Leading up to the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 11, we'll be profiling each position group on the 2011 Texans. Each article will contain excerpts from the 2011 Houston Texans Yearbook, the team's official season preview magazine that is on sale now at the Go Texan Store at Reliant Stadium and online right here**.
Lineup: RE Antonio Smith (starter), NT Shaun Cody (starter), LE J.J. Watt (starter), NT Earl Mitchell, DE Tim Jamison, DE Tim Bulman
New additions: Watt (draft pick)
Departures: DT Amobi Okoye (released), DL Damione Lewis (released)
For a team switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the Texans have a surprising amount of continuity on their defensive line.
It's the only position group on defense in which they don't have a new coach, with assistant head coach/defensive line Bill Kollar returning for his third season. The only new player is Watt, their first-round pick out of Wisconsin.
Watt is penciled in as the starting left end, a five-technique between the right tackle and tight end. Kollar says the Texans are "expecting to get big things" right away from the 11th overall pick.
Smith, an eighth-year veteran who played in a 3-4 in Arizona earlier in his career, will start at right end. He'll be a three-technique, between the left guard and left tackle, which will allow him to utilize his strength against the run. Like Watt, he'll move inside to tackle in passing situations.
"We're not going to have eight (defenders) in the box often, so they'll have to do an excellent job of stopping the run," Kollar said of Watt and Smith. "A five-technique in a 3-4 scheme is almost like a defensive tackle in a 4-3. These guys have to be good run-down players on first and second down."
In base packages, Cody and Mitchell will rotate at nose tackle. Both players are smaller than what many perceive to be the ideal size for a nose tackle, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips views them as a perfect fit for his one-gap scheme.
Jamison, a third-year end, and Bulman, a fifth-year end, provide depth behind Smith and Watt.
Assistant head coach/DL Bill Kollar on Smith: "He's going to be playing a position that he played in Arizona more than he played here. It sort of gets him back inside a little bit more. I think it's going to really end up helping him and helping our defense. He made a lot of his plays in Arizona from the inside position and also ended up doing that here the last couple years when he played inside for us. He does a heck of a job of slipping blocks. It's not like he's a 320-pounder that's able to take those double teams on all the time, but he does a heck of a job playing with leverage and has a real good feel for slipping blocks and still staying in his gap and stuff."
Kollar on Cody: "Shaun has played here the last couple years and has done a good job for us. Plays with good leverage, plays hard. Not the fastest guy, but does a good job of working to get to the ball, so we're really looking forward to him being able to still plug up the middle like he has over the last couple of years. The 3-4 defense that we're playing is not like a two-gap type defense where you need that 350-pound nose man to be able to just clog up and take on two blocks. We're more still of a one-gap type defense, so we feel that the nose man playing in this scheme is really the same as it was over the last couple of years on how our nose man played."
Kollar on Watt: "We're excited to get J.J. in here and get him into the mix. He's playing the position that he played at Wisconsin, for the most part. He played quite a bit of a six-technique there; he'll be playing a little bit more of a five-technique here. Every now and then, he'll be moved down into a three-technique in between the guard and the tackle, but we feel that he should do a good job. The guy's almost 6-6. He's a little bit heavier than 290. He's got a good feel for the game. He uses his hands well when he's playing. The one thing he really does, he has a good feel for knocking passes down, which is really an important factor that people don't realize. If it's third down and that defensive lineman's knocking that pass down, it's just like a sack. It's an incomplete pass and we end up getting off the field. With the type person he is and with his work ethic, I'm sure he'll be flying around that ball, making a lot of plays for us."