*At the conclusion of June's minicamp, HoustonTexans.com huddled with the team's position coaches to get their respective thoughts on the projected starters. This is the seventh 'Coaches Commentary' in a series of articles that will go through the roster, position by position.
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar joined the Texans during the 2009 offseason. That was also when end Antonio Smith signed with Houston as a free agent. Smith and fellow defensive end J.J. Watt were team captains in 2012. Nose tackle Earl Mitchell is slated to start this season. What follows is an analysis by Kollar of those three projected starters.
DE J.J. Watt2012 AP Defensive Player of the YearLed NFL with 20.5 sacks last season
"Obviously, J.J. had a great year last year. We're hoping that he can definitely take off from that. Did a heck of a job in the run game, made a lot of plays in the backfield. Rushing the passer, he did an outstanding job. He led the league in sacks last year and batted balls.
He's really quick and then he's just an instinctive player of getting off blocks and going and making plays. From what I've seen, his season last year was the best I've witnessed. I've been coaching 25 years, coached 9, so I've been in the league 34 years and I've never seen a defensive lineman have a season like he had.
He's got to keep getting better, though. It's one of those things if you stay the same, everybody's catching up to you. He needs to keep working like he always does because we're expecting big things from him. It's always the same question; what are you gonna do now?"
NT Earl MitchellStarted 3 games in 2012Logged 19 total tackles last season
"We've always been impressed with the way Earl's played. He always gives good effort and good chase. The nose position is a tough position, but I think that Earl's ready to take over the reins and become a starter. We're pleased to have him.
This offseason, he got here a month earlier than everybody else and has been very serious about working out. I think he's embracing the opportunity to become a full-time starter.
This will be his fourth year and he's gotten a little better every year. He plays hard, he gives you good effort, he's got good quickness and can make tackles from sideline to sideline. It's impressive."
DE Antonio Smith2nd on team in sacks, 2009-127 sacks, 2 forced fumbles in 2012
"Antonio's really quick and he plays a lot stronger than you'd ever think for his size. He weighs between 280-285, but plays a lot stronger in there. He really has good quickness rushing the pass and good hands and stuff.
He's a little bit different as a captain than some other guys but he leads by example and every now and then he comes up with some crazy sayings.
He had his best year last year, had the most sacks he had, had a couple batted balls, played the best he's played in the run game, especially toward the end of the season. We were really pleased with the way he played last year and we hope he's able to take off and bounce from that and have an even better year this year."