Strong safety Bernard Pollard helped to turn around the Texans' defense after signing with the team three weeks into the season. Dominique Barber and Eugene Wilson combined with a host of other veterans to give the Texans improved play at free safety as the season went on.
SEASON IN REVIEW: Safeties
Position coach: David Gibbs (8th NFL season, 1st with Texans)
Week 1 starters: Dominique Barber (strong safety), Nick Ferguson (free safety)
Week 17 starters: Bernard Pollard (strong safety), John Busing (free safety)
Key injuries: Eugene Wilson (knee, Weeks 1-2; illness, Week 4; toes, Weeks 11-17); Barber (hamstring, Week 17)
By the numbers (top statistical performers):Pollard (105 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 TDs), Wilson (2 INTs), Busing (1 INT), Barber (1 INT, 1 TD)
Season overview:Through the first three games of the 2009 season, the Texans ranked last in the NFL in total defense (439.0 yards allowed/game) and last in rushing defense (205.0 yards/game). They were tied for 29th in points allowed (28.7/game).
A large chunk of those yards and points came on four big plays – long touchdowns of 57, 67, 91 and 61 yards – that were, primarily, the result of missed assignments.
Once Pollard entered the starting lineup in Week 4, those big plays disappeared. Over the final 12 weeks of the season, the Texans ranked second in run defense (84.3 yards/game) and fourth in overall defense (312.9 yards/game). They didn't give up a run longer than 36 yards and allowed only one running back, Chris Johnson, to crack the 100-yard mark.
Pollard wasn't the only reason for that improvement, but he was a big part of it. He had been cut by the Kansas City Chiefs just before the season despite leading them in tackles in 2008. After the Texans signed him, Pollard quickly became a vocal leader and added a physical, ball-hawking presence to the secondary.
Pollard had two interceptions at Indianapolis and returned an interception 70 yards for a score against Seattle. In the season finale, he recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. He also intercepted New England's Tom Brady to set up the game-winning score.
"Picking up a player like Bernard basically off the streets, what he brought to our team, it doesn't happen very often," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "So give (general manager) Rick (Smith) and the scouting department a lot of credit, and the job that David (Gibbs) did with him. He's a hungry kid. He got let go in one place, he's hungry to do it right this time, and we're fortunate that he's doing it right here."
While Pollard brought stability at strong safety, no position was more fluid for the Texans than free safety. Four different players started the first four games. Wilson, the 2008 starter, was sidelined by a knee injury during the preseason. Ferguson started in Week 1. Busing started the next week. Wilson re-joined the starting lineup in Week 3, then was a surprise scratch in Week 4 with flu-like symptoms. Barber filled in.
Wilson started the next six games before suffering season-ending toe injuries in the Monday night loss to the Titans on Nov. 23. Busing got another crack at a starting job, but Barber took his place two weeks later. Barber excelled, recording his first-career interception at St. Louis on Dec. 20, but he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury the following week at Miami.
Busing started the season finale against the Patriots, but veteran safety Brian Russell played the majority of the game and finished with a season-high three tackles.
2010 outlook: Pollard, a second-round draft pick in 2006, will become a restricted free agent in March if there's no new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place.
"If everything could work out, I would rather be here," Pollard said after the season. "This is a scheme that I'm used to. I think Frank (Bush) and Coach Gibbs, they let me do what I do best, play close to the line of scrimmage, drop back in pass coverage, just kind of mix things up.
"But you've got to let everything take its course. I'm just going to sit and wait. I've got nothing but time on my hands right now, so I'm going to go home and talk to my wife and get some things understood, and we're going to see what happens."
Pollard said that money would not be his biggest concern while looking for a new contract.
"My big thing is I want to be around a group of guys that love to play the game," he said. "I'm not looking to break the bank, I'm not looking to be the richest – I don't care about all that. That don't float my boat. I really don't care about it. I just want to be able to play football at a high level and have fun."
Busing also will be a restricted free agent. Ferguson and Russell will be unrestricted free agents.