2010 season in review: Safety

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.

2010 season in review: Defensive line

Top performer: DE (8.5 sacks)

Newcomers: DT (draft, third-round pick), DE (free agent), DT (free agent), DE (free agent)

Major injuries: DE (ankle, Week 1), Williams (groin, Week 13), (shoulder, preseason), DE (knee, Week 14)

Position coach: Bill Kollar (22nd NFL season, 2nd with Texans)

Year in review: Williams, a Pro Bowler in 2008 and 2009, was slowed by a nagging sports hernia injury for most of the season. He finally landed on injured reserve on Dec. 15. He still led the Texans in sacks and upped his career total to 48.0, which ranks seventh in the NFL since his rookie year of 2006.

Defensive end continued to be one of the Texans’ most consistently productive linemen. A seventh-year veteran, Smith excelled against the run, had 4.0 sacks and applied constant pressure to opposing quarterbacks.

Barwin was expected to be a high-impact pass rusher in his second NFL season, but he was lost for the year in the first quarter of the season opener against Indianapolis. Bulman missed the entire season with a shoulder injury, and Nading was placed on injured reserve in Week 14.

Defensive end Mark Anderson joined the Texans in Week 4 after being released by the . In just 11 games, he tied Smith for second on the team with 4.0 sacks, including sacks in two of the last three games of the season.

Defensive end played in 10 games, notching his first-career start in Week 15 at Tennessee and his first sack a week later at Denver. Ninth-year veteran Jarvis Green signed with the Texans late in the season but did not appear in any games. Adewale Ogunleye played in four games before being released on Nov. 2.

Starting defensive tackles and helped the Texans rank 13th in the league in rushing defense. Okoye led all Texans linemen with a career-high 45 tackles to go with 3.0 sacks. Cody had a career-high 38 tackles and started 16 games for the first time in his career.

Mitchell, a third-round pick out of Arizona, played in 15 games. A high-motor player, he had 28 tackles and made his first-career sack in Week 15 at Tennessee. Tenth-year veteran Lewis signed with the Texans during the bye week (10/25) and had 17 tackles and a sack in 10 games. DeMarrio Pressley was inactive for the final three games of the season after signing from the ’ practice squad.

Season highlight: Week 2 vs. Washington. Williams dominated with three sacks, two tackles for loss and two passes defensed in the Texans’ dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Two of Williams’ sacks came in the game’s waning minutes. He dropped Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb for a 14-yard loss with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter to help force overtime. He then sacked McNabb on first play of overtime and pressured him into throwing an incomplete pass four plays later.

Season lowlight: Week 1 at Indianapolis. Barwin suffered a gruesome, season-ending ankle injury on the Colts’ 16th play from scrimmage. As he and Smith pursued Colts running back Joseph Addai in the backfield, Smith accidentally collided with Barwin’s lower right leg right just as Barwin planted his foot to cut upfield. Barwin was down for several minutes, writhing in pain as his ankle dangled from his leg, before being carted away to the locker room.

Barwin had led all rookie defensive ends with 4.5 sacks in 2009. The Texans had high hopes for him in 2010, designing a slew of hybrid packages to take advantage of his athletic ability as a rush end. It was a major blow from which the defense never really recovered.

Notable number: 37.5 – Percentage of the Texans’ sacks that Williams has accounted for since 2007. Williams has 43.5 sacks in those four seasons. Only John Abraham of the Falcons (38.1 percent) has accounted for a higher share of his team’s sacks than Williams during that time frame.

Key splits: Williams played in 13 games before going on injured reserve. He had six sacks in five victories, and only 2.5 sacks in eight losses. For his career, Williams has 30 sacks in 36 victories and 18 sacks in 41 losses.

Williams had 2.5 sacks in seven home games in 2010. He had 6.0 sacks in seven games on the road. That was actually a marked difference from his career splits; Williams has 28.5 sacks in 39 career home games compared to 19.5 sacks in 38 career road games. He also has forced seven fumbles at home compared to three on the road.

Quotable: “I definitely want to say, you know, I appreciate the help from the fans behind our bench. It really meant a lot, talking all that noise. It’s great to have 92,000 shut up. “
– Williams, after the Texans’ Week 2 victory at Washington, where he said Redskins fans were taunting him by telling him to “eat a mushroom” in reference to the Super Mario Bros. video game

Looking ahead: Changes are obviously in store as the Texans move from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Williams and Smith will remain at end, while Mitchell and Cody are candidates to start at nose tackle. Barwin and Nading have been moved to outside linebacker.

Anderson, a pleasant surprise in 2010, will be a free agent this offseason. The five-year veteran was tendered by the Texans, but he would be unrestricted if the requirement for free agency returns to four years.

