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Diles keeps getting better


Linebacker Zac Diles is one of the most opportunistic players on the Texans' defense.

Let's see, who's the Texans' leading tackler through six games? If you said DeMeco Ryans, that would be a good guess, but it would be wrong.

Try Zac Diles, an undersized 2007 seventh-round draft pick from Kansas State. He played in 11 games last season, mostly on special teams, but came to camp this year fighting for a starting job, which he got based on his preseason play. He's been splattering opposing runners ever since.

Diles even has amazed himself.

"You look at the stat sheet after the game and say, 'Dang,'" Diles said. "I'm just in the position to make plays and I'm just trying to do my job and complete my assignments. I look at that every now and then, but it's cool."

Diles has 45 tackles going into Sunday's game against Cincinnati, one more than Pro Bowler Ryans. He has a sack, an interception, two quarterback pressures, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Diles followed the pattern with the Texans that he's used his whole football career.

"My whole life I've been the underdog, I've had to overcome something," Diles said. "Coming from junior college to try to go to Division I, I was overlooked by a lot of schools. I didn't sign my scholarship until the end of May, two weeks before I had to report to Kansas State."

{QUOTE}Diles started every game for his two seasons with the Wildcats and then had to start at the bottom again with the Texans.

"The drive is they think I can't do it and I'm getting overlooked by this dude, and this school, so I'll go show them," Diles said. "That's the biggest thing. You have to show them that this is what I bring and this is what I can do."

The first knock on Diles was his size: 6-0, 240 pounds.

"I've been this size all my life and I hear that a lot," Diles said. "People ask me what position I play and I say linebacker. They say, 'What? I thought you were a running back or a safety.' It's something I'm used to now. I just play. That's just stuff on paper. When you get on the field, it's how you play."

Ryans has been pleased with Diles' progress.

"Zac is getting better every week," Ryans said. "You watch him and it's like watching him grow as a player, watching the way he has grown and developed into a great player. He shows up every week and he's making big tackles for us, sacks, and interceptions. He's becoming a big-time playmaker in this league. He's going to continue to get better."

From special teams to starter in one year might seem quick to fans. It's more like a marathon to Diles.

"It's been a process and they stuck with me," Diles said. "There have been a lot of sleepless nights. You think about mistakes, like, 'Dang, I knew that but I didn't do it.' It's a process and I'm trying to get better.

"They are going to put the playmakers on the field. I was able to make some plays early in the preseason and showed them I was capable of playing in this league."

Diles didn't get the job by default.

"They brought (Kevin) Bentley in here and they brought Chaun Thompson, and both are capable of playing all over the field," Diles said. "It wasn't that the job was handed to me. It was competition. I had to go out and stay consistent and get better."

Although competing with Diles for playing time, Bentley likes what he sees in the second-year pro.

"I think he's going to be a great player," Bentley said. "He's just real aggressive. He's willing to take chances. He kind of plays on the edge, which is what you need to do as a linebacker. He's making a lot of plays right now and we expect him to continue to do that."

Starting linebacker Morlon Greenwood watched Diles closely during his rookie season. He didn't see size as a problem.

"Actually, I look at it the opposite," Greenwood said. "I thought he was very athletic. He runs well. I watched him on the scout team. He did a good job and when he had a chance to prove himself, he went out and did that.

"You hear people say he's too small, but there are always people who will do that. You can measure a man's size but not his heart. He definitely has heart and he's doing a heck of a job."

Diles was pleased with his preseason work.

"Last year I didn't get a lot of reps, that's why I was a little slower coming along this year," he said. "Now it's like having six games under your belt and I can just go out and play. You have a better feel for the game and what the offense is trying to do to you."

It's been a big confidence boost, too.

"It's vital," Diles said. "It lets me go out and play with confidence knowing I have the confidence of my teammates and everybody in the organization. There are some plays from past games I'd like to have back. It's growing week-to-week and getting better week-to-week."

Diles realized in the final preseason game that he'd apparently earned a starting job.

"It was probably going into the fourth game when I didn't play," Diles said. "At that time last year I played the whole game, so it was a surreal moment. Knowing from where I came from and where I am at now, I thought, 'Hum, I'm not playing in the fourth preseason game, maybe I'm the starter.'

"That's when it finally hit me."

EDITOR'S NOTE: *Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports. *

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