2010 Position preview: Defensive line

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Mario Williams (90) led the team in sacks in 2009, and looks to do so again in 2010.

The following article contains excerpts from the 2010 Houston Texans Yearbook, the Texans' official season preview magazine, that goes on sale July 30 at Texans Training Camp, presented by Comcast, and the Go Texan Store at Reliant Stadium.**

DEFENSIVE LINE
Who's here: DE Mario Williams (projected starter), DE Antonio Smith (projected starter), DT Shaun Cody (projected starter), DT Amobi Okoye (projected starter), DE Connor Barwin, DE Tim Bulman, DE Pannel Egboh, DE Tim Jamison, DE Jesse Nading, DT Earl Mitchell, DT Frank Okam, DT DelJuan Robinson, DT Malcolm Sheppard

Who's new: Mitchell (rookie draft pick), Sheppard (rookie free agent)

Who's gone: DT Jeff Zgonina (free agent)

Defensive end Mario Williams had a team-high nine sacks and two forced fumbles last season on his way to a second consecutive Pro Bowl. Still, the Texans would like to see even more production from the 2006 No. 1 overall draft pick, who was bothered by a shoulder injury for much of last season after posting double-digit sacks in 2007 and 2008.

Defensive end Antonio Smith, signed as a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals last offseason, started 15 games and tied rookie Connor Barwin for second on the team with 4.5 sacks. Smith lined up at defensive tackle in passing situations, with Barwin coming on the field at defensive end.

Barwin's athleticism – he was a former tight end and basketball player in college at Cincinnati – allows defensive coordinator Frank Bush to stand him up like a linebacker and give the defense different looks. The Texans are hopeful that Barwin can be an impact player off the edge in his second season.

At defensive tackle, Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody helped the Texans' defense finish tied for 10th in rushing yards allowed per game in 2009. Okoye, who had a career-high 38 tackles and 1.5 sacks, reported to OTAs at a slimmed-down 283 pounds in an effort to boost his quickness and pass-rushing productivity. Cody, a 2009 free agent addition from the Detroit Lions, started 13 games last season and had 21 tackles.

The Texans drafted defensive tackle Earl Mitchell in the third round out of Arizona to help fortify their interior. A Houston native, Mitchell (6-3, 300) was named All-Pac-10 second-team in 2009 after recording 6.5 sacks.

"I think he's going to steal some guys' lunch money up front," coach Gary Kubiak said. "They better play hard and they better do a good job, or he's going to run some of them off. This kid plays extremely hard. He's not real big, but he's all about effort, and I've been really impressed with what he's done."

Other tackles vying for playing time are rookie Malcolm Sheppard, an undrafted free agent from Arkansas, and third-year veterans DelJuan Robinson and Frank Okam. Tim Bulman, who had 18 tackles last season and four sacks in 2008, leads a group of reserve defensive ends that also includes Tim Jamison and Jesse Nading.

Spotlight on: Amobi Okoye Coaches' commentary
"He's dropped weight. He wanted to play lighter this year. He thinks it will help him with his quickness and speed, and it definitely did during the OTAs. What we've got to do with him, we've got to get him where he's playing more physical in running situations and then make the plays when he's back there. He had quite a few chances last year to make some sacks and then for whatever reason didn't end up doing it, so we're hoping to get him to that next level."
- Defensive line coach Bill Kollar

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