This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.
The Texans parted ways with both of their starting safeties after the 2010 season. Free safety Eugene Wilson was released, while strong safety Bernard Pollard, the team's leading tackler in 2010, was not tendered and will become an unrestricted free agent.
Still in the fold are Troy Nolan and Dominique Barber, two young safeties who were late-round picks. Nolan, a seventh-round pick in 2009, had three interceptions last season in primarily a reserve role. Barber, a sixth-round pick in 2008, has limited starting experience at free and strong safety.
Nolan is a candidate to start at strong safety in 2011, and the Texans are considering moving cornerback Glover Quin to free safety. One way or another, safety is clearly an area that needs to be addressed this offseason.
"It's a key position for our team," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said at the Combine in February. "We think Troy Nolan has made a lot of ground up. We think he has a chance to be an excellent starter. There has been some talk of us moving Glover. We'll see what happens with our football team."
Texans general manager Rick Smith played safety at Purdue, so he understands the significance of the position.
"We've got some options there," Smith said at the Combine. "I think what we look for is what we look for with all positions. We're looking for good football players who are athletic and have speed and range and make plays on the ball. We need to make more plays on the ball from a defensive perspective, and so we're looking for those kind of guys and smart guys and guys that will put the team first."
In an exclusive feature for HoustonTexans.com, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post examine potential safety options for the Texans in the 2011 draft:
National Football Post analysis
As we discussed on Thursday, the Texans finished dead last in the NFL in pass defense last season (267.5 yds/gm) en route to a 6-10 campaign. So it should come as no surprise if Houston decides to upgrade the secondary during this year's draft. However, unlike last season, the safety position is devoid of elite first-round talent.
If the Texans want to land a safety in this year's draft, they'd be better served making a move on Friday or Saturday instead of reaching in the first round.
DAY 2 SAFETY OPTIONS AT 2.10 AND 3.9
1. Rahim Moore, UCLA (5-11, 202, 4.59): There's an outside shot that Moore could slip into the back end of the first round, but chances are the 2010 first-team All-Pac 10 selection will hear his name called on Friday during the second round. Moore recorded an impressive 14 interceptions during his three seasons as a Bruin, including a ridiculous 10 picks in 2009. He possesses good instincts when asked to fill the alley, can attack downhill and does a nice job breaking down in space. The 21-year-old takes good angles, uses his length to get into the frame of ball carriers and does a nice job of wrapping up. Most analysts would probably agree that he's the best safety prospect in this year's draft.
2. Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson (5-10, 195, 4.48): A safety/corner hybrid with great footwork who showcases the ability to take good angles toward the football, Gilchrist was a four-year letter winner at Clemson who led the defense in tackles (107) back in 2009. He exhibits good balance when asked to redirect laterally and is able to get out of his breaks and up to speed quickly. Gilchrist displays good range in the deep half, tracks the football well sideline-to-sideline and possesses impressive ball skills and body control in jump ball situations.
DAY 3 SAFETY OPTIONS AT 4.8, 5.7, 6.13, 7.11 AND 7.51
1. Tyler Sash, Iowa (6-0, 211, 4.62):After racking up 13 interceptions in three years with the Hawkeyes, Sash decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft. A 2010 first team All-Big 10 selection, Sash isn't the most athletically gifted safety, but he has good instincts, finds the football and knows how to make plays on the ball. His range is a bit of a concern and he needs to work on his tackling, but the 23-year-old should be able to contribute on special teams as a rookie before possibly working his way into the starting lineup.
2. Chris Culliver, South Carolina (6-0, 199, 4.40):Culliver's 2010 campaign was cut short due to injuries, but the 22-year-old is still considered by the National Football Post to be the second-best free safety prospect in this year's draft. He's a tall, lean safety who displays natural cover skills and range in the deep half. Culliver does a nice job keeping his feet under him, is fluid changing direction and has the type of speed to make plays sideline-to-sideline. However, he has a tendency to get a bit high in his drop, which at times takes away from his initial burst out of his breaks. Will likely begin his career as a special teams player who contributes in nickel packages.