*This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Texans are in the market for pass rushers, and there were plenty to be found on Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Defensive ends and outside linebackers, including top talents like Texas AM’s Von Miller and North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, filtered through Lucas Oil Stadium for measurements and media interviews throughout the day.
Miller (6-2 ½, 246) led the nation with 17 sacks as a junior defensive end. He became a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2010 and had 10.5 sacks, earning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and consensus first-team All-America honors.
Some projections have Miller going as high as the third overall pick to Buffalo, so he might be long gone by the time the Texans pick at number 11. But he’d be a happy man if he ended up in Houston.
“It’d be great to play for the Houston Texans, an hour away from Aggieland,” he said. “There’s a strong Aggie following all over the world, but particularly in Houston. I’ve got a lot of friends up there. It’s an hour away from College Station.
“I know a lot about the Houston Texans. They have Coach (Reggie) Herring; he was at Texas AM for like two weeks. Coach Wade Phillips with the 3-4 defense. Coach (Gary) Kubiak, a great Aggie.”
As talented and accomplished as he is, Miller showed off a humble side on Saturday.
“First and foremost, I’m going to be a great teammate (in the NFL),” he said. “I’m a team guy. That’s how I play football. I’ll be a rookie; whatever those guys want me to do, I’ll be happy to do it. Just find my way, find my role, whatever it takes to get on the field.”
Quinn (6-4, 265), a 4-3 defensive end at North Carolina, is another top-10 pass-rushing talent. He didn’t play in 2010 after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA for accepting illegal benefits from an agent. He apologized on Saturday for making a “selfish mistake.”
Quinn had 11.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2009.
“I feel like I’ve got a never-ending motor,” he said. “I feel like I’m the fastest guy on the field, and I try not to let nobody’s hands get on me. I try to make sure no one will be able to block me. That’s the type of player I want to be.”
The 2010 suspension wasn’t the only adversity Quinn has overcome. As a senior in high school, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and doctors told him that he wouldn’t be able to play sports any more.
“At one point, they told me I should’ve been brain dead,” he said. “It was just heartbreaking. It was kind of my ‘Boobie Miles’ moment. When I looked up at my mom and they told me I wouldn’t play sports again, I became that big old baby, busted out in tears… But it didn’t slow me down. Four years later, I’m still going.”
Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith (6-4, 263) is another player who’s been mentioned in mock drafts as a potential first-round target for the Texans. Smith said he had interviews scheduled with 28 teams this week.
Smith entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore. He set a school record for sacks with 11.5 as a redshirt freshman in 2009, but a broken bone in his leg kept him out of three games in 2010. He had X-rays on the leg on Saturday and said that it checked out fine.
One of the biggest challenges for players like Smith in switching to a 3-4 would be dropping back into coverage. Smith is embracing the idea of converting to outside linebacker.
“I would like it,” he said. “I love playing on two feet. The little bit I did at Missouri, I liked it. I’ve done a lot of work with it since I got out of college. When I was in college, I was comfortable when I was doing it.”
Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (6-4, 263) of Purdue also is a projected first-rounder. A three-year starter and team captain for the Boilermakers, Kerrigan is the Big Ten’s all-time leader in forced fumbles with 14. He said that he has gotten an equal amoutn of interest from 3-4 and 4-3 teams.
Like Smith and other top hybrid prospects, Kerrigan has worked on dropping into coverage from the 3-4 outside linebacker position during his training for the combine. And like the other top prospects, he said all the right things about potentially switching positions on Saturday.
“Whatever a team wants, I’ll be willing to play, whether it’s a 3-4 linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end,” he said.
The Texans are looking for the former. Should they target a pass rusher with their first pick, they’ll have a deep group of talented players from which to choose.