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Houston Texans

Deep group of OLBs generate hype in Indy


INDIANAPOLIS - The Texans have made it very clear this offseason that they need a pass rusher on the left side of the defensive line to keep teams from double-teaming Mario Williams. But that doesn't mean general manager Rick Smith will focus only on defensive ends at the scouting combine.

Smith, who is committed to building the team through the draft, has said he doesn't draft players purely on need. He also assesses the best athlete available at a particular position.

"I think that there a couple of things that you value; you value positions," Smith said. "I think certain positions have more value to them. I think you assign value from a standpoint as to how good a player is and what round you think he should be drafted in, and then you let your board take you through there.

"But I don't think you should draft based on need, because I think you are more inclined to reach and take players who are outside of the value that you have assessed."

{QUOTE}Right now, many talent evaluators argue that the position with the most depth is outside linebacker. There are a slew of versatile outside linebackers who could excel in a 4-3 defense, and there is a deep group of "tweeners" who could play defensive end in a 4-3 or move back to linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

"I don't like to get into specific players, but I will say I agree with you with respect to the linebacker market," Smith said on Friday. "I think there are some quality inside linebackers as well.

"There are some undersized defensive ends that could maybe be pass rushers or fit on the right side in a 4-3 defense but also are players that could stand up and be players in a 3-4. I think both those areas are impacted in this draft, and I think there are some good players in those areas."

The top "tweeners" in the draft appear to be Texas' Brian Orakpo (6-3, 263) and Penn State's Aaron Maybin (6-4, 249).

Orakpo, a Houston native, recorded 42 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season for the Longhorns. He has played with his hands down and up and was effective against the run and the pass.

"The thing is if you take a look at the film, there were scenarios where I was a 3-4 linebacker," Orakpo said. "I was very effective getting after the passer and where I was very effective in coverage."

Maybin posted 49 tackles, 20 for a loss, 12 sacks and three forced fumbles as a redshirt sophomore last year. Like Orakpo, he can drop into coverage, get off the edge and make plays in the backfield.

"I try to give the coaching staff whatever they need," Maybin told Texans TV. "Whether they need me to put my hand in the dirt and play a 4-3 end or whether they need me to come off the edge as an outside linebacker, I feel like I have the capabilities to do so."

When it comes to traditional outside linebackers, Aaron Curry (6-2, 254) has emerged as the top prospect. In 2008, the Wake Forest star recorded 105 tackles, including 16 for a loss, and has three career interception returns for touchdowns.

Scouts at the combine can't say enough about Curry's closing speed and hard-hitting playmaking ability, and many think he will be the first defensive players taken in the draft because he can line up in the middle or the outside.

"If it's a 4-3, I can play the Sam or the WIL," Curry said. "If it's a 3-4, I can play the MIKE or the outside."

USC's Brian Cushing (6-3, 243) is another versatile linebacker with an excellent combination of size and overall athleticism. Cushing, who is targeted to leave draft boards midway through the first round, posted 73 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, and three sacks last year and has gotten high grades for his nonstop motor.

"I played a lot of defensive positions," Cushing said. "I think that's what makes me a really good defensive player; that's what has been important to me. But now, I'm a true linebacker, and that's what I'm here to prove."

Another Trojan working his way up draft boards is Clay Matthews, Jr. (6-3, 240), whose strong performance at the Senior Bowl has elevated him to first-round status. Matthews walked on the team at USC and proved himself by becoming a consistent open-field tackler with good speed off the edge.

He also comes from exceptional football bloodlines. His father Clay played 19 seasons in the NFL at linebacker and made the Pro Bowl four times, and his uncle Bruce became a legend with the Houston Oilers, made the Pro Bowl 14 times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

After meeting with the Texans on Friday, Matthews said he would love to follow in his uncle's footsteps.

"That would be one of those teams I'd love to play for," Matthews said. "The fact that I'd be close to my uncle, and it's Texas – you've got to love it. I'd love to play for them."

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