Board set, Texans approach draft with “no glaring needs”

The Texans’ draft board is set. All that remains is seeing how the chips fall beginning on

Thursday with the first round, where the Texans have the 26th pick, and executing their plan.

At his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, general manager Rick Smith applauded the work done by the Texans’ scouting and coaching staffs during draft preparations.

“This is such a subjective process, what we try to do is do as much as we can do to put ourselves in positions to make good decisions,” Smith said. “Our processes are in place now and I feel so good about them, and I think longevity helps us because we’ve got people who have worked with us in the system long enough that I just really feel good about where we are and how we’ve stacked this board and just the process.

“So the culmination, obviously, of a lot of work over the last year, I think we can fully expect that it will be a very successful weekend for us. I’m thankful to the guys who have put in all the work and I think we’ve vetted this board about as thoroughly as we’ve vetted a board, and I feel very prepared as a group going in.

“We’ve met this morning to go over scenarios and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow, but really, the work’s done. The board is set. We’re excited about adding some players that will come in and hopefully impact our football team.”

Smith said the Texans “took a significant step” toward their goal of winning a Super Bowl last season. They went 10-6 and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Baltimore Ravens on the road in narrow fashion.

Every first-round pick in Texans history has started as a rookie, but that could change in 2012.

“We are coming into the draft where we feel like we have a good football team and there are no glaring needs,” Smith said. “Certainly, we feel like we’re in that position, but I still think you have to look for impact players. Maybe the early contribution won’t be as significant for some of them, but you still want to go out and find the best players available that fit your system and speak to some kind of need on your football team or can make some kind of contribution to your football team.”

So what are the Texans’ needs heading into the draft?

“If you look across our football team, the first thing I think you would think about [is] on the offensive line, losing a couple starters, via free agency in one case [right guard Mike Brisiel] and then a termination in another case [right tackle Eric Winston], but we’ve got to look at the offensive line group,” Smith said. “I’ve said at the Combine earlier that I think we can probably help ourselves at the wide receiver position with maybe adding some youth and adding some speed there, and then depth in the linebacker corps. You can always add pass rushers. You can always add corners; I’ve always said that.

“We’ll do what we always do. We’ll stay true to our board. We’ve assessed a value that we think these players have at their particular positions, and the way that it falls is the way that we’ll pick them.”

Smith declined to discuss specific draft prospects, as he does every year. He did say on Tuesday that there is depth in this draft at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker.

Smith also said the Texans are further along in their evaluation of 3-4 defensive prospects from last year, when they switched from evaluating 4-3 players in the middle of the scouting season after Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator.

“One thing about this defense is you need linebackers,” he said. “You need depth at linebacker. You need as many guys as you can find that can rush the passer that are athletic. It helps you on special teams. I do believe that our special teams units were improved last year, and part of that is a function of a 3-4 defense. We’ll continue to bolster those groups and continue to try to find players that fit that system and can come in and help us.”

Going back to the offensive line, Smith repeated another familiar refrain of his from this time of year: The Texans don’t stack their draft board based on need.

“We’ve got good players on our football team already that we think can step in there,” Smith said. “(Rashad) Butler is a guy that played at a very, very high level when he had his opportunity, and it’s been very limited, but he started four games for us and played at a pretty high level. (Antoine) Caldwell has starting experience. Last year, even our seventh-round pick had the opportunity to be a swing tackle in . That’s really good experience that he was able to get.

“We’re not at a point where we’re at a total deficit anywhere on our football team, but we do think that there are some players in this draft that can come in and provide depth and help us.”

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Thursday notebook: Johnson, Williams sit out of practice

Wide receiver and defensive end did not practice on Thursday, but Texans coach Gary Kubiak expects them both to return on Friday.

“Mario and Andre are on their usual route; I guess that’s the way to put it,” Kubiak said. “They should be out tomorrow to do something.”

Johnson (ankle) and Williams (sports hernia) typically don’t practice on Wednesdays. Thursday is like a Wednesday this week since the Texans’ game is a day later than usual on Monday Night Football.

Rookie tight end also sat out of practice on Thursday. Graham strained a hamstring earlier this week and “looks pretty iffy” for Monday, Kubiak said.

All systems go
Tight end took another step toward returning from a hamstring injury against the Ravens, upping his workload in practice on Thursday.

“He looks good,” Kubiak said. “He practiced Monday, Tuesday and took a bigger dose today. All systems look like they’re go, so we’ll put the pads on a little bit tomorrow and see. (It’s) good to have him back.”

Daniels aggravated his hamstring injury before the Texans played the Colts in Week 8. He hasn’t played in a game since.

“After all he’s been through, we wanted to make sure we got him as healthy as he possibly could,” Kubiak said. “I just didn’t want to put him out there and go through the same thing. He looks good and he has held up through the three practices that we’ve had.”

Demps on returns?
Kubiak was asked how likely it is that safety , who signed with the Texans on Tuesday, will return kickoffs on Monday night.

“I don’t know,” Kubiak said. “I don’t know if he’ll be up (active). We’ll have to see. He could do it. That is something he’s done.”

A third-year pro out of UTEP, Demps was the primary kickoff returner for the as a rookie in 2008. He averaged 25.3 yards per return with one touchdown, which incidentally came against the Ravens on a 100-yard return.

Texans wide receiver and running back have combined to average 20.1 yards on returns this season.

Thoughts on Pro Bowl voting
As announced by the league on Wednesday, Johnson and Texans running back lead the AFC in fan voting for the 2011 Pro Bowl at their respective positions.

Foster has 414,033 votes, the eighth-highest total of any NFL player.

“It means that the fans are appreciative of what you’re doing for the game, and I really am humbled by it,” Foster said.

Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler, has the most votes of any AFC wide receiver with 340,996.

“It means a lot, but at the same time, I’m focused on trying to win games and get this organization to where it wants to be,” Johnson said. “You know, you can go to all the Pro Bowls you want to, but if you’re not winning, I don’t really think it matters.”