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Smith confident as draft approaches


General manager Rick Smith is entering his third draft with the Texans. For the first time, he feels that the team has positioned itself to go a number of ways with its first pick (15th overall).

"I don't think that we have a glaring need anywhere," Smith said. "I think that we can improve our team in a lot of different areas, and that's what we're going to try to do Saturday and Sunday. But to say that I'm sitting here and that I am in a position where I feel like if we don't come out of the draft with any one particular position, we're in trouble, I don't feel like that."

{QUOTE}During free agency, the Texans signed defensive end Antionio Smith, linebacker Cato June, defensive tackle Shaun Cody and quarterback Dan Orlovsky. Smith is expected to start at right end, and June and Cody will compete for playing time. Houston also re-signed safeties Eugene Wilson and Nick Ferguson.

That is not say the Texans are without needs on the either side of the ball. Smith remained tight-lipped about the specifics while addressing the Houston media on Wednesday, but this much remains clear: The Texans could use a running back to complement Steve Slaton; they still are thin at outside linebacker; and Smith always will look to draft a cornerback to improve the team's defense.

When it comes to running backs, the Texans appear to be in the market for a pounder who can get the dirty yards for them. They picked up Slaton last year in the third round, and there seems to be a good stable of backs this year that will go in the middle of the draft, like North Carolina's Andre Brown or Alabama's Glenn Coffee. Smith also said that the organization hadn't given up on sixth-year pro Chris Brown, who spent 2008 on injured reserve.

"We've talked a lot about the mid rounds where you can find value there at the running back position," Smith said. "In my history, we've had success even later, in the late rounds at the position. I do think that if you have a player who has special ability and it's pretty clear that he's got special ability, then I don't think you eliminate the chance that you take a guy early, either.

"Everybody's talking about the fact that we need another back along with Steve, a bigger back, a third-down back, and they forget that we've got a guy walking around in our building right now that could fill that role, and that's Chris Brown. He was hurt, obviously, last year, but he's still on our team and so there's a possibility for him to fill that role."

At linebacker, Zac Diles is coming back from a season-ending leg injury and Xavier Adibi will look to reclaim a starting spot on the weakside. June and seven-year pro Kevin Bentley will compete with Diles for starting duties on the strongside.

Still, many draft pundits predict the Texans will draft USC linebacker Clay Matthews or Brian Cushing. Both had been accused of testing positive for steroids at the combine, but league officials cleared them of any drug violations. Smith said the steroid allegations did not impact his evaluations.

"I didn't pay any attention to it," he said. "What you do is you trust your information. We've had scouts out since last year evaluating these guys and gathering information on them, so I trust that information a heck of a lot more than I trust a report until I see something substantiated."

Cushing and Matthews most likely will be available if the Texans stay at No. 15, but Smith said he wasn't opposed to trading up or back for the right player.

Last year, Smith engineered a trade with Baltimore to trade down from 18 to 26 and select left tackle Duane Brown. But he said the No. 15 pick should attract movement by teams from both ends.

"I think that in this particular draft, certain positions have a little bit more depth than others," Smith said. "I think the other thing that might influence that is if there's a run on a particular position and teams feel like they have to get a certain guy or a certain position, then I think you might see people try to move. that's what's attractive about our spot. That movement starts to happen around there, and so we may have an opportunity to move if we're so inclined."

Smith also made it clear that cornerback is once again a priority for him in the draft, reminding media members that he drafted Fred Bennett in the fourth round in 2007 and Antwaun Molden in the third round in 2008.

"You look at the two drafts that I've run so far, and I'm going to always take corners because I don't think you can have enough guys that can cover and run and hit and do all those things that we ask them to do," Smith said. "So, yes, if there's a corner available, we'll certainly try to add one."

This week, Smith, coaches, scouts and personnel heads like director of football administration Chris Olsen are working through mock drafts in the Texans' war room. They go through their worst-case scenarios first to ensure they have a contingency plan in place.

Also on Smith's horizon are contract negotiations for cornerback Dunta Robinson, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and tight end Owen Daniels. But Smith said the situations with those players will not influence how he uses the Texans' eight draft picks this weekend.

"I've got pretty good confidence that those guys will show up and play and be productive players for us, so I don't really worry about that," Smith said. "Our philosophy is to build through the draft as we've talked about, and part of that process and part of that philosophy is that you sign your young players to long-term contracts. Now sometimes, that's a process in and of itself that has some ups and downs. But we're committed to that, and we'll continue to do that."

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