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Year in Review: Linebackers

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Ryans made the Pro Bowl as the AFC's starting middle linebacker after leading the Texans with 127 tackles in 2007.

Led by one of the best young defenders in the NFL in second-year middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Texans' linebackers were a formidable line of defense in 2007.

Ryans earned his first Pro Bowl berth as a starter for the AFC squad this season. The 2006 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year led the Texans for the second consecutive year with 127 tackles, including 98 solos, to go with two sacks, an interception, three fumble recoveries and his first career touchdown. He has recorded 283 tackles in the last two seasons, more than any player in the NFL.

Seventh-year veteran Morlon Greenwood continued his strong play at weakside linebacker, finishing second on the team with 119 total tackles for his fourth 100-tackle season in a row. Greenwood has posted more than 110 tackles in all three of his seasons in Houston.

{QUOTE}Formerly of the New Orleans Saints, free agent signee Danny Clark won the starting job at strongside linebacker in training camp and started eight games before suffering a groin injury late in the year. Clark provided strong veteran leadership and finished the season with 43 tackles, including 34 solos, and an interception.

As a key reserve and special teams standout, third-year pro Charlie Anderson split time with Clark and also lined up at defensive end in passing situations. Perhaps the team's most athletic linebacker, Anderson started the final five games of the season and finished with 24 tackles, including 15 solos, and two sacks.

Rookie Zac Diles, a seventh-round draft choice out of Kansas State, collected five solo tackles in limited duty behind Ryans at middle linebacker. He also finished third on the team with nine special teams stops.

Tackling machines
It was clear from the start of the season that Ryans' sophomore campaign would be special. He racked up 28 tackles in his first three games, including 13 against the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

He added six tackles and his first sack of the season at Atlanta. In that same contest, Greenwood led the team with 11 solo tackles.

The Texans' linebackers did everything they could in the 38-36 home loss against Tennessee. Greenwood had a game-high 12 tackles, and Ryans was right behind with 11 stops. He also had two fumble recoveries, including one that he returned 26 yards for a touchdown after he sacked quarterback Kerry Collins for a 13-yard loss. Clark chipped in with eight tackles, his best output of the season.

Clark's leadershipAs the season progressed, Clark emerged as a leader on the practice field and in the locker room. To strengthen team unity, he organized a weekly team dinner on Thursday nights during the season, a tradition he brought with him from the 2006 New Orleans Saints.

The eighth-year veteran had a big performance against one of his former teams, the Oakland Raiders, with five solo tackles, an interception, a pass defensed and a special teams tackle. Ryans added six tackles and an interception in the game as the Texans prevailed at McAfee Coliseum to snap a three-game losing streak.

Clark notched six tackles at Cleveland, but a groin injury in the last month of the season caused him to miss three of the final five games.

More double digitsAround the time of Clark's injury, Ryans began a streak of three consecutive double-digit tackle games. He posted 10 tackles against New Orleans, 11 at Cleveland and 14 at Tennessee.

The Texans' gritty defensive captain battled through a deeply bruised knee in the final four games, refusing to miss time as he helped lead the Texans to the best record in franchise history.

Greenwood picked up the slack for the battered Ryans with a couple of double-digit tackle days of his own. He made a season-high 13 stops along with a sack and two passes defensed in the win against Tampa Bay. Four days later, Greenwood racked up 12 tackles in the Thursday night victory over the Denver Broncos that moved the Texans to 7-7.

"I think Morlon sort of flies under the radar," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "DeMeco gets a lot of the attention, which is well deserved. But Morlon is a true pro, and this team really respects Morlon. He's really had two good years and I think he understands (defensive coordinator) Richard (Smith)'s scheme better. He's just shown up more."

Ryans got plenty of attention before the Texans' next game, when he was named the AFC Pro Bowl starter at middle linebacker on Dec. 18. He heads to Hawaii in early February.

"This is the biggest accomplishment that you can make personally as a player because you want to be touted as one of the best in the NFL," Ryans said. "To actually become a Pro Bowl player in the NFL is huge, and I never dreamed that it would be that way in only my second year in the NFL."

Anderson started five games in the final month of the season. The Ole Miss product saved his best performance for last, posting eight tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, one pass defensed and one special teams tackle against Jacksonville. Diles chipped in with a season-high three tackles in the Texans' season-ending 42-28 victory.

Competition ahead
In a postseason press conference, Kubiak spoke with satisfaction about the play of his linebackers. He and general manager Rick Smith both hope to retain Clark, a free agent who signed a one-year deal last offseason.

Anderson also is an unrestricted free agent. If he returns, Anderson and Diles would give the Texans a pair of young linebackers that the coaching staff is excited about. Kubiak believes that Diles can play all three linebacker spots.

"We are talking about three starting linebackers next year, whether that's Morlon, DeMeco, Danny, Charlie," Kubiak said. "(And) I'll tell you right now, Zac Diles will be a part of that mix. He'll be a fine player."

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