Kollar details expectations for D-line in 3-4

For a team switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the Texans have a surprising amount of continuity on their defensive line.

It’s the only position group on defense at which they don’t have a new coach. Assistant head coach/defensive line Bill Kollar, one of the lone holdovers from last year’s defensive staff, returns for his third season with the team.

The only new player in the D-line rotation is first-round draft pick . The rest of the linemen will have similar roles to last year. Even the ones switching to outside linebacker will be de facto defensive ends in nickel and dime situations.

Watt is penciled in as the Texans’ starting left end, a five-technique between the right tackle and tight end. Kollar said the Texans are “expecting to get big things” right away from the 11th overall pick.

“Probably the biggest thing for him this year will be playing the run,” Kollar said. “Playing the five-technique in this defense, you’ve got to be a good run defender, so we’ll be really working with that. And when it gets to third-down situations, we’ll put him inside and he’ll be an inside pass rusher for us.”

Kollar sees the 3-4 as a perfect fit for , who’s slated to start at right end. Smith played in a 3-4 in Arizona before joining the Texans as a free agent in 2009. He’ll be a three-technique, between the left guard and left tackle, which will allow him to utilize his strength against the run. He’ll still move inside to tackle in passing situations like he did in a 4-3 for the last two seasons.

“For him, he probably will like this better than he did the scheme we played the last two years here, really,” Kollar said. “We were trying to figure out a position for him when we signed him from Arizona here. We said, ‘Well, he’s really not a defensive end.’ He played more inside than he did outside and stuff. I’m sure he’ll fit right at home getting back into this type of defense.”

Watt and Smith will be interchangeable in base packages. If an offense motions the tight end to Smith’s side, he’ll slide out and become a five-technique. Watt will slide in and become a three-technique. For both players – and , who’ll be in the mix at right and left end – the main objective will be stopping the run.

“We’re not going to have eight (defenders) in the box often, so they’ll have to do an excellent job of stopping the run,” Kollar said. “A five-technique in a 3-4 scheme is almost like a defensive tackle in a 4-3. These guys have to be good run-down players. They’ve got to do an excellent job on first and second down against the run, and then they really turn out to be your inside rushers when you go to third down. They turn out to be defensive tackles.”

When the Texans use a three-man defensive line in base packages, they’re confident that and can get the job done at nose tackle. Kollar sees “absolutely no problem at all” with their perceived lack of ideal size for the position.

“What happens, the nose man’s really playing the same type technique that he played last year with us, so it really doesn’t turn out to be a big difference,” he said. “When everybody talks about the big nose man and stuff, those are the teams that play two-gap where they play the nose man head-up on the center and you just want to take two or three blockers on all the time, try to keep everybody off of the linebackers and stuff. We don’t end up playing that scheme, so we don’t need a guy that’s 350 pounds and can’t move.”

Mitchell, a third-round pick from Arizona in 2010, could be one to watch on the heels of a promising rookie season.

“He plays with good leverage,” Kollar said. “He gives good effort for the most part. He ended up playing a bunch (last season). Hopefully, he can stay healthy this year. He had that high-ankle sprain that really affected his play toward the end of the season, but we expect good things from Earl this year.”

Daniels, Okoye encourage kids to “Play 60”

Texans tight end and defensive tackle participated in the NFL’s Play 60 Super School Visit on Friday at Smith Elementary in southwest Houston.

The Play 60 initiative encourages kids to exercise at least 60 minutes every day. That’s exactly what Daniels and Okoye did on Friday after presenting the school with a check from the Play 60 program for $10,000.

“It was great,” Daniels said. “This Smith Elementary School is unbelievable. Super committed, motivated kids – first off academically, and obviously they have a ton of spirit and won this Play 60 award and got a nice big check to their school to use whatever they need it for. The kids seemed real excited.”

Daniels and Okoye spoke with the students in the school auditorium before leading them through football drills and various exercises on an outdoor field.

“It kind of takes yourself back to when you were in elementary school and seeing the kids just like you were back in the day,” Daniels said. “[We’re] just making sure they know what’s important. Obviously, they’ve got the academics driven in really solidly, and the teachers do a great job. But the other side of that is staying healthy – getting out of the house, playing with friends, whatever it is. I remember back in the day playing tag or capture the flag or whatever it was. It didn’t have to be a sport. Just being out and running around out of the house away from video games.”

Smith Elementary was selected as the Houston-area Super School through a contest that started early in the 2010 season. Schools all over the country entered to win a visit from their local NFL team by showing how their school promotes health and wellness along with pride in their favorite team.

“From the first time I walked in and they had a couple of kids greet us with an introductory statement, it wowed me,” Okoye said. “I’ve just been very, very surprised to see the intelligence and the smarts in some of these kids.”

Okoye recently had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, but he was happy to be at the school to talk about the importance of being active.

“That’s what we’re trying to preach,” he said. “We’re trying to preach staying active at this young age. The NFL Play 60 and my charity foundation with our Kickoff for Kids program pretty much preach the same thing, just wanting kids to be more active because obesity and inactivity have an increased percentage among our youths and kids nowadays. So participating in this is fun. I enjoy it.”

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.”