2010 season in review: Offensive line


Top performers:C Chris Myers, LG Wade Smith, RT Eric Winston (16 starts apiece)

Newcomers:Smith (free agent), G Shelley Smith (rookie, sixth-round draft pick)

Major injuries: RG Mike Brisiel (season-ending calf injury in Week 14)

Position coach:John Benton (7th NFL season, 5th with Texans), Frank Pollack (4th NFL season, 4th with Texans)

Year in review:For the third consecutive season, the Texans' offensive line paved the way for the best offense in team history. The Texans ranked third in offense (386.6 yards per game), including fourth in passing (259.0 yards per game) and seventh in rushing (127.6 yards per game). They were one of three teams in the NFL with a top-10 rushing and passing offense.

A year after protecting the league's leading passer in Matt Schaub, the O-line blocked for the league's leading rusher in Arian Foster. Foster ran for a franchise-record 1,616 yards, and the Texans had a franchise-record 2,042 rushing yards as a team.

Myers, a sixth-year veteran, started all 16 games at center for the third consecutive season. Healthy after playing through a high-ankle sprain in 2009, Myers was lauded by Benton for having an "outstanding" season as the quarterback of the line.

Wade Smith started all 16 games at left guard in his first year as a Texan. The eighth-year veteran signed as a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played primarily at right guard and center. Smith won a starting job in training camp and became a vital addition to the Texans' line.

Brisiel and Antoine Caldwell rotated at right guard in the first half of the season. Brisiel eventually won the starting job before landing on injured reserve with a calf injury on Dec. 15. Caldwell, a third-round draft pick in 2009, started seven games in 2010. Brisiel, a third-year pro, started nine.

At right tackle, Winston started all 16 games to extend his streak to 71 consecutive starts. A third-round pick in 2006, Winston is starting to garner respect as one of the better right tackles in the league.

Duane Brown, the Texans' first-round pick in 2008, started 12 games at left tackle. Brown missed four games in Weeks 3-6 for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He has started all 44 games played in his career at left tackle.

Fifth-year veteran Rashad Butler, the Texans' backup at left and right tackle, started for Brown and fared well during his suspension. Butler's first-career start came against Dallas in Week 3. The Texans went 2-2 with him in the starting lineup.

Kasey Studdard saw action in four games, primarily on special teams. Studdard started 14 games at left guard in 2009. Shelley Smith, a sixth-round draft pick out of Colorado State, backed up both guard positions on the line.

Season highlight:Week 1 vs. Indianapolis. The offensive line showed its physicality in the 2010 opener, opening holes for Foster's 231-yard rushing day and the team's 257 total rushing yards. Schaub attempted only five passes in the second half, when the Texans dominated the time of possession for 18:48 to literally run away with a 34-24 victory.

The Texans' line helped produce three 200-yard rushing days on the season (257 vs. Indianapolis, 249 at Oakland and 244 vs. Jacksonville), something the team had only done once before in its history.

Season lowlight:Week 5 vs. N.Y. Giants. The Texans had a season-low 195 yards of offense in a 34-10 loss, their most lopsided loss of the season. They didn't have a single drive of longer than 35 yards and had the ball for only 21:09 of 60 minutes.

Foster was limited to 25 rushing yards on 11 carries. The Giants had five tackles for loss. Schaub was 16-of-34 for 196 yards and was sacked three times, including twice by defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Schaub fumbled twice, losing one, and was hit seven times.

Notable number:4.83 – Yards per carry for the Texans in 2010, which ranked third in the NFL and set a franchise record. The team's previous best yards-per-carry average was 4.27 in 2008.

Key splits:The Texans ranked fifth in the NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone after ranking 26th in 2008 and 12th in 2009. They scored on 62.3 percent (33-of-53) of their red zone possessions under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

The Texans came away with at least three points 96.2 percent of the time (51-of-53) they reached the red zone, which ranked second only to the Colts (96.4 percent).

In the final eight games of the season, the Texans' offensive line limited opponents to only 11 sacks. They gave up 21 sacks in the first eight games of the year. Since 2007, the Texans have allowed a sack on only 4.7 percent of their passing plays (111 of 2,362), which is fifth-best in the NFL.

Quotable:"I was really impressed with Wade. I've been watching Wade for a number of years and saw him improve over the course of his career. He's been a guy that we've targeted several times throughout his career as a potential free agent acquisition. The thing that was interesting to me about Wade (was) at the end of the year, I meet with all the players. And to a man, all of our offensive linemen said, 'Hey, we were a better unit, and a lot of it had to do with Wade's addition.'"
- Texans general manager Rick Smith, at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, on Wade Smith

Looking ahead:The Texans' offensive line will return largely intact in 2011. Brisiel is the only starter not under contract, but he'll be a restricted free agent and was tendered at reportedly a second-round level.

Butler, an important backup, also is impending free agent. He reportedly was tendered at a third-round level. The fifth-year veteran will be restricted if the requirement for becoming unrestricted remains at six years. If the requirement for becoming unrestricted returns to four years, as it was before 2010, Butler will be unrestricted and free to sign with any team.

Studdard was not tendered after the season. He'll be an unrestricted free agent.

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