Top performers: (112 tackles, four forced fumbles), (3 INTs)
Newcomers: (undrafted free agent), (free agent)
Major injuries: (knee, Week 11), Williams (knee, Week 12)
Position coach: David Gibbs (9th NFL season, 2nd with Texans)
Year in review: The Texans’ safeties were the last line of defense in a defense that ranked 32nd in passing in 2010. Even so, their season was not without encouraging performances from young players.
Pollard led the team with a career-high 112 tackles despite sitting out Week in 17. The hard-hitting strong safety had a career-high 2.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He also had five passes defensed, although he had zero interceptions after recording four in 2009.
Veteran free safety Eugene Wilson saw action in 14 games with 13 starts. He finished sixth on the team with 55 tackles, including 40 solos, while batting down three passes. He did not have an interception for just the second time in his seven-year career.
Nolan, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, was essentially a rookie after missing his first season with a hand injury. He tied for the team lead in interceptions despite starting only three games. He had two interceptions in Week 4 at Oakland and a career-high seven tackles the next week in his first-career start. He had a fumble recovery and interception in the season finale against Jacksonville.
Barber played in eight games, including one start at free safety against the Raiders. He was a key backup and one of the Texans’ top special teams players before he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 11.
The Texans signed Demps in Week 14. The former Philadelphia Eagle played in the final two games of the season and made one special teams tackle. Wililams, an undrafted rookie from Purdue, was called up from the practice squad in mid-November. He played in one game before going on injured reserve with a hamstring injury on Dec. 1.
Season highlight: Week 4 at Oakland. With Wilson inactive because of an injury, Nolan pulled down two interceptions in the first significant playing time of his career. He also had four tackles while rotating with Barber at the free safety spot.
Nolan’s first interception came late in the third quarter. He returned the ball 20 yards to set the Texans up for a short touchdown drive. Nolan’s second interception, with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, put the nail in the coffin on a 31-24 Texans victory.
Season lowlight: Week 11 at . After a spirited comeback, the Texans led 27-23 with 49 seconds left to play. The Jets had the ball at their own 28-yard line and no timeouts, needing a touchdown to win the game. They scored one in five plays and 39 seconds.
The key play on the Jets’ drive was a 42-yard pass from Mark Sanchez to Braylon Edwards. The Texans designed for safety help over the top on the play, but Edwards was able to catch the ball on the right sideline and get out of bounds, stopping the clock with 16 seconds left at the six-yard line. The Jets scored the game-winning touchdown on the next play.
Notable number: 22.2 – Percentage of the Texans’ takeaways that Nolan accounted for on the season. He had three interceptions and one fumble recovery, giving him four of the team’s 18 takeaways.
Key splits: Nolan started three games in 2010 – against the Giants in Week 5, at Denver in Week 16 and against the Jaguars in Week 17. In those three games, he had 19 tackles, one interception, one sack and one fumble recovery. In 13 games as a sub, he had 17 tackles and two interceptions, with zeroes in the other categoriers.
Pollard had at least nine tackles in five of the first eight games of the season. He didn’t top eight tackles in the second half of the season. However, all of his 2.5 sacks and two of his four forced fumbles came in December.
Quotable: “At the end of the day, when teams play us, they look for a highlight game. And we continue to give teams highlight games. That’s the only way I can put it. You look at the last three games we’ve played, look at the last three receivers we’ve played. Their fantasy statuses went up, and it’s ridiculous.”
– Pollard, after the Texans’ last-second loss to the Jets in Week 11, on the defense’s continuing struggles
Looking ahead: The Texans will have two new opening day starters at safety in 2011. The team has released Wilson, their starting free safety since 2008, and has not re-signed Pollard, their starting strong safety since 2009. Both will be unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Cornerback might be moved to free safety, a position where the Texans think he could thrive. Whether or not that happens depends on the coaching staff’s evaluation of the rest of the team’s cornerbacks.
Nolan and Barber both have starting experience at strong safety. Both have shown promise in their young Texans careers, and both should be in the mix to compete for playing time in 2011.