Texans' Defense: The Next Step

After the first three games of the 2009 season, the Texans' defense was fourth in the league. The organization finally put together their best defense since the 2002 unit. Now, how do they get better? OTA's gave us a glimpse.

The big factors will be if the pass rush can continue to get better and the secondary along with it. And, oh yeah, overcoming the initial loss of last year's impact rookie.

It won't be easy with Brian Cushing sitting the first four games, but Frank Bush feels like between Xavier Adibi and Danny Clark, he has enough horsepower to hold down the strongside until Week 5.

Along the line, Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody are still the starters, but third-round pick Earl Mitchell has been crashing the party and might play a bunch. Also, undrafted free agent Malcolm Sheppard has done enough to earn public praise from Gary Kubiak despite checking in at just 280 pounds, an old-school weight for a DT.

You know about Mario Williams and you also know that Antonio Smith is Rick Smith's best big-ticket free agent signing after bringing some much needed playmaking and attitude at his defensive end spot last year. But Connor Barwin, who led all rookies in sacks with 4.5, is poised to take his play to another level. He's a gym-rat type of player who should make the most of having a year of experience.

Kareem Jackson has surprised nobody and that's a good thing. The coaches expected him to come onto the field and perform like a veteran and he basically has. From day one, Kubiak said that playing at the top level under Nick Saban gave Jackson a leg up as a rookie, and under DB coach David Gibbs he's shinning.

Safety depth has been a bit of concern with Dominique Barber being the only proven reserve. Troy Nolan's OTAs were solid as he tries to prove he belongs after missing his rookie year with an injury. And undrafted Torri Williams out of Purdue has been a nice addition. Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson make up the best safety tandem the Texans have ever had.

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