Season in review: Defensive line

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Mario Williams led the Texans with nine sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl again in 2009.

Before the start of 2009, the Texans added defensive end Antonio Smith and defensive tackle Shaun Cody in free agency. Those two, along with Pro Bowler Mario Williams and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye started the bulk of the season, and helped the squad finish 13th in the league in total defense.

SEASON IN REVIEW: Defensive line

Position coach: Bill Kollar (21st NFL season, 1st with Texans)

Week 1 starters: Smith (left defensive end), Okoye (defensive tackle), Cody (nose tackle), Williams (right defensive end)

Week 17 starters: Smith, Okoye, Cody and Williams

Key injuries: Cody (Knee, Week 2; Illness, Week 6)

By the numbers (top statistical performers): Williams (9 sacks, 43 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles)

Season overview: Even though he started every game, Williams was bothered by a shoulder injury for the bulk of 2009. Still, he was able to lead his line-mates in sacks, tackles and forced fumbles, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He drew a lot of attention again this season, which helped Smith be active in the backfield of opposing offenses. After a rough start in the season's first three games, the Texans' defense clamped down and improved the rest of the way.

{QUOTE}"It's pretty clear how far this defense has come," Williams said. "One minute we're on pace to set the record for being the worst defense in the history of football and then all of a sudden we definitely climbed that ladder and turned things around. The difference in the defense is like night and day from what we were and have been in the past."

Smith started every game but Week 2 at defensive end, but at times played defensive tackle to give the Texans more of a speed rush. He wound up with 34 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.

"We made the changes we needed to make as a team," Smith said of 2009. "I just hope that next year we add on to that instead of start over and try to build it up again. We just have to propel ourselves off that win."

Okoye was second on the line in total tackles with 38, and brought down the quarterback for 1.5 sacks, while Cody helped the Texans defense finish in a tie for 10th in rushing yards allowed per game this year.

The second wave of linemen provided valuable contributions as well, led by the veteran nose tackle Jeff Zgonina. He wound up with 2.5 sacks and also pounced on the fumble at Tennessee late in the game to ice the win over the Titans.

Rookie defensive end Connor Barwin tied Smith with 4.5 sacks this year, second only to Williams on the team.

"I think Connor is going to be an excellent player," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "I love Connor's motor. He loves to play. He started to factor more and more as the season went on. He took Bill's best shot everyday (in practice) and he just kept going. I think he's going to be one heck of a player."

Tim Bulman also contributed off the bench, and notched 18 total tackles.

2010 outlook: Every player on the defensive line, save for Zgonina and Bulman is under contract for 2010. Collective bargaining agreement or not, Bulman's a restricted free agent, while Zgonina is unrestricted.

It's likely the Texans will select at least one defensive lineman in the 2010 Draft, so expect to see some new faces next season.

Also, the maturation of Williams, Okoye and Barwin, combined with the continuity of Smith and Cody makes the future seem bright on the defensive side of the ball for Houston.

Join the "I'm A Texan Club" and check out Drew's profile at *http://www.imatexan.com/profiles/drewdougherty/*

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