This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.
The Texans are switching to a 3-4 under Wade Phillips, but that doesn't necessarily mean a change of personnel is in store at nose tackle.
Since Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator in January, he has said repeatedly that he likes Earl Mitchell (6-3, 291) and Shaun Cody (6-4, 304) at the nose. That confidence has been met with skepticism in the media since both players are much smaller than the prototypical space-eating 3-4 nose tackle.
"I think that's a common misconception, that they have to be giant players to play 3-4, and we've been playing with guys that aren't giant players," Phillips said. "Jay Ratliff (a three-time Pro Bowler under Phillips in Dallas) is about 275 at nose guard. So it's the player himself and what he can do. If he can stunt a lot and he's quick, then we use him that way."
The Texans re-signed Cody, a six-year veteran, in March. Mitchell, a third-round draft pick in 2010, is coming off a promising rookie season.
"There isn't a template of a guy (at the nose), one certain size, height/weight ratio," Texans general manager Rick Smith said in February at the NFL Scouting Combine. "(Phillips) has done it with guys who are the big, massive guys. He's done it with guys and had success with guys who are a little bit undersized or smaller. I think Earl Mitchell is a guy who can play the nose for us. I think his development last year was good – very pleased with what he did and expecting him to take a jump that you expect guys to make from year open to year two."
With less than a week until the 2011 NFL Draft, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post examine potential nose tackle options for the Texans in an exclusive feature for HoustonTexans.com:
National Football Post analysis
After the Texans gave up 16 rushing touchdowns (seventh-most in NFL) and recorded only 30 sacks (23rd in NFL) in 2010, it's clear that Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams could use some help on the interior defensive line. Should the Texans choose to address this need come draft weekend, here are some potential options that would fit Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
DAY 1 DEFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 1.11
1. Nick Fairley, Auburn (6-3, 291, 4.86):A dominant inside presence who racked up 12 sacks en route to 2010 All-American honors, there's an outside chance Fairley could be on the board at No. 11 for the Texans due to concerns over his character and work ethic. The former Tiger is a tall, long-armed, well-strapped-together kid with a thick lower half who displays only average bend when asked to sit into his stance. However, for a guy his size, Fairley is very explosive off the football and is quickly able to get into opposing linemen. In addition, this guy does a great job extending his arms into contact.
DAY 2 DEFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 2.10 AND 3.9
1. Kenrick Ellis, Hampton (6-4, 346, 5.28):In terms of body mass, Ellis falls somewhere between human being and mountain range. A two-time All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selection, Ellis racked up an impressive 94 tackles and 15.0 tackles for loss in 2010 to put himself on the national radar. He possesses an explosive first step, does a nice job keeping his pad level down through contact when trying to knife his way up the field and closes well away from his frame. Ellis lacks ideal awareness off the snap and is a bit inconsistent getting off the ball on time, but he uses his length well to fight through contact and get into the backfield.
2. Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss (6-1, 335, 5.29):Powe recorded a career-high three sacks for the Rebels in 2010 despite missing two games due to injury. He showcases a good first step for his size and has the power to really jolt an opposing lineman on contact. Powe isn't real fluid laterally as a pass rusher, as he is more of a push-pull guy, but he's consistently able to generate leverage for himself off the snap and overwhelm blockers one-on-one. He will more than likely be on the board when the Texans hit the clock in the third round.
DAY 3 DEFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 4.8, 5.7, 6.13, 7.11 AND 7.51
1. Sione Fua, Stanford (6-1, 308, 5.28):Voted second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010, Fua posted a career-high five sacks for the 12-1 Cardinal last season despite missing two games due to injury. A thick, stout defensive lineman who possesses a solid first step off the snap for his size, Fua does a nice job keeping his base down into blocks, extending his arms and creating a strong punch on contact. The 22-year-old isn't a dynamic pass rusher, but he can win for you inside as a NT on first and second down. Fua has the potential to become a starting nose tackle in a 3-4 system a few years down the road.
2. Anthony Gray, Southern Mississippi (6-0, 317, 5.13):Gray recently put the finishing touches on a four-year career at Southern Miss that consisted of 117 tackles and 10 sacks. He's a shorter, thickly built interior lineman who possesses a good first step off the snap for his size and displays the initial burst to threaten gaps up the field. However, Gray lacks ideal length and will struggle to maintain balance through contact. In our opinion, he looks more like a late-round player who will have to fight for a roster spot.