Brown lives up to first-round billing

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The Texans made Duane Brown the highest-drafted offensive lineman in team history on April 26, 2008.

When the Texans picked left tackle Duane Brown 26th overall in the 2008 draft, they knew that his development would take time. Brown had played only one season at left tackle at Virginia Tech after spending the first three years of his Hokies career at tight end and right tackle.

He experienced some growing pains early in his rookie season, struggling against the likes of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Tennessee Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, Indianapolis Colts end Dwight Freeney and Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter – not exactly a friendly "Welcome" mat to the NFL.

By season's end, Brown had settled down and become a valuable member of an offensive line that was the foundation of the NFL's third-ranked offense. The rookie started all 16 games, gaining confidence and improving his technique with each outing.

"He progressed a lot like we thought he would," offensive line coach John Benton said. "When he started out the season, it's a different game at this level and it took him a while to adjust, and we knew it would. But I thought he did nicely all the way through, and I had the same conversation with him (after the season). He really finished up being a pretty consistent performer for us."

In Week 7 against the Detroit Lions, the Texans began rotating Ephraim Salaam, the team's starting left tackle in 2006 and 2007, for Brown on every third series. Benton said coaches made the decision because Brown was not able to take time during games to reflect on his mistakes.

Being able to watch the veteran Salaam at work from the sidelines gave Brown invaluable perspective.

{QUOTE}"Duane could sit back, re-evaluate the situation and go in, and it really proved to be beneficial to him," Benton said. "You could tell as soon as we started doing that that he stayed on top of the game throughout the game and really performed better to the point where we even started diminishing that role a little bit as the year went on."

Quarterback Matt Schaub noticed Brown's progress from Week 1 to Week 17.

"It (was) night and day," Schaub said. "He's just like (rookie running back) Steve (Slaton); he got tremendously better throughout the course of the season. It was tough sledding for him early in the season, but when you look at, over the course of the entire year, who he had to go up against, he played tremendously well as the year went on. We're extremely confident in what he can do."

According to Benton, Brown still has a ways to go in improving his pass protection, particularly in finding consistency with his technique and developing more of an arsenal to attack defensive ends.

Those improvements, Benton says, are typical for any first-year lineman. What isn't typical is Brown's athleticism – a major factor in the Texans' decision to draft Brown back in April. Brown was a standout basketball player in high school and was the fastest tackle at this year's NFL scouting combine, running a 5.08-second 40-yard dash.

"He's able to do things that most offensive linemen can't," Benton said. "You can do some things schematically because of that that you couldn't normally do – different screens and getting the ball out wide, getting him leading sweeps around the edge, that type of thing.

"In the long-term and the bigger picture, he has the skills and intangibles to be a top-level pass protector like you need your left tackle to be."

The unselfish Brown, always quicker to credit his teammates than talk about his own rookie success, is excited for the Texans' future prospects now that the team finished the 2008 season on a 5-1 roll.

"Over the past years, everybody looked down on (us)," he said. "To be here and just see the progression throughout this year and to be a part of it, it's a great feeling for me. We see now that we can play with anybody."

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