Found May 22, 2012 on Fox Sports Houston:
HOUSTON Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did not shy away from setting the bar a tad higher than it rested after last season. Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are for enthusiasm, especially for franchises possessing an unbridled amount. But there was veracity in Phillips' perspective based largely on the fact the Texans were in the midst OTAs in the first place. "Well actually our goals were to be in the top five (defensively) last year," Phillips said. "I know that might have been crazy at the time, but we set our standards high. We did so well last year and we want to try to do better. "It's all about winning. We need to win more games than we did last year, and that's what we're looking for." Some might discredit the necessity of OTAs, but for the Texans, who are seeking to build on the momentum established during their breakthrough 2011 season, revisiting and reinforcements are welcome. Last year the Texans were forced to install on the fly, opening camp in the aftermath of a protracted lockout with a new coordinator, several new pieces, and some old faces in new places. Their success was serendipitous. Now excellence is not only expected, it's anticipated. Even with the losses of linebackers Mario Williams (Bills) and DeMeco Ryans (Eagles), the Texans are a year wiser under Phillips' tutelage. Presented a full offseason to tweak what needs improvement and revamp what needs rebuilding should bolster what was the league's second-ranked unit. "It helps continue the process," Phillips said of these voluntary 10 OTAs. "The same things that we did last year we're reinforcing; some of the things we didn't do well enough we're working on again. It's the whole process of getting to know what to do and how to do it." That the Texans produced such resounding results in Phillips' first season was a testament to his instruction, their work ethic and resilience. The Texans managed exceptionally despite the injury blows levied with Williams (pectoral), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (quad) and safety Danieal Manning (leg) all missing substantial time. They plugged in rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed at end and outside linebacker, respectively, and rode the free-agent acquisition of cornerback Johnathan Joseph to their initial AFC South title and a first playoff win. Aside from additional and unexpected injury attrition, the Texans' defensive depth should allow them to reach similar statistical benchmarks. Their front-seven rotation should be enhanced with the addition of rookies Whitney Mercilus and Jared Crick. With Sharpton set to return for training camp, their linebacker corps maintains potency. And, with all those moving parts in sync following last season's ascent, covering every nuance during OTAs should blot out any blemishes. Whether rookies or experienced veterans, these reps are meaningful. "It helps tremendously," Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Anytime you get to come out and get some live practice reps and really go through it, that's the way you learn. You can be in a classroom looking at a board all day, but unless you put it to the field it doesn't really mean much. "I think it really benefits everybody coming out here practicing." It was only practice without pads, no less but the Texans can now approach their defensive assignments as thought they are second nature. The narrative of the 2011 training camp was adjustments, with questions abounding on whether Williams and Connor Barwin could handle the shift from end, and how newcomers like Watt and Joseph would fit into not only the scheme but also the woven fabric of the unit. Phillips and his staff addressed every returning member of the defense and presented outlines for which each individual player could improve. What is past is prologue. The Texans were dominant defensively when no one predicted such superiority. Now their task shifts to maintenance. "We feel like we're good. We've got to prove it again," Phillips said. "I think we feel like we're good going in. Last year was a big unknown as to how we would be. Now the confidence is going to be a big thing for us." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda

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