2010 Path to the Draft: Safety

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Earl Thomas snared 8 interceptions for the Longhorns during the 2009 season.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Texans organization. The article is part of our 2010 Path to the Draft coverage presented by FOX Sports Houston.

Strong safety Bernard Pollard signed with the Texans in late September of 2009, debuted against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4 and was a force at the back end of the defense for the next 13 weeks. He had spent the first three years of his career with the Chiefs but found himself out of a job after training camp wrapped with Kansas City. Despite missing the first three games, Pollard was able to crack the century mark in total tackles (102) and pick off four passes.

The free safety spot was a different story, as injuries saw four different players start games at the position, including John Busing, Nick Ferguson, Dominique Barber and Eugene Wilson.

Wilson started eight games and finished with 29 tackles, a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble. He and Barber are both under contract for 2010.

Busing and Ferguson, meanwhile, are unrestricted free agents and haven't signed with anyone yet.

In a postseason press conference, owner Bob McNair said the Texans "could use another safety," so it's likely that the club will draft one later this week.

Analysis from the National Football Post
In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post examine the safety group as it relates to the Texans and the 2010 draft.

Synopsis

One area of concern the Texans will no doubt look to upgrade during next week's draft will be the secondary. Houston ranked 18th against the pass in 2009 (217.9 yds/gm) and needs to find at least one aggressive ball-hawk who can come up with the big play and turn the momentum. The Texans ranked 20th in interceptions last year (14), so acquiring a quality, center-field type safety should be high on their list of priorities.

Players to keep an eye on come draft day:

1. Earl Thomas, Texas: The 20-year-old Thomas is a bit undersized (5-10, 208) for the safety position, but he knows how to ball-hawk and make plays. Thomas recorded eight interceptions for the 13-1 Longhorns in 2009 in addition to racking up 63 tackles (43 solo). He's fluid in coverage and does a nice job keeping his feet under him, staying patient in his drop and cleanly changing directions. He gets up to speed very quickly, has a good first step and consistently is able to find the ball. Thomas put his speed on display when he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at February's combine and has the skill set and intangibles to warrant a first-round draft pick.

2. Major Wright, Florida: Having spent his Saturdays covering the best the SEC has to offer, Wright (5-11, 206) is a battle-tested safety with some explosive speed (4.47 40-yard dash). He showcases a good first step in coverage and has the ability to quickly click and close on the ball. He takes good angles toward the receiver, wraps up well on contact and generates enough power to disengage the ball from his man. But Wright isn't a consistent downhill tackler in the run game, something the Texans could use. The 21-year-old junior recorded 26 stops (24 solo) and three interceptions for the 13-1 Gators last season.

3. Chad Jones, LSU: Another SEC safety with a world of upside, Jones (6-2, 221) amassed 73 tackles (37 solo) and three interceptions for the 9-4 Tigers in 2009. He's a unique athlete who was a star on the LSU football team this year and doubled as a pitcher on the baseball team. He's a big, physically-built kid who showcases natural body control when asked to break down in space and is a solid wrap-up tackler. He looks natural when asked to attack the line of scrimmage as a downhill runner and does a nice job sidestepping blocks and keeping himself clean through traffic. Jones needs some polish as he spent a good portion of his college years playing baseball, but his athleticism and skill set make him worth it.

4. Nate Allen, South Florida: One of the lesser-known free safeties in this year's talent pool, Allen (6-0, 207) recorded 80 stops (39 solo) and five interceptions for the 8-5 Bulls last season. A well-built safety with good instincts, Allen always seems to play within himself. He takes good angles toward the football in the run game and is a solid wrap-up tackler in the open field. Allen isn't overly explosive and lacks elite range in the secondary, but reads his keys quickly and is always in position to make a play. He displays good fluidity in his drop and does a nice job keeping his feet under him and driving on the ball. Allen may not be a household name, but he's going to fly off the board before the end of the second round.

SATURDAY SPECIAL (intriguing players likely to be drafted on Saturday (Rounds 4-7) of the draft):

1. Robert Johnson, Utah: The one word you would use to describe Johnson's senior season would be playmaker. In addition to racking up 66 tackles for the Utes in 2009, Johnson (6-1, 200) recorded six interceptions, which he returned for a combined total of 140 yards and one score. A tall, long-armed defender who generates impressive power on contact and knows how to disengage the ball from his man, Johnson plays as a center field safety and does a great job reading the action in front of him and taking proper angles toward the ball.

2. Randy Phillips, Miami, Fla: Phillips (6-1, 210) recorded 53 stops (35 solo) and two interceptions for the Hurricanes in 2009 despite playing in just nine games. He showcases good physicality when attacking the line of scrimmage and is a tough, hard-nosed safety. He displays good power as a tackler and does a nice job breaking down in space, taking good angles toward the ball, and wrapping up on contact. Phillips gets a bit overzealous in the secondary and will bite on play fakes and take himself out of position at times. He showcases decent fluidity in his drop and possesses the athleticism to play SS in an NFL secondary but needs to continue to develop his instincts.

For more from the National Football Post, follow @JoeFortenbaugh and @WesBunting on Twitter*

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