HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans have taken a defensive player in the first round in four of the last five drafts, yet still have glaring holes on the unit.
Making it five of six with the 15th pick Saturday could certainly help the problem.
Mario Williams, the top overall pick in 2006 who made his Pro Bowl debut last season, and cornerback Dunta Robinson, chosen 10th in 2004, have developed into stars for Houston's defense. The other two recent first-rounders, defensive tackles Travis Johnson and Amobi Okoye, are both starters.
The Texans also have middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year who was chosen with the first pick in the second round that year.
Despite the Texans' longtime emphasis on defense in the draft, the group has yet to perform up to expectations. Houston had the third-most potent offense in the league last year, but the defense ranked 22nd and allowed more than 336 yards a game.
That performance, which followed two consecutive seasons of finishing 24th in yards allowed, led to the firings of defensive coordinator Richard Smith, secondary coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
The Texans promoted Frank Bush to take over for Smith after he served as Houston's senior defensive assistant for the last two seasons. Houston coach Gary Kubiak said the Texans have to establish a new defensive identity before they can worry about improving in specific areas.
"(Figure out) exactly what we want to be from a standpoint of our base defense, what we are going to play, the simplicity of what we are doing and doing that good," Kubiak said. "I think if you are simple from that standpoint, your players can naturally be more aggressive. So we have to establish that first ... but obviously we've got to get better on the defensive side of the ball."
The Texans addressed one of their biggest defensive needs in free agency, picking up end Antonio Smith from Arizona to play opposite Williams. Smith is a major upgrade at the position after former starter Anthony Weaver had just one sack in three years with the team.
Houston also added defensive tackle Shaun Cody and linebacker Cato June this offseason.
Though they did make some moves in free agency, general manager Rick Smith believes in building a team through the draft.
"What that means is you have success on draft day and then you try to lock those players up under contract long term," Smith said. "You supplement via free agency. If you feel like a player can fill an immediate need, then you entertain that. I think you have to. Sometimes those guys will call for big, expensive contracts. You can't, in my opinion, be afraid to go after a big-money free agent if he fills a specific need. But I don't think you build your program with those types of players."
The Texans need help in their secondary and could use an outside linebacker to play with Ryans, who has 395 tackles in three seasons.
Aside from Robinson, who the Texans used the franchise tag on, Houston's secondary is shaky with Jacques Reeves at the opposite cornerback and safeties Nick Ferguson, Dominique Barber and Brandon Harrison.
Malcolm Jenkins, who won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2008, would be a great addition to play opposite Robinson. But as the top rated cornerback in the draft, he could be gone by the time the Texans choose.
Another possibility is Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis, an athletic and physical player who had 206 tackles and 34 starts in three seasons.
If the Texans don't choose a defensive back with their first pick, they could go with Southern Cal linebacker Clay Matthews. He'll be with a familiar face if the Texans go that route as they hired his uncle, Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, as an assistant this offseason.
Matthews, a one-time walk-on, started just one season for the Trojans, but has seen his draft stock rise thanks to a strong workout at the combine.
Houston needs another running back to play behind Steve Slaton after Ahman Green was released this offseason after two injury-plagued seasons with the team. But don't look for the Texans to draft one high after snagging Slaton with their second pick in the third round last season.
Slaton became Houston's starter in Week 2 and went on to set a franchise record with 1,282 yards rushing.
"I think that there are certainly some other positions where you can find value in rounds three, four and five," Smith said. "But you look at the history of where I've been and in Denver we found really great success in second-day running backs."
The Texans have eight picks in this draft after acquiring an extra fourth-round pick in the trade with Minnesota for backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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