The Great Leap Forward - Connor Barwin

Connor Barwin is reading my caption! That's awesome!

It's summer, the NBA and NHL seasons have ended and we're still weeks away from seeing meaningful