Texans may turn to draft to bolster defense

Based on their history and last year’s performance, the Houston
Texans would seem likely to look for help on defense in Thursday’s
NFL draft.

Houston has used its first pick on a defensive player in six of
the past seven drafts – the exception is offensive tackle Duane
Brown, taken with the 26th overall pick in 2008.

The Texans have the 11th overall pick this time. They finished
6-10 last year, with most of the blame falling on a defense that
ranked last against the pass (267.5 yards per game) and 30th
overall (376.9 yards per game).

General manager Rick Smith said the Texans won’t automatically
take a defensive player in the first round this year.

”We’re not opposed to taking an offensive player,” Smith said
in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ”It just hasn’t
worked out that way over the last few years. But I wouldn’t make
the assumption that that’s what we’ll do (take a defensive player),
just based on our past history.”

Still, Houston ranked 23rd in both interceptions (13) and sacks
(30) in 2010, and defensive coordinator Frank Bush was fired.

Smith acknowledges that the draft is rich with defensive talent,
particularly among linemen. And the Texans will move to a 3-4
defensive alignment under new coordinator Wade Phillips – a scheme
with increased responsibilities for the men up front.

”We have to evaluate the players based on their ability to
perform in the defense that we’re going to play,” Smith said.
”That’s incumbent on us to find the players who fit the scheme,
and will be able to do what we’ll ask them to do.”

If the Texans want to complement defensive end Mario Williams
with another pass rusher, they could take a hard look at Missouri
defensive end/linebacker Aldon Smith, who entered the draft after
two college seasons. The 6-foot-4, 263-pound Smith had 17 sacks and
29 tackles for loss in only 23 games with the Tigers.

Or Houston may opt to take a defensive back in the first round
for the second straight year, possibly Prince Amukamara from
Nebraska. The 6-foot, 206-pound Amukamara intercepted five passes
in 2009, but none in 2010 – mostly because quarterbacks avoided
throwing his way.

Houston’s pattern of taking defensive players in the first round
has produced mixed results.

In 2006, Houston surprised everyone by taking Williams with the
top overall pick, leaving Reggie Bush and Vince Young on the board.
Williams has developed into one of the league’s top pass rushers,
ranking fourth in sacks in 2007 (14) and making the Pro Bowl in
2008 and ’09.

Houston also drafted middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans early in the
second round in 2006, and Ryans was named the league’s top
defensive rookie. Linebacker Brian Cushing, Houston’s first-round
pick in 2009, tied Ray Lewis for the most tackles in the AFC in his
first season (134) and was voted the league’s top defensive
rookie.

On the flip side, 2007 first-round pick Amobi Okoye has
underachieved at defensive tackle with 91 tackles and 11 sacks in
four seasons. Cornerback Kareem Jackson, last year’s 20th overall
pick, was thrust into a starting role and struggled. Houston’s
secondary allowed a league-high 18 receptions covering 40 yards or
more in 2010.

The Texans dropped eight of their last 10 games last season, and
much of the fans’ criticism was aimed at Smith and coach Gary
Kubiak.

Smith knows the team will be under close scrutiny to make the
right calls on Thursday, too.

”We did fall short of our goals last year,” Smith said, ”and
we’re that much more committed to making sure that as we put this
team together for the 2011 season, that we get as strong a group of
players together as we can, so that we don’t fall short
again.”

The Texans have twice traded first-round picks on draft day (in
2005 and ’08). Last year, Houston traded several picks on draft day
and ended up acquiring running back Ben Tate, linebacker Darryl
Sharpton and cornerback Sherrick McManis.

Smith wouldn’t rule out making more deals this year.

”We go into the draft with the intent of improving our team as
best we can,” Smith said. ”Whether that’s just picking the player
that fills a spot for a need we have, or making a trade that might
enhance our ability to get a better player, or increase our number
of players, we’re going to be open to it.”