Season in review: Offensive line

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Left tackle Duane Brown was one of three Texans offensive linemen to start all 16 games in 2009.

While overcoming early-season injuries to both starting guards, the Texans' 2009 offensive line excelled in pass protection but struggled to help the team produce a consistent running game until the final two weeks of the season.

SEASON IN REVIEW: OFFENSIVE LINE

Position coaches: Alex Gibbs (25th NFL season, 2nd with Texans), John Benton (6th NFL season, 4th with Texans), Frank Pollack (3rd NFL season, 3rd with Texans)

Week 1 starters:Duane Brown (left tackle), Chester Pitts (left guard), Chris Myers (center), Mike Brisiel (right guard), Eric Winston (right tackle)

Week 17 starters: Duane Brown (left tackle), Kasey Studdard (left guard), Chris Myers (center), Chris White (right guard), Eric Winston (right tackle)

Key injuries: Pitts (knee, Week 2), Brisiel (foot, Week 5), Myers (ankle, preseason)

By the numbers (top statistical performers): Brown, Winston, Myers (16 starts apiece)

Season overview: The Texans started the same five players on the offensive line for all 16 games in 2008, and the Texans averaged the most yards per carry (4.3) and had the most passing (4,267) in team history.

That entire starting lineup was intact at the start of the 2009 season, but the line's continuity took a major hit in Week 2 when Pitts went down with a season-ending knee injury. Up to that point, Pitts had started all 114 games in Texans history. He had missed only seven of the team's offensive snaps.

"It was a big adjustment all year long, because when you lose Chester, what you're losing is a big, physical player that handles three techniques and is very stout on the line of scrimmage," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He was a leader, also. So we started adjusting from Week 2 without Chester."

Pitts was joined on injured reserve a few weeks later by Brisiel, who injured his foot late in the fourth quarter at Arizona. Brisiel had started 25 consecutive games at right guard. White and rookie Antoine Caldwell teamed up to replace Brisiel over the remainder of the season; White started eight games and Caldwell started three. Studdard filled in for Pitts.

Despite the injuries, the offensive line blocked well enough for quarterback Matt Schaub to throw for a league-high 4,770 passing yards, the sixth-highest total in NFL history. The line allowed only 25 sacks, fifth-fewest in the league, despite Schaub attempting a league-high 583 passes.

The running game struggled, ranking 30th in the league with 92.2 yards per game, but the ground game improved in the final two games of the season. The offensive line helped the Texans to net 126 rushing yards in Week 16 at Miami and 144 yards in the season finale vs. New England.

2010 outlook:Assistant head coach/offense Alex Gibbs left to coach with the Seahawks after two seasons in charge of the Texans' running game. New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison worked under Gibbs for nine years with the Broncos and brings extensive experience as an offensive line coach.

Pitts, the second player ever drafted by the Texans, is the team's lone unrestricted free agent among offensive linemen who started in 2009. White and Rashad Butler, the Texans' top reserve at tackle, will be restricted free agents unless there's a new collective bargaining agreement.

If Pitts and White re-sign with Houston, the Texans could be deeper than ever along the offensive line in 2010.

"We've got a chance to go back to camp next year really staring at eight starters because of how much football Studdard's played, how much Chris White's played, how much Caldwell has played," Kubiak said a day after the season finale. "That's how teams get better. Imagining us lining up a week from now with all those guys healthy and them starting for jobs on this team—that would be an impressive group to have.

"Adversity breeds some players getting better and the football team getting better, so even though it was difficult, when it's all said and done, I think we have the chance to improve."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at *twitter.com/NickScurfield or friend him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/.*

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