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Brown the potential answer at left tackle


General manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak are working side-by-side in the war room at Reliant Stadium.

With the 26th pick in the NFL draft, the Houston Texans select… the potential solution to one of the most glaring problems in franchise history.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn't say it at the podium at Radio City Music Hall, but he could have. That's what Virginia Tech tackle Duane Brown (6-4, 308) means to his new team.

According to general manager Rick Smith, Brown will compete for starting duties as a rookie.

"He's an athletic offensive lineman, and obviously we've needed a left tackle for a while and we feel like this guy can come in and execute the running game that we're going to employ with Alex Gibbs… and also be able to protect the passer, because you've got to be able to do that at the left tackle position," Smith said.

The Texans' left tackle position has been riddled with misfortune from the beginning, when the team made Tony Boselli the first left tackle in franchise history in the 2002 expansion draft and Boselli subsequently never played a down after shoulder problems forced his retirement.

The Texans thought they found a franchise left tackle in Charles Spencer two seasons ago, but Spencer suffered a devastating leg injury two games into his rookie season and is still rehabbing.

While veteran Ephraim Salaam has played some of the best football of his career in the last two seasons, Texans management was intent on finding a long-term answer at some point during the draft.

They believe they have found that answer in Brown, a three-year starter at Virginia Tech who earned All-ACC accolades in both of his final two seasons.

"We have really been in love with this kid for a long time," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He fits what we want to do. He is very athletic, which we want guys to get to the second level and do some cutting and those types of things. We think he is only on the rise. This kid is going to get better and better."

Athleticism isn't a question with Brown. He was the fastest tackle at this year's NFL scouting combine, running a 5.08 40-yard dash, and earned high marks in the vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill.

With only one season of experience at left tackle, he will have plenty of room to grow under assistant head coach/offense Alex Gibbs. Brown started his Virginia Tech career at tight end, catching three passes for 64 yards and a touchdown as a freshman. He then transitioned to right tackle for his sophomore and junior seasons before moving over to the left side for his senior year.

Familiar with the zone blocking scheme from his college days, Brown is eager to absorb all that he can from Gibbs.

"I'm very interested and excited about the chance to work with him," Brown said. "I know he's a great coach and he did wonders with the Broncos' line, and (he's) looking for guys who are my type to help the lineup. I came to help him."

Brown watched the draft from his hometown of Richmond, Va., with family and friends, and said he was a bit surprised to end up in Houston because he had not been in extensive contact with the team in the weeks leading up to the draft.

But he knows the team's facility well, having played in the East-West Shrine Game in Houston in January. Once he arrives in Houston on Sunday, he will be reunited with former Virginia Tech teammate Brandon Frye, the Texans' fifth-round draft pick in 2007.

"Having someone there that I played with for a few years and that can help me throughout the process, it means a lot to me," Brown said. "I got a chance to see their facilities when I was in the East-West Shrine Game. They have a great program, and I'm honored to be a part of it."

Brown is the eighth first-round pick in the history of the franchise and the sixth offensive tackle that the Texans have drafted in team history.

If he plays up to Smith's and Kubiak's expectations, he'll be the first long-term solution at left tackle.

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