The most consistent and cohesive unit for the Texans next season should be their offensive line. Last year, the same five linemen started all 16 games. Coach Gary Kubiak even said that next year's offense will be built around those statrters: left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Chester Pitts, center Chris Myers, right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston.
"Those guys, as a group, they won't leave the field," Kubiak said. "I know we've been fortunate they've been healthy, but as a group, that's part of their bond. They're not going to leave the field. They're going to play together.
"As I've said from the start, they can become the strength of the team. There's no doubt in my mind that they have kind of headed in that direction. And the longer those guys play together and work together and stay together, the better you are."
Pitts, who has started every game of his career since being drafted by the Texans in the second round in 2002, is the pillar of the group. But every pillar can use support, especially because Houston has limited depth at guard and center.
The Texans' zone blocking schemes requires guards and centers be agile enough to get to the second level and also hold up in pass protection. There is a crop of athletic linemen entering this year's draft who fit that mold, and several of them can play multiple positions on the O-line.
In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Michael Lombardi of The National Football Post offers his Top 5 guard/center prospects in the 2009 draft class. A 23-year veteran of NFL personnel departments, Lombardi sized up each position group with us in our "Path to the Draft" series.
Michael Lombardi's Top 5 Offensive Guards/Centers
1. Alex Mack: California, C (6-4, 307)
Lombardi: A well-built, physical offensive lineman with good power and girth in his base. Mack snaps and steps quickly and does a nice job getting into defenders. He has a powerful punch and jolts defenders off the line. He drives his legs through contact and gets his hands inside at the point of attack. However, he is only an average athlete and struggles at times redirecting in space against explosive D-linemen.
2. Max Unger: Oregon, C (6-5, 309)
Lombardi: An athletically gifted pivot man who has experience at left tackle. He can line up at any position along the offensive line and offers a lot of versatility. Unger possesses great foot quickness and athleticism in space. He displays elite lateral mobility for an interior lineman and is difficult to get around in pass protection. However, he gets a bit tall at times and lacks the base strength and power to really hold the point of attack.
3. Duke Robinson: Oklahoma, G (6-5, 329)
Lombardi: Robinson is a massive interior lineman with the ability to swallow defenders at the point of attack. He displays a quick first step off the snap and showcases good lower body strength and initial pop on contact. He gets consistent movement in the run game. He has long arms and delivers a smooth, jarring punch in pass protection. However, he isn't the most fluid of linemen in space and lacks the balance to slide and mirror explosive defensive tackles.
4. Eric Wood: Louisville, C (6-4, 310)
Lombardi: A tough, blue-collar lineman who likes to get his hands on defensive linemen and drive them off the ball. Wood possesses a powerful punch at the point of attack and the leg drive to consistently finish blocks. He is a hard worker with a motor that goes non-stop. He showcases decent foot quickness and has the length to keep defenders off of his body in tight quarters. However, he isn't natural in space and looks uncomfortable when asked to slide in pass protection when he doesn't have his hands on the defender.
5. Antoine Caldwell: Alabama, C (6-3, 309) Lombardi: Displays a good first step off the ball and really gets on defensive linemen quickly. Caldwell has a powerful base and displays an ability to get movement off the ball. He is a long-armed center who displays good technique and power once he locks on. But, he looks a bit heavy-legged when asked to get down the field, and his awareness is a bit questionable for a center.
Brooke Bentley's Top 5
1. Alex Mack, California
Bentley: Mack could start at center as a rookie, and many mock drafts have him going at the bottom of the first round to the Steelers. Mack is a relentless drive blocker and he can hold his own in pass protection.
2. Max Unger, Oregon Bentley: Unger doesn't possess the athleticism of Mack, but scouts like his polished technique. He gets into position and sustains blocks once he's locked on. Unger put together a stellar combine workout. He is solid as both a pass and run protector and could double as a guard and center.
3. Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
Bentley: Robinson is a prototypical guard. He can overpower defensive tackles and create massive lanes for running backs. His great footwork could come from his great uncle, Motown legend Smokey Robinson.
4. Eric Wood, Louisville Bentley: Wood is another center who could slip into the first round. He impressed scouts with his Senior Bowl performance. He's a hard worker and solid as a pass protector, but run blocking isn't his strong point.
5. Andrew Levitre, Oregon State
Bentley: Levitre played tackle for the final three years of his college career, but he doesn't have the physique (6-3, 305) for the position in the NFL. Instead, teams will draft him as an interior drive blocker who helps protects the quarterback and can get to the second level.
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*.