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Monday, March 28, 2011
Breaking down Texans' defensive linemen

By Paul Kuharsky

We’ll talk a lot of square pegs and round holes as we watch the Texans try to sculpt their incumbent 4-3 defensive linemen into 3-4 players.

Not all of them will fit, of course, with Amobi Okoye expected to be a piece that has to take a pay cut to stick in what would likely be a reduced role.

Lance Zierlein does a nice job spelling out just what 3-4 ends and tackles look like and do in this piece.

It’s the biggest systemic switch in the division and the labor impasse is making us be patient. We can’t assess much before the guys they have are on the field with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Mario Williams and Antonio Smith should be just fine as ends for Phillips. Publicly the team has expressed faith in Shaun Cody, who got a new contract, and Earl Mitchell as nose tackles.

Analysts, including Zierlein, aren’t sold on Cody. Nose tackles in a 3-4 are usually giant, and when they aren’t giant, they have to be special. Cody is not giant, and has hardly shown himself to be special so far. Mitchell is heading into just his second season, but when the Texans drafted him out of Arizona in the third round they weren’t projecting him as a piece of a 3-4.

While Cody, Mitchell or an unknown nose tackle will have quality players behind him in Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, the inside linebackers won’t be as effective as possible if the nose doesn’t hold his ground and demand attention.

It’s a position we’ll be watching as closely as any when Phillips’ defense finally hits the field. I hope they give themselves another option.