric's locked in for a while. Of course, Duane's locked in for a while.

"Chester and Mike, I don't know their situation offhand. But believe me, as well as they've played and as good of workers as they are and people on top of that, it's our job to keep them together for a long time."

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