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Big things in store for Barwin


Rookie DE Connor Barwin (98) returns to Cincinnati this weekend, where he starred for the Bearcats.

Late last April, after the Texans selected linebacker Brian Cushing in the first round of the draft, they plucked Connor Barwin from the Universitiy of Cincinnati in round two. Athletically, Barwin's background is a fascinating one.

He switched positions from tight end to defensive end before his senior year with the Bearcats.

He proceeded to churn out an All-America campaign in 2008 by tallying 12 sacks.

Before all that, he walked on and played for the Cincinnati basketball squad.

Now, the versatile young defender heads back to Cincinnati for the Texans' weekend tilt against the Bengals. Suffice it to say, he's pumped.

"I've heard from everybody back there," Barwin said on Monday. "I'm definitely excited to go back."

So far in 2009, the rookie defensive end has four tackles and a fumble recovery and has played quite a bit on special teams. Texans coach Gary Kubiak likes the direction in which the former Bearcat's career is heading.

"His arrow's pointing up," Kubiak said. "He's been a little bit more a part of what we're doing each week. He's played well on special teams. The kid plays extremely hard."

The effort from Barwin thus far is a characteristic his teammates notice as well.

"He's fast and he has a motor. He comes off the edge," linebacker Zac Diles said. "He's still trying to get that first sack, but he's definitely getting there."

Being the top rookies selected by the Texans, Barwin and Cushing have a few things in common. Cushing likes what he sees out Barwin.

"He's a special talent," Cushing said. "That guy's real athletic and came from a basketball background, too. He's real rangy, he can play against the run, he can rush the passer, so I think his game's only going to get better from here."

Barwin's talent also has been noticed by Antonio Smith, who thinks the sky is the limit for his rookie teammate. As a power forward at Cincinnati, Barwin averaged nearly 10 minutes per game during the 2006 basketball season

{QUOTE}"Some of the athletes that you've seen throughout the years that used to be basketball stars in high school and college and things like that, they just have that extra athletic ability," Smith said. "He's going to be a real good player. He's just got to come into his own. He can be dominant every down."

Barwin readily admits that he has learned a lot but still can learn more.

"I think at first, you're kind of just running around," Barwin said of his young NFL career. "But I think now you're kind of just zoning in on what you have to do on each play."

Kubiak said Barwin, like the rest of his rookie teammates, is having to readjust to the longer preseason and regular season of the NFL. Since early August, the Texans have played nine games.

"All those rookies right now are through with their college season, so they're having to regroup," Kubiak said. "But I think you're only going to see him get better throughout the season. We've been very pleased. We knew what we were getting."

"Getting" is an appropriate word, as the Texans got a guy who can "get" to the quarterback in prolific fashion. Barwin recorded a sack in both of his first two preseason games, and he has gotten close several times since in the regular season.

"He can rush the passer," Smith said. "From day one when he got here, we saw it. He's good on the edge. He can stand up and go play that defensive end-slash-linebacker thing and get to the passer. That's one of his major assets."

Smith and Diles aren't just enthusiastic about Barwin's on-field play. They also like his contributions to their stomachs off the field.

"We make him pay for dinner," Smith said. "We make him bring us breakfast in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays. Donuts, stuff like that."

Donuts aside, Barwin will return this weekend to a city in which he excelled. After a pair of sub-.500 seasons, the Bengals are doing well also. The combination makes Sunday's homecoming an exciting one for Barwin.

"I'm happy for the Bengals, that's good," Barwin said. "But it's going to be a good challenge for us. It's just crazy to think that I'm going back there to play against the Bengals. It's kind of weird for me."

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