Path to the draft: Defensive tackles

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The Texans have a history of taking defensive linemen, especially tackles, in the first round of the draft. In 2005, they selected Travis Johnson with the 16th overall pick. Two years later, they drafted Amobi Okoye at the No. 10 spot.

Okoye had a breakout rookie season as a pass-rushing defensive tackle. He recorded 32 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Last season, his production dropped - in part because of a high-ankle sprain - and he managed 24 tackles and one sack. Much of the Texans defense's success under new coordinator Frank Bush will hinge on Okoye becoming an impact player.

The Texans hired Bill Kollar as the assistant head coach/defensive line to bring out the best in Okoye and install and more aggressive, vertical scheme for the d-line.

"I've known Bill probably as long as anyone in this league," general manager Rick Smith said. "Our relationship goes back over 20 years, and I've always known him to be a very aggressive coach. He fits the profile of what Frank Bush has talked about with respect to what he wants to do and how he wants the defense to play. So, we'll be an attacking, aggressive defense, and Bill certainly brings that temperament to the defensive line and I'm just excited to have him aboard."

{QUOTE}The Texans want their defensive linemen to get to the quarterback, but they also will have to be stouter against the run. The Texans ranked 23rd against the run last season, giving up 122.6 yards rushing per game.

Undoubtedly, the Texans could benefit from a drafting a massive defensive tackle who can clog the middle. B.J. Raji will be long gone by the time Houston picks at 15, but he is the type of tackle who can transform a defensive line.

In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Michael Lombardi of The National Football Post offers his Top 5 defensive tackle prospects in the 2009 draft class. A 23-year veteran of NFL personnel departments, Lombardi is sizing up each position group with us in our "Path to the Draft" series.

Michael Lombardi's Top 5 Defensive tackles

1. B.J. Raji, Boston College (6-2, 337)
Lombardi: A thickly built tackle with excellent lower-body strength and power on contact. Has a great first step for his size and gets into offensive linemen quickly. Displays impressive base strength to hold the point of attack against the double-team or push the pocket. Has shorter arms and allows too many linemen to get in on his chest. Lacks straight-line speed and isn't much of a factor on the perimeter.

2. Peria Jerry, Mississippi (6-2, 290)
Lombardi: A quick, explosive interior lineman with a good first step off the ball and the ability to consistently spit the double-team. Understands angles and does a nice job playing off the guard's shoulder and keeping his balance up field. Gets too quarterback-focused at times and will take himself out of too many plays.

3. Jarron Gilbert, San Jose State (6-5, 288) Lombardi: A long, explosive lineman who displays good flexibility and first-step quickness off the snap. Has impressive power and punch on contact and consistently uses his length to shed blocks and get after the ball. Makes a living in opponent's backfield and plays with great balance and body control for his size. Finds the ball quickly and offers a lot of versatility as a DT in a 4-3 or a DE in a 3-4.

4. Evander Hood, Missouri (6-3, 300)
Lombardi: Has a good first step off the snap and is always the first lineman moving off the ball. Consistently penetrates and makes his way into opponent's backfield. Displays excellent lateral mobility and quickness. Uses his hands well to shed blocks and is very sudden when he's engaged. However, he lacks the overall girth and base to hold the point of attack vs. the double-team and is washed out of plays too easily.

5. Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn
Lombardi:An explosive, quick-twitch lineman with an ideal first step off the ball and an ability to shoot gaps inside. Plays with natural leverage and uses his long arms and quick hands to consistently shed blocks. Has a good punch at the point of attack and is very natural in space. Battled a series of injuries toward the end of the year and seemed to wear down as the season went on.

Brooke Bentley's Top 5

1. B.J. Raji, Boston College
Bentley: Raji is by far the best defensive tackle in the draft. He plays big and nasty and can fit into different defensive schemes. Teams could use him as a nose tackle in a 3-4 or a defensive tackle in a 4-3. Raji isn't known for his pass rushing skills, but can hold two blockers and clog the middle. Last season, he compiled 42 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 8 sacks. His downside comes down to several character questions. Raji missed the 2007 season due to academics and there have been unconfirmed reports that he tested positive for drugs at the combine.

2. Peria Jerry, Mississippi
Bentley: Jerry is a quick, pass-rushing defensive tackle. He is at his best when can burst off the line of scrimmage and split double teams. Jerry's stock dropped some because a hamstring injury kept him from performing in drills at the combine. Although he wasn't 100 percent healthy, he impressed scouts at his pro day where he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.98, a 31-inch vertical jump and 28 bench press reps. In 2008, Jerry finished with 49 tackles, seven sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

3. Evander Hood, Missouri
Bentley: Hood started 32 of 48 games over his college career and was utilized as a "3-technique" d-tackle. He made a name for himself shooting gaps between guards and tackles. In 2007, he recorded 49 tackles, eight for a loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles. Last season, his production dropped and he managed 23 tackles, 2.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks.

4. Ron Brace, Boston College
Bentley: At 6-3, 331, Brace is a tremendous space eater. Scouts like Brace's body control and acceleration to close on the ball and say that some added strength would help him develop into an effective under tackle or nose tackle. Brace's stats aren't gaudy because he helped make plays more than making them himself. In two years, he recorded 54 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

5. Jarron Gilbert, San Jose State Bentley: Gilbert got a lot of hype for a YouTube video that showed him jumping out of a pool from a standing position. There's no doubt he's athletic and he was productive last season, making 22 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. A lot of teams see him as a defensive end, but he'll have to improve his upper-body strength to be effective at any position on the defensive line in the NFL.

Michael Lombardi* spent 23 years as a high-level executive in NFL personnel departments, working with the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. He has spent 26 years evaluating college and pro football talent. He currently serves as one of the main contributors of The National Football Post.*

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