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Examining the linebackers


Shantee Orr expects the linebacking unit to energize the team.

The Texans linebackers head into the 2007 season with high expectations. And who could blame them?

The group is anchored by an emerging NFL superstar in middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The second-year standout finished his banner rookie season with an NFL-leading 126 solo tackles and rookie-best 156 total tackles, the most by a rookie in over 20 years.

It's difficult to imagine those totals getting much higher in 2007, but Ryans should become even more efficient on the field in his sophomore season. He's a very intelligent player who tirelessly studies film, and his rookie season was his first time at middle linebacker after playing outside linebacker throughout his college career. Expect Ryans to use the year of learning to solidify himself this season as one of the leaders on a young defense.

Starting on the weak side next to Ryans will be linebacker Morlon Greenwood, who has come into his own the past two seasons in Houston. Greenwood totaled a career-high and team-leading 144 tackles in 2005 and followed that up with 110 in 2006, second on the team only to Ryans. Starting on the strong side is Shantee Orr, who is entering his fifth season with the Texans.

"Our expectation is really just to come out and lead our team and be the spark like linebackers should," Orr said. "Especially for the 4-3. With DeMeco Ryans, Morlon Greenwood, Charlie Anderson – all of us have a hand in it. We've just got to try to come out and give everybody on the team our energy."

Though playing alongside a highly decorated linebacker in Ryans, Orr has kept his focus on the team.

"You don't really think about awards or anything like that," he said. "This is a team game. As long as everybody's playing their position and doing their job, everything else will come for us."

The Texans linebackers will have a few new faces to help them do their job this season. The team added depth in recent months by picking up veteran free agents Danny Clark and Shawn Barber. Clark has started 59 games since entering the league in 2000, recently racking up consecutive 100-plus tackle seasons with the Oakland Raiders in 2004-2005. Barber has 75 starts in nine NFL seasons, and though injuries limited his effectiveness the past two seasons, he will push for a starting spot at outside linebacker.

{QUOTE} Orr welcomes the addition of the two veterans, both of whom have been to the playoffs during their respective careers.

"It gives us a lot of experience," Orr said. "Guys who've played a lot of football, to be able to help coach us that are not as old as they are – not saying they're old – but it gives us a few years more experience to really help us out and key in on a lot of things."

Rookie Zac Diles will also contribute in a reserve role and on special teams. The seventh-round draft pick, a two-time All-Big 12 honoree out of Kansas State, recently became the first Texan rookie selection to sign a contract with the team this offseason.

"He's a good kid," Orr said. "He can move well, and he's picking up the defense real good. He's great in special teams so that's a plus as well. We need that help."

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