2010 season in review: Offensive line

Top performers: C , LG , RT (16 starts apiece)

Newcomers: Smith (free agent), G (rookie, sixth-round draft pick)

Major injuries: RG (season-ending calf injury in Week 14)

Position coach: John Benton (7th NFL season, 5th with Texans), Frank Pollack (4th NFL season, 4th with Texans)

Year in review: For the third consecutive season, the Texans’ offensive line paved the way for the best offense in team history. The Texans ranked third in offense (386.6 yards per game), including fourth in passing (259.0 yards per game) and seventh in rushing (127.6 yards per game). They were one of three teams in the NFL with a top-10 rushing and passing offense.

A year after protecting the league’s leading passer in , the O-line blocked for the league’s leading rusher in . Foster ran for a franchise-record 1,616 yards, and the Texans had a franchise-record 2,042 rushing yards as a team.

Myers, a sixth-year veteran, started all 16 games at center for the third consecutive season. Healthy after playing through a high-ankle sprain in 2009, Myers was lauded by Benton for having an “outstanding” season as the quarterback of the line.

Wade Smith started all 16 games at left guard in his first year as a Texan. The eighth-year veteran signed as a free agent from the , where he played primarily at right guard and center. Smith won a starting job in training camp and became a vital addition to the Texans’ line.

Brisiel and rotated at right guard in the first half of the season. Brisiel eventually won the starting job before landing on injured reserve with a calf injury on Dec. 15. Caldwell, a third-round draft pick in 2009, started seven games in 2010. Brisiel, a third-year pro, started nine.

At right tackle, Winston started all 16 games to extend his streak to 71 consecutive starts. A third-round pick in 2006, Winston is starting to garner respect as one of the better right tackles in the league.

, the Texans’ first-round pick in 2008, started 12 games at left tackle. Brown missed four games in Weeks 3-6 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He has started all 44 games played in his career at left tackle.

Fifth-year veteran , the Texans’ backup at left and right tackle, started for Brown and fared well during his suspension. Butler’s first-career start came against Dallas in Week 3. The Texans went 2-2 with him in the starting lineup.

saw action in four games, primarily on special teams. Studdard started 14 games at left guard in 2009. Shelley Smith, a sixth-round draft pick out of Colorado State, backed up both guard positions on the line.

Season highlight: Week 1 vs. Indianapolis. The offensive line showed its physicality in the 2010 opener, opening holes for Foster’s 231-yard rushing day and the team’s 257 total rushing yards. Schaub attempted only five passes in the second half, when the Texans dominated the time of possession for 18:48 to literally run away with a 34-24 victory.

The Texans’ line helped produce three 200-yard rushing days on the season (257 vs. Indianapolis, 249 at Oakland and 244 vs. Jacksonville), something the team had only done once before in its history.

Season lowlight: Week 5 vs. N.Y. Giants. The Texans had a season-low 195 yards of offense in a 34-10 loss, their most lopsided loss of the season. They didn’t have a single drive of longer than 35 yards and had the ball for only 21:09 of 60 minutes.

Foster was limited to 25 rushing yards on 11 carries. The Giants had five tackles for loss. Schaub was 16-of-34 for 196 yards and was sacked three times, including twice by defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Schaub fumbled twice, losing one, and was hit seven times.

Notable number: 4.83 – Yards per carry for the Texans in 2010, which ranked third in the NFL and set a franchise record. The team’s previous best yards-per-carry average was 4.27 in 2008.

Key splits: The Texans ranked fifth in the NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone after ranking 26th in 2008 and 12th in 2009. They scored on 62.3 percent (33-of-53) of their red zone possessions under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

The Texans came away with at least three points 96.2 percent of the time (51-of-53) they reached the red zone, which ranked second only to the Colts (96.4 percent).

In the final eight games of the season, the Texans’ offensive line limited opponents to only 11 sacks. They gave up 21 sacks in the first eight games of the year. Since 2007, the Texans have allowed a sack on only 4.7 percent of their passing plays (111 of 2,362), which is fifth-best in the NFL.

Quotable: “I was really impressed with Wade. I’ve been watching Wade for a number of years and saw him improve over the course of his career. He’s been a guy that we’ve targeted several times throughout his career as a potential free agent acquisition. The thing that was interesting to me about Wade (was) at the end of the year, I meet with all the players. And to a man, all of our offensive linemen said, ‘Hey, we were a better unit, and a lot of it had to do with Wade’s addition.’”
– Texans general manager Rick Smith, at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, on Wade Smith

Looking ahead: The Texans’ offensive line will return largely intact in 2011. Brisiel is the only starter not under contract, but he’ll be a restricted free agent and was tendered at reportedly a second-round level.

Butler, an important backup, also is impending free agent. He reportedly was tendered at a third-round level. The fifth-year veteran will be restricted if the requirement for becoming unrestricted remains at six years. If the requirement for becoming unrestricted returns to four years, as it was before 2010, Butler will be unrestricted and free to sign with any team.

Studdard was not tendered after the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent.