Unique training helps Barwin prepare for 2010

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In only his second year playing defense, Connor Barwin quietly led all rookie defensive ends with 4.5 sacks in 2009.

Among Texans rookies, Brian Cushing and Glover Quin got most of the attention last season.

Connor Barwin wasn't too shabby himself.

In only his second year playing defense, the converted tight end from Cincinnati quietly led all rookie defensive ends with 4.5 sacks. First-round draft picks Tyson Jackson (Chiefs) and Aaron Maybin (Bills) had zero sacks. Everette Brown (Panthers), who was taken three spots before Barwin in the second round, had 2.5.

Barwin's rookie sack total also was higher than the three defensive ends drafted in the first round in 2008, including second-overall pick Chris Long (Rams), eighth pick Derrick Harvey (Jaguars) and 28th pick Lawrence Jackson (Seahawks). Long had the most of that group with 4.0.

"We were extremely impressed," Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush said of Barwin. "The kid didn't have a whole lot of defensive experience, but he had a lot of talent. He's a guy that can run. He's got somewhat of a knack for the pass rush; he's a little bit slippery. I think he was able to excel because he understood exactly what he was and exactly what his positives and his negatives were."

Bush and Texans defensive line coach Bill Kollar said that they'd like Barwin to improve his upper-body strength and instincts this offseason. They don't want Barwin, a speed rusher, to put on too much weight, but they're hoping that those improvements combined with better use of his hands will make him a force to be reckoned with off the edge.

"It's tough in there," Kollar said. "He's weighing about 260 now and he's playing against offensive tackles that are sometimes 330, 340. Giving up a lot of weight, you've got to really be able to play good technique and really use your hands well. We're hoping that he's going to be able to do that."

Kollar would be happy to hear about Barwin's offseason workouts.

For the past five weeks, Barwin has been working out hard to build his upper- and lower-body strength. He also has been honing his hand-work and technique with football-specific boxing training at Ignition APG, the Cincinnati facility where he trained for the combine last year.

"This time, I've kind of taken it to another level and incorporated defensive line-type moves with my boxing coach," Barwin said. "He almost uses the boxing mitts like a bag that we use on a football field."

{QUOTE}Barwin worked with his same instructor, Ben Creamer, last year. Those workouts focused on improving quickness and staying in shape and helped Barwin post eye-popping combine numbers, including a 4.66 40-yard dash and 40.5-inch vertical jump.

Barwin thinks that this year's training will translate to more success on the football field.

"We go for about an hour," he said of a typical boxing session. "You warm up doing a couple of rounds of jump rope. Then you do a round of abs – that's about all I can handle. Then you work your hand speed on the speed bags, then the rest of the time we'll do about five or six three-minute rounds with him on the mitts and he has the whole big body shield on.

"Then we'll do a couple of rounds of pure boxing stuff, which is good just for body control and the hands and body and hips working together, and then we'll do a couple of rounds where we kind of do defensive line-type moves like swipes and swats, and I'll stab and rip on him like he's an offensive lineman."

Barwin said his primary goal this season is to become an every-down player, not just a situational pass rusher. Coaches would like to see him on the field more, too.

"We know he's never going to be a tremendous run-down player, a guy of his size," Kollar said. "But we're hoping that he'll get good enough to where he can hold his own in the run and really become a good pass rusher and also a zone dropper."

A walk-on basketball player at Cincinnati, Barwin's athleticism and tight end experience make dropping into coverage a natural task for him.

"I definitely think I'm capable of doing what some of the other tight ends do in the league," Barwin said. "Jesse Nading and I always would stay after practice on Fridays with Rex (Grossman) and Dan (Orlovsky) and we'd always catch and just talk about how we'd be sweet tight ends in the NFL, but that's really just for fun. That's just fun for me to think about sometimes."

That athleticism is fun for Bush as a defensive coordinator. The Texans run a 4-3, but Barwin's versatility allows them to give hybrid 3-4 and 5-2 looks.

"We want to take advantage of that, because he is a tremendous athlete," Bush said. "There are things he can do that other defensive ends on our team and on other teams can't do, and we're going to try to take advantage of it in the sense of using him in space, using him standing up, hitting different gaps from a standup position, giving different looks, not allowing the offense to kind of get a beat on us and exactly what we're doing."

Bush regularly began to stand Barwin up like a linebacker late in the 2009 season as the rookie grew more comfortable on the field. Barwin had 3.5 sacks over the final six games and, Bush said, started to play with a swagger similar to Cushing.

Texans coaches envision Barwin opening things up for defensive end Mario Williams and perhaps changing the complexion of the entire defense.

"We want to expand his role," Bush said. "We're excited about the prospects. We're just hoping he comes in and gets stronger, and I don't know if he'll get any faster because he's pretty fast, but we're hoping to get him better in a lot of areas and we're excited about where we can go with what he can bring us."

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

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