The Texans had high hopes for Connor Barwin in 2010. Unfortunately, his second NFL season ended after less than one quarter of one game.
Barwin, who led all rookie defensive ends in 2009 with 4.5 sacks, injured his right ankle against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday. The Texans already have begun the search for his replacement.
"He was a big part of what we were doing," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've got replace Connor for the season now. Anybody who's out there as a free agent is a possibility, so I think all doors are open. We continue to listen to every possible avenue.
"We will have a workout here either tomorrow or Wednesday morning, I'm not sure. We've already gotten in touch with some guys."
Kubiak did not say whether signing retired two-time Pro Bowler Aaron Schobel, 33, is a possibility. Schobel lives in nearby Columbus, Texas, and has expressed interest in playing for the Texans and Bill Kollar, his former defensive line coach with the Buffalo Bills.
"My understanding is he's retired, guys," Kubiak said. "Things change, I'm sure, but anybody who's out there, we will talk to them, and we've got to replace Connor Barwin."
Barwin's loss is a significant one. Earlier this offseason, Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush described him as a player who could possibly change the complexion of the entire defense.
A tight end in his first three college seasons at Cincinnati, Barwin gave the Texans flexibility in their defensive packages. He could rush the passer or drop back in coverage and line up with a hand in the ground or standing up like a linebacker.
"He's a tough guy to replace," Kubiak said. "He's obviously a pass rusher is the first thing he does for us. He's an edge player. He's very smart. We play him in a lot of different defenses, different schemes… and he plays well (on special teams) for Joe (Marciano).
"To think that you're going to go out and find that replacement on the streets right now at this point in an NFL season, you're probably kidding yourself. But we've got to find some player, hopefully with some experience in this league, that can lend a hand pretty quickly."
Second-year players Jesse Nading and Tim Jamison filled in for Barwin on Sunday against Indianapolis. Nading, a former undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, recorded two tackles and half a sack and recovered an onside kick.
"(Nading) did very well," Kubiak said. "To go in there and play as much as he did – and he did not get the work in one of the packages that we specifically designed for Connor and he had to go in there and replace him in those packages – he was very consistent. He played good for Joe. That's why he's made this team: He's kind of a jack-of-all-trades, does a lot of things."
Barwin bulked up to 260 pounds this offseason in an effort to become more of an every-down player. Texans coaches were excited to expand his role.
Those lofty expectations came crashing down on the Colts' 16th play from scrimmage on Sunday. As Barwin and Antonio Smith pursued Colts running back Joseph Addai in the defensive backfield, Smith accidentally collided with Barwin's lower right leg right just as Barwin planted his foot to cut up the field.
Barwin was carted away to the locker room several minutes later after being tended to by team trainers and doctors.
"It's a scary injury to sit there and watch," Kubiak said. "As a player, you know your season's over. As teammates, you just feel for him.
"He's obviously very down, but there's nothing he can do. The doctors feel good about getting it fixed. It's just a long road back, but he's a great young man. He'll play. He'll be fine. He'll come back and play well."