Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/1/11
Connor Barwin was typically secondary to the main story. With the hiring of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, the Texans switched to a 3-4 alignment and moved two defensive ends to outside linebacker. Of course Mario Williams, the top pick of the 2006 draft, garnered the lion's share of attention despite the fact he and Barwin were being asked to attack from a two-point stance for the first time. When Williams was lost for the season after suffering a torn pectoral against the Raiders in Week 5, rookie linebacker Brooks Reed generated buzz by filling the void and attacking quarterbacks with impunity. All Barwin did was switch from the strong side to the weak side and keep rolling, performing with an exceptionality seemingly lost on the masses. Sometimes it takes a four-sack game to get a little pub. Barwin set a franchise record last Sunday against the Jaguars, and then followed that milestone by earning AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors. Now it's all about Barwin, as though his excellence appeared out of nowhere. "Well, it hasn't been the last few weeks; he's played really well all year long," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Those sacks tend to come in bunches and so he's kind of got rewarded for all his hard work. But he's having a fine year and he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. "That's the group as a whole and young players really stepping up. He's a young player, so just very impressed with where he's at right now." It's easy to drift from the spotlight and into the margins when an entire season is surrendered to injury. As critical as he was to the Texans' defensive plan moving forward, Barwin was ostensibly overlooked, lost in the mix of Williams and Reed and rookie end J.J. Watt. The devastating ankle injury that cost him his second season erased a solid rookie campaign from memory, a year that ended with Barwin playing in all 16 games and recording more sacks (4.5) than any rookie end. But after notching 6.5 sacks in November, Barwin earned his just desserts. Additionally, the honor amplified how smoothly he's taken to the transition from end to linebacker and from strong side to weak side. "Physically there wasn't as much of a challenge because physically it fits what I do better than playing defensive end," Barwin said. "So it wasn't that much of a challenge in that transition. I think the challenge was just learning the system and getting comfortable with it. "Right away I knew it would fit what I do best, so I was excited as soon as I heard Wade was going to be the coordinator." As a prospect out of Cincinnati pundits viewed Barwin as a fit in the 3-4. He began his career with the Bearkats as a tight end, played two seasons of basketball, and shifted to defensive end as a senior, exploding for 66 tackles (18 for loss) and 12 sacks. His undeniable athleticism made it easy to envision Barwin handling the switch to linebacker, even coming off of an injury. But his success isn't solely linked to physical ability. After absorbing the responsibilities of playing the strong side opposite Williams, Barwin didn't need long to make the adjustment to weak-side duties once teamed with Reed. That aptitude complements his talent. "He's a smart guy," Kubiak said. "He takes to coaching. When he makes a mistake or something, he gets it right the next time. He's very athletic. That's what you're asked to do playing linebacker in this. It suits everything he's got as far as ability and he's taken advantage of it." While the move from one side of the defense to the other has allowed Barwin to pursue the quarterback more often, it's also provided him an opportunity to serve as an every-down linebacker. He not only leads the Texans in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (10) and quarterback hits (20), his 34 tackles rank fifth on the defense. He's defended five passes and continues to showcase the versatility few could have anticipated. Once an afterthought, Barwin is difficult to ignore. His moving to the front and center of an emerging defense is just given what he's endured. "Well that's why you coach, for guys like that that work really hard at it," Kubiak said. "Watching him being taken off the field opening day last year and then to see the award he got yesterday, that's why you do what you do, to watch that happen." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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