2008 Rewind: Secondary

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Cornerback Dunta Robinson made an emotional return from injury in Week 7 against Detroit. He will be a free agent this offseason.

With a mix of young and veteran players, the Texans' secondary overcame a season-ending injury to safety C.C. Brown and a season-beginning injury to cornerback Dunta Robinson to help shore up the team's passing defense in 2008.

The Texans allowed 213.9 passing yards per game this season, ranking 17th in the NFL. That was an improvement over 2007, when Houston ranked 25th in pass defense (230.1 yards/game). But only six teams had fewer than the Texans' 12 interceptions this season, and the Texans ranked 26th in passing touchdowns allowed with 24.

Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke was dismissed after the season, and his position is likely to remain vacant until the Texans hire a new defensive coordinator. Defensive backs assistant Ray Rhodes is among the possibilities to coach the secondary next season.

Looking back

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Cornerback:** Jacques Reeves, signed from the Dallas Cowboys before the season, was the only member of the Texans' secondary to start all 16 games. He led the team with four interceptions, returning one for a 44-yard touchdown on Nov. 2 at Minnesota. Reeves also had 50 tackles and a team-high 19 passes defensed, a testament to his ability to keep pace with most any receiver in the league.

Robinson, who suffered career-threatening leg injuries in the midst of a Pro Bowl-caliber 2007 season, came off of the Physically Unable to Perform list in Week 7 and returned to the starting lineup five weeks later at Cleveland. The hard-hitting, emotional leader of the secondary recorded two interceptions and 38 tackles in only 11 games. The Texans went 5-1 in games with Robinson in the starting lineup.

Cornerbacks Fred Bennett and Demarcus Faggins both played in every game and split starting duties before Robinson returned. Bennett, who as a rookie in 2007 led the Texans with three interceptions, came to life at the end of 2008 with two picks in the final six games.

Rookie cornerback Antwaun Molden, a third-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky, saw limited action on defense but was a special teams demon, finishing second on the team with 19 special teams stops along with a fumble recovery.

Safety: Free safety Will Demps and strong safety C.C. Brown were the opening-day starters, but neither retained that role past the fifth game of the season. Brown had 15 tackles through three games but was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 30 with a broken arm. Demps, a Pro Bowl alternate in 2007, made 30 tackles in the first five games before being relegated to backup and special teams duty for the remainder of the season.

Veteran free safety Eugene Wilson, who spent the previous five seasons with the New England Patriots, supplanted Demps in the rotation. Wilson started 10 games and led the Texans' secondary with 63 tackles while showing good ball skills with two interceptions and seven passes defensed.

Strong safety Nick Ferguson, a ninth-year veteran and former Denver Broncos standout, played in 14 games with nine starts in his first season in Houston. Ferguson provided a physical presence in run support and finished the year with 52 tackles and a forced fumble.

Second-year pro Brandon Harrison, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, played in all but one game and started six times at strong safety. He wound up with 30 tackles. Rookie safety Dominique Barber from Minnesota played mostly on special teams but stepped up on defense in the final two games, recording three tackles, a pass defensed and his first-career sack.

*Looking forward *

Six Texans defensive backs will be free agents this offseason, most notably Robinson. Both he and the Texans have publicly stated a desire to keep No. 23 in a Houston uniform for the long term. If those words come to fruition, the average age of the Texans' top three corners (Robinson, Reeves and Bennett) will be 26 on opening day next season.

Molden was brought along slowly as a small-school rookie but showed that he has the physical tools to become a valuable contributor in the secondary. Faggins, an original member of the Texans, is a free agent. The Texans signed two cornerbacks near the end of the season who could make an impact in 2009: Matterral Richardson, a first-year player from Arkansas, and David Pittman, a third-year player from Northwestern (La.) State.

Other free agents (all unrestricted) are Brown, Ferguson, Wilson and defensive back Jimmy Williams. That leaves Demps, Harrison and Barber as the only safeties under contract, which means the Texans will have to decide whether to retain some or all of their free agent safeties or look for help at the position through free agency or the NFL draft.

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For a list of all of the Texans' 2009 free agents, click here.

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