Texans meet needs in 2008 draft

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The Texans entered last weekend's NFL draft with needs at left tackle, cornerback and running back. In the first three rounds, they fulfilled those needs in exactly that order.

General manger Rick Smith used the 26th overall pick on Duane Brown (6-4, 308), a left tackle from Virginia Tech. With two picks in the third round, Smith drafted Eastern Kentucky cornerback Antwaun Molden (6-1, 198) and West Virginia running back Steve Slaton (5-9, 197).

The Texans rounded out their rookie class by taking outside linebacker Xavier Adibi (6-1, 236), Brown's teammate and close friend at Virginia Tech, in the fourth round, Texas defensive tackle Frank Okam (6-5, 328) in the fifth round, Minnesota safety Dominique Barber (6-0, 210) in the sixth round and Washington State quarterback Alex Brink (6-2, 212) in the seventh round.

All seven acquisitions, Smith said, improved the team's athleticism.

"We feel like we have added some positions of need," Smith said. "We feel like we have added a couple of players who can make plays. I'm just excited about the whole class and excited about the way the whole thing kind of fell into place."

Brown the cure to left tackle blues
Entering the first round, the Texans were committed to getting a left tackle who could excel in assistant head coach Alex Gibbs' zone blocking scheme.

{QUOTE}The Texans had been targeting Boise State's Ryan Clady, Vanderbilt's Chris Williams, Virginia's Branden Albert and Brown. The first three were off the board by the team's 18th pick.

Smith then took a gamble and traded back with Baltimore, getting the Ravens' 26th spot and their third- and sixth-round picks. The gamble paid off, as Houston acquired the extra picks and still was able to select Brown near the end of the first round.

"There were some very good offensive linemen in this draft, obviously, as you saw them go throughout the first round," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We have really been in love with this kid (Brown) for a long time. He fits what we want to do."

Brown comes to the Texans with only one year of experience at left tackle, but he brings a tremendous upside with his athleticism. Brown played tight end, like right tackle Eric Winston, and right tackle before moving to left tackle last season.

"We love his athletic ability," Kubiak said of Brown. "You know, you watch this guy work out at Indianapolis, the type of feet that he has, and to sit there and to see Alex (Gibbs) talk about a player like he talked about this kid over the course of the last six weeks and for us to find a way to get him at 26, job well done."

Brown was the fastest player at his position at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds. Gibbs' blocking scheme requires offensive linemen with the quickness and athleticism to run-block and cut-block.

Brown used a similar zone scheme in his four years as a Hokie and looks forward to working with Gibbs when the Texans begin their mini-camps in May.

The Texans hope that Brown will be a long-term solution to the franchise's woes at left tackle. Brown hopes to earn a starting job.

"They wouldn't have drafted me in the first round if they didn't expect me to come in and contribute immediately, so I'm just going to try to soak up everything I can and learn as much as I can," Brown told Texans TV. "And when training camp starts, (I'll) show what I can do and see what happens."

Brown will compete with 11th-year pro Ephraim Salaam and Charles Spencer, whom the Texans could move to right guard, for playing time at left tackle.

Third round's the charm
Cornerback was a priority for the Texans with Dunta Robinson rehabbing knee and hamstring injuries. With the 16th pick in the third round (the team lost their second-round pick in the trade for quarterback Matt Schaub), the Texans acquired Molden.

The team liked what it saw from him at the combine, where he finished as a top performer in six of the seven events for cornerbacks, including posting the most reps in the bench press with 23.

The Texans were so impressed with Molden they sent defensive backs coach Jon Hoke to work him out. Hoke returned comparing Molden to cornerback Fred Bennett, the team's fourth-round selection in 2007 who led the team with three interceptions last season.

"He (Hoke) came back with really high remarks on this kid with his work ethic, his athletic ability where he's got the feet and the hips, which are the things you need to … play the position," defensive coordinator Richard Smith told told Texans TV. "And with that and watching the film on him, we were really excited."

Molden, who will be competing to play in nickel, feels comfortable in cover-two and man-to-man defenses.

"I feel like I am the complete package," Molden said. "Going through my review, I have a lot to learn about the league. It's fast, so I will have to adapt to the speed, the NFL speed. At the point of going into the draft, I feel like I am one of the elite."

Ten picks after selecting Molden, the Texans drafted Slaton, who rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in his three years with the Mountaineers.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likened Slaton to New England's Kevin Faulk and New Orleans' Reggie Bush, and said Slaton would step in as a third-down back.

"If you look at the top offenses in the league, they all have a player like that," Shanahan said. "I think this guy fits that role for us. We have two guys right now that we think can carry the load, but this guy can come in and fill a role. We can use him on third downs, we can use him in special situations to come in and be a change-of-pace type player."

Slaton said he would fill any role needed by his new team, be it in the pass game, run game or in one-back situations.

"I see myself as a playmaker," Slaton said. "I pride myself on making big plays, and I think that is what I can bring to the Texans."

Rounding out the rest
In the fourth round, the Texans were able to get an athletic linebacker in Adibi, who was a suitemate of Brown's during their freshman year at Virginia Tech.

Adibi led the Hokies last season with a career-high 115 tackles, including three sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and he impressed the Texans with his pro day performance, running the 40 in 4.58 seconds.

"We are really excited about this pick," Richard Smith said. "He's a really productive linebacker and has really good athletic ability. We like his foot quickness and his change of direction."

The team stayed in-state for its fifth pick with Okam, who started for three years as a Longhorn.

"We had him in here a week ago and interviewed him again to go over his passion for the game," Richard Smith said of Okam. "He brings a size and dimension we don't have on our defensive line."

In his senior year, Okam recorded 52 tackles and five sacks and played at 335 pounds. He bulked up before the combine, but would like to report to Texans camp at 325.

"I'm a competitor and love the game of football," Okam said. "I wanted to play in an organization that's headed in the right direction. They brought me in and just wanted to see where my head was. I told them they were going to get a guy who was going to stop the run and get after the quarterback."

With the sixth-round pick, the Texans added Barber, the brother of Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Marion Barber and son of Marion Barber, Jr., a former New York Jets running back.

"We think because of his bloodlines, with his dad and also with his brother, that this guy will come in here and give everything he's got because it's in his family genes to make this football team," Richard Smith said.

Texans assistant defensive backs coach Ray Rhodes, a former NFL Coach of the Year, insisted that the Texans draft Barber as a box safety. Rhodes was impressed with Barber's big-hitting ability and his turn-and-run skills.

A final selection brought in Brink, who was Washington State's career passing leader in touchdowns (76) and yards (10,913). The Texans' brass had hoped that Brink would be available in the seventh round, and they felt lucky to get him potentially to back up Schaub and Sage Rosenfels.

"This guy played in a great conference," Kubiak said. "This guy knows what it is to be chased by very good people. He'll get rid of the ball."

The team has begun signing rookie free agents to fill out the roster. The new class of Texans will report to Reliant Stadium before the Texans' first mini-camp begins on May 9 at the Methodist Training Center.

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