Coinciding with our Texans TV 2009 season preview series with "Voice of the Texans" Marc Vandermeer, HoustonTexans.com takes a position-by-position look at the Texans in the days leading up to training camp. Our seventh position preview looks at the Texans' defensive backs.
Key players: CB Jacques Reeves (2008: 49 tackles, 4 INT, 1 INT for TD), FS Eugene Wilson (52 Tackles, 2 INT), CB Dunta Robinson (38 Tackles, 2 INT)
Additions: CB Glover Quin (fourth-round draft pick, New Mexico), CB Brice McCain (sixth-round draft pick, Utah), S Troy Nolan (seventh-round draft pick, Arizona State), SS John Busing (free agent, Cincinnati Bengals)
Subtractions: S Will Demps (released), S C.C. Brown (free agency), CB DeMarcus Faggins (free agency)
2008 breakdown: Robinson, a mainstay in the Texans' secondary since being drafted in the first round in 2004, made his return from a knee and hamstring injury when he took the field in Week 7 against Detroit. Houston went 5-1 in the final six games of the season with Robinson in the starting lineup, ranking eight in the league in points allowed per game over that span.
Reeves had a standout season in his first year with the Texans, leading the team with four interceptions. The only Texans secondary member to start every game in 2008, Reeves also returned the team's only interception for a touchdown in Week 9 against Minnesota. Cornerback Fred Bennett pulled down two interceptions in 2008 in his second NFL season.
At safety, both Wilson and Nick Ferguson made an impact in their first Texans seasons and are expected to start in 2009. A two-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots, Wilson led all defensive backs with 63 tackles, good enough for third on the team. Ferguson, a heavy hitter at the strong safety position, started nine games in 2008 and finished with 52 tackles.
Rookie Dominique Barber also impressed in limited playing time near the end of the season, recording a key sack in the final game of the season against Chicago.
The big question: When will Dunta Robinson hit the field for the Texans in 2009?
Much of the offseason attention on the Texans' secondary focused on the contract status of Robinson, who was named the Texans' franchise player Feb. 19. Robinson, who seeks a long-term contract, decided to forgo participation in the team's offseason workouts and has indicated that he may miss part or all of training camp before signing his one-year franchise tender.
Despite the contract uncertainty, Vandermeer believes that Robinson eventually will reprise his key role as the Texans' ace cornerback in 2009.
"I expect him to be a starting cornerback on this team in 2009," Vandermeer said. "What is important is that he gets in with enough time in practice to be ready to go for opening day so they won't have to limit his snaps (on opening day) against the New York Jets."
Camp battle to watch: Nickel corner
Bennett, coming off of a strong campaign in 2008, is the incumbent. But he'll see a strong challenge from Quin, a fourth-round draft pick out of New Mexico.
Another name to watch is Antwaun Molden, who is working hard to recover from a foot injury that ended his 2008 rookie season in time for training camp. Molden was a special teams standout last year with 19 tackles.
Roster size (2009 vs. 2008): Heading into Week 1 of the 2008 season, the Texans had 10 defensive backs on the active roster: Reeves, Bennett, Faggins, Wilson, Molden, Barber, Demps, Ferguson, Brown and Brandon Harrison. Derrick Roberson was on the practice squad.
It would be reasonable to expect a similar number of defensive backs on the roster this year, but the key battles for the final spots on the roster from this position group will come down to play on special teams. Pay special attention to battles between McCain and Molden, as well as Nolan, who was a second-day pick in 2009 but has performed well in the offseason.
Final thought: Perhaps no 2009 rookie has shone quite like Quin, who highlighted offseason OTAs and mini-camp with tough-nosed defense and a number of acrobatic interceptions. With the backup corner positions still far from locked down, Quin may very well nose into the lineup with a strong training camp.
"It'll be interesting to see how that all plays out with the nickel corner spot on this team," Vandermeer said. "But I think Glover Quin is going to be heard from on this team, later if not sooner."