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Earl-y loss forces safety shuffle


Cornerback Von Hutchins could be a replacement for injured safety Glenn Earl, who was lost for the season Saturday.

You could call it the curse of the Lisfranc.

One season after cornerback DeMarcus Faggins missed 11 games due to a Lisfranc fracture in the midfoot region of his foot, safety Glenn Earl suffered a foot fracture in the same spot Saturday against the Bears that may keep him out even longer.

Earl, entering his fourth NFL season out of Notre Dame, ranked fifth on the team in tackles in 2006 and started 15 games. Expected to hold down the starting spot at strong safety in 2007, Earl instead faces surgery and a nine-to-12 month recovery period.

The so-called Lisfranc fracture that Earl suffered is named after a 19th century French surgeon who first identified the injury in soldiers who fell off their mounts and violently twisted their feet in the stirrup.

Kubiak said that Earl was injured in the first quarter of Saturday's game when his foot twisted backward while attempting a tackle.

"We are losing a good football player," Kubiak said. "Earl really stepped his play up and I thought he was on his way to having a fine year. It is just an unfortunate situation."

The loss of Earl will disrupt a developing synergy between him and free safety C.C. Brown. The pair started 13 games together for the Texans in 2006, and Kubiak said that adapting to a new playing partner will present a challenge for Brown.

"He will miss Glenn Earl," Kubiak said of Brown. "Those two guys have played in so much football together. He is going to learn to have to go back there and work with another guy and talk with another guy, so that's probably going to be the biggest adjustment."

In the wake of the injury, Kubiak said that Brown most likely will fill Earl's position at strong safety. Brown's playing style is similar to an "in the box" safety. He is stronger in run support than a normal free safety that specializes in coverage, so the move may end up catering to his strengths. Regardless, Kubiak feels that Brown is capable of handling the shift well.

"Brown has played well," Kubiak said. "He is just a quiet and accountable guy."

A shift in Brown's position will open up a spot at free safety, with cornerback Von Hutchins and safety Jason Simmons the most likely candidates to earn playing time.

Hutchins has played well so far during training camp and the preseason. Hutchins intercepted a Brian Griese pass and returned it 20 yards Saturday, drawing praise from Kubiak.

"(Von) is a very smart player," Kubiak said. "Jon Hoke and Richard Smith can do a lot of things with him. He can handle a lot of information. He is the guy that when you're on the field, if the team goes to three wide receivers on you, you can still feel comfortable keeping your base defense on the field so you can cover from the safety position.

"I think his versatility and knowledge of the game can give him an excellent chance to get on the field a lot this year."

Hutchins mainly has played at cornerback during his three NFL seasons with Indianapolis and Houston, but the 5-11 defensive back recorded multiple starts at free safety during his college career at Ole Miss and expressed comfort in his ability to make a position switch to safety.

"I could play corner and convert back to free safety like I did in college," Hutchins said. "I'm really feeling more comfortable getting more adjusted on just getting back deeper and not being too close to the action. With games and a lot more reps, it'll come through."

Simmons has started 11 games during his five year career with the Texans at both the strong and free safety positions. Like Hutchins, his experience as a cornerback should help him transition more smoothly to free safety.

At a press conference Sunday, Kubiak also expressed the possibility that the team will sign a free agent defensive back soon to help manage the loss of Earl and cornerback Jason Horton, who fractured his arm against the Bears and will miss the rest of the season. Although he did not disclose any names, Kubiak said that he and Texans general manager Rick Smith had drawn up a list of potential signees and planned to evaluate some of them in workouts as early as Monday afternoon.

"We've got a list right now of safeties and corners that we're looking at," Kubiak said. "But the biggest thing is that we want to make sure this isn't a decision we make just looking for a body, so to speak, to fill out the rest of camp. We are looking for someone to come in and compete, and that's hard to do with the guys that are on the street. But we are going to try real hard to find someone that has an opportunity to help us."

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