The Texans started their defensive makeover in January, hiring coordinator Wade Phillips to install a 3-4.
They fortified their front seven in April, drafting defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brooks Reed and moving Mario Williams to outside linebacker.
They turned their focus to the secondary on Friday, making a splash in free agency by signing cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. The two five-year veterans add a much-needed jolt of experience and talent to the Texans' young defensive backfield.
"I'm very excited," Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph said on Friday night. "It gives us two proven starters. It gives us two guys who want to be here. It's two guys we wanted from day one that we targeted, two playmakers. It's going to provide our secondary with obviously more speed and more playmaking ability."
Johnathan Joseph (5-11, 190), no relation to his new position coach, ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2006 – the third-fastest time by a cornerback in the last five years. In five seasons with the Bengals, Joseph had 14 interceptions, including nine in the last two seasons.
All offseason, fans and media wondered if the Texans would sign perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, 30. The Texans reportedly pursued him this week before deciding to hone in on the 27-year-old Joseph, a former first-round pick from South Carolina.
"Out of the entire free agent corner class, he was the most complete player," Vance Joseph said. "When you're talking about playing zones, talking about tackling and playing man, playing press, playing off, he's the most complete player out of all those guys who were up in free agency. He can play left or right corner. He's obviously a young player, a healthy player, so we're excited to have him."
Manning (5-11, 202), who ran a 4.47 at the 2006 Combine, started 56 games in five seasons with the Bears. His experience will be a boon to Glover Quin, who's moving to free safety from cornerback in his third NFL season.
A second-round pick from Abilene Christian in 2006, Manning is also an explosive kick returner. He fits right in with the Texans' 'twin safety' approach – two safeties with range who can tackle and make plays all over the field.
"He's a guy with corner ability playing safety, and that's exciting," Vance Joseph said. "He's going to play very fast from the safety position, which allows us to play more base defense versus one-back sets. He can cover a slot and he can cover most tight ends, so we won't have to play a lot of dime on first and second down versus one-back sets. Between him and Quin, we have two guys who can cover, so it's like playing with a third corner versus one-back sets."
Manning and Joseph will take pressure off young players like Quin and second-year cornerback Kareem Jackson. Heading into free agency, Jason Allen was the Texans' only defensive back with more than three seasons of experience.
"Sometimes you need veteran players to show young players what it looks like every day," Vance Joseph said. "These two guys are going into the sixth year of their careers. That's really the prime of a player's career. We're lucky to get guys who've played through the hard spells of their career and now we're getting the prime fruit. We've been so young in the back end, guys playing their first, second year. Now we've got some guys who've played in big games who played in real tough divisions."
At their introductory press conference on Friday, Manning and Joseph talked about helping the Texans finally make it to the playoffs. By shoring up the secondary of a defense that already had undergone a dramatic overhaul, they could well be the final pieces needed to do just that.
Either way, a passing defense that ranked 32nd in the league in 2010 all of a sudden looks a whole lot better.
"When you can acquire two starters out of free agency, I feel very good about that," Vance Joseph said. "The most important thing is that they're the two right people. Guys who want to practice, guys who want to be here. Guys who can make your back end better on first, second, third down.
"Sometimes in free agency, you can kind of chase guys to the point where the market dictates where they go. But these two guys, talking to them, they wanted to be here. And to me, that's huge. Even though the market dictates a certain salary for players, you still want players to want to be here. You want them to be a part of your program. We haven't drafted these guys, but they're going to fall in and be like family from day one. That's important."