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Your Texans: Linebackers


Johnny Holland won't say he's surprised by the good things that have happened to his linebacking corps over the past two seasons. Surprise is for everyone else.

First, DeMeco Ryans stepped out of his Alabama Crimson Tide uniform and into a Texans jersey and earned AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season. That surprised fans, but Holland didn't raise an eyebrow.

"He wasn't a surprise to me after watching him from his college games," Holland said. "He was a big play guy and he was explosive. That showed up. That's showing up now."

{QUOTE}This season, Danny Clark stepped into the linebacker mix as a backup with little playing time last season at New Orleans. When the season opener arrived, there was Clark in the starting lineup.

"I'm not surprised by what I see of him on film as a physical player when we studied Danny," Holland said. "But I'd never seen him play outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage. We didn't know if he could do that."

With Ryans in the middle and flanked by Morlon Greenwood and Clark as the starters in the Texans' 4-3 defense, Holland is taking his good fortune in stride.

"I was surprised that DeMeco would start out that fast in the NFL, changing positions going to the middle linebacker position," Holland said. "DeMeco is an amazing guy. He's sharp and takes his job seriously. He's very mature for a second year player and that's what you look for in researching a player."

Clark felt good about signing with the Texans and fitting into the Texans' defense.

"Last year wasn't anything that had to do with me," Clark said. "I just didn't get the opportunity last year. Once given the opportunity, you make the best of it. I think that's what will happen here. I'll show what I can do with it."

Clark started 31 games over two seasons with Oakland in 2004-2005. He was a reserve with the Saints last season with no starts.

"I came to Houston to be the starter and that came to fruition," Clark said. "I take my hat off to the organization. They gave me an opportunity. They kept their word. I can't thank them enough to give me the opportunity to compete for this spot. I still have to go out there on Sunday and compete."

Greenwood is coming off one of his better seasons.

"My first year here, we were in the 3-4 defense," Greenwood said. "My entire career I've played the 4-3 even back to high school. My first year, I led the team in tackles and I think I had a couple of (forced) fumbles and stuff and a couple of sacks, but as far as coming downhill and knowing where to fit, I was still feeling my way.

"Last year, we went back to the 4-3 and it was something I've always been around."

Holland likes the diverse group of linebackers the Texans have assembled.

"They bring a different dimension to a linebacker group," Holland said. "I wouldn't say all of them are super athletes, but they're good athletes and they're smart players. That's what you like as a coach."

Coaches also like to see super work ethic.

"Our group's approach to the game is better than I've known," Holland said. "Sometimes I walk downstairs on Tuesday, our day off, and I see all six linebackers down there studying and watching film.

"As a professional, that's what you have to do to be ahead of the game. We've got true professionals in that group, guys that come to work every day and the mental part of their game has really stepped up."

Holland likes to tell the story of last season's preseason opener against Kansas City. That's when he found out about Ryans. If Holland wasn't surprised, at least he was excited.

"We had moved him to a new position and we didn't know much about him," Holland said. "DeMaco is a laid back guy, not a big talker and I remember the first game we played when we put the pads on, he went out to play, he made about the first seven or eight tackles, good crisp licks and that's when we said, 'I think we've got us a middle linebacker there.'

"He's a true professional at his job. You can build teams around guys like that."

This season, Ryans isn't a surprise to anyone.

"That's the challenge that he's got to face, that he's not a hidden secret any more," Holland said. "He's got to make plays when opportunity calls. What hurts guys the second year is they try to push too hard to do good.

"I tell him to just be the player you are and don't try to overdo it. You want to improve every time you step on the field. Don't worry about the stats. It's all about winning."

The linebackers are looking at statistics: the two interceptions the defensive line has so far this season, one each by Mario Williams and Travis Johnson. It's sparked a little friendly competition.

"Yeah, there's always competition," Holland laughed. "We've got our board up and we've got to get some stats on there. There's always competition on teams to see who gets the stats. That's good.

"We feel like if our D-line plays well, our defense plays well. Everyone feeds off that. We're pushing for them to get more interceptions, more sacks and more big plays. That helps us all."

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