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Path to the Draft: O-line


For the last four years, the Texans have used a first-round pick in the NFL draft on a defensive lineman, selecting Jason Babin, Travis Johnson, Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye.

This year, the team could cross the line and choose an offensive tackle with the 18th overall selection.

"We've had problems with left tackle in the offensive line from day one," Texans founder and CEO Bob McNair told Texans TV. "We have had a real difficult time filling that position. Ephraim (Salaam) did a good job for us last year and he's going to be back with us, but we need a young player in there that's going to be with us for a long time."

Salaam helped lead the Texans' offensive line to its best season in franchise history last year. The line held opponents to just 22 sacks, sixth-fewest in the NFL. But the Texans could look for a talented young player that Salaam could groom into being a starter.

Plus, they could use a left tackle that fits into assistant head coach Alex Gibbs' zone blocking scheme, which requires the linemen to be extremely quick and intelligent.

Lucky for the Texans, a Long list of O-line prospects will be available this April.

Top prospects

1. Jake Long, OT, Michigan (6-7, 313): Long ranks as the premier offensive tackle in the draft and could go as the top overall selection. He proved his versatility at Michigan, where he lined up on both sides, but he prefers playing left tackle.

"I love the left side," Long told the media at the scouting combine. "I started off my first two years at right tackle and moved over to left the last two years. I'm left handed and I feel very comfortable on that side. I think I proved myself as a left tackle."

In his last two collegiate seasons, Long registered 245 knockdown blocks, including 33 that resulted in Wolverine touchdowns. His athleticism also was noted at the scouting combine, where he posted a position-best 37 bench press reps and ranked among the top-five offensive linemen in the vertical jump (27.5 inches) and three-cone drill (7.44 seconds).

"They (NFL teams) will get a hard-working, passionate player," said Long, who allowed only two sacks during his four seasons as a starter. "I'm someone that comes to work and gives 100 percent every single day and has a true passion and love for the game."

Long possesses the key ingredients for Gibbs' blocking scheme, but he probably will be long gone when the Texans make their first selection.

2. Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State (6-6, 317): Boise State's Clady is considered by many talent evaluators to be the second-best tackle next to Long and is expected to fall within the top 15 selections.

Clady, who is the second BSU player to earn All-American honors since the team entered the Division 1-A ranks in 1996, also would excel in a zone blocking scheme. He has shown he can work well in space and can cut block opposing defenders. Plus, he possesses excellent footwork.

"My pass-blocking abilities and my feet, I think I have good feet," Clady said at the scouting combine. "And I think I can excel at the next level."

Clady's combine workout was cut short when he strained his pectoral muscle, but he worked out for more than 30 teams on his Pro Day in early March. Clady impressed scouts by running the 40-yard dash in 5.18 seconds and recording a 31-inch vertical jump.

3. Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt (6-6, 317): Williams, a Vanderbilt product, could be the smartest O-line prospect. The senior knows how to break down blocking plays and his awareness on the field will get him to the next level. He also aced the Wonderlic test with a score of 32 (Clady scored a 13).

Last year, Williams excelled in pass protection, allowing only one sack and one pressure in 836 snaps. He is an outstanding athlete with good footwork and a high football IQ.

Williams could go in the first half of the first round – snatching him up in the second half of the first round would be a steal.

4. Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College (6-6, 312): Cherilus started 37 consecutive games at right tackle at Boston College before moving to the left tackle position as a senior. The transition was not easy, but Cherilus worked hard to master the position and came up with 77 knockdowns and 12 touchdown-resulting blocks in 14 games.

"What I tell people is that football is what I do, it's not who I am," Cherilus said at the scouting combine. "Don't get me wrong. When I step on the field, it's business.

"You step on the field, you go at it and I have fun doing it. I'm not dirty. I do everything within the whistle. I've never had a personal foul. But if I have a chance to go after a guy, I will because that's what the game is all about."

Cherilus will get to do just that at the next level. He should be an early NFL starter at right tackle and will provide needed help in the running game and in pass protection for whichever team is lucky enough to draft him.

5. Jeff Otah, OT, (6-6, 322): Pittsburgh's Otah did not begin playing football until his senior year in high school, but he showed at the college level that he could shut down big-name defenders like Virginia defensive end Chris Long.

Most coaches see freakish potential in Otah, who helped Pitt's offense average 141.4 yards on the ground last season and delivered 101 knockdown hits with 13 blocks resulting in touchdowns.

The biggest question mark surrounding this left tackle was a left ankle sprain that kept him out of the Senior Bowl and forced him to postpone his Pro Day until mid-April.

Many teams see Otah thriving in a situation where he could learn behind an established pair of starters on the offensive line.

Honorable Mention: USC's Sam Baker (6-5, 312), considered to be a savvy veteran who knows how to play the game, ranks as a solid second-round pick. There also are several linemen who could go in the middle of the draft that could contribute as rookies, such as UTEP's Oneil Cousins or Virginia Tech's Duane Brown.

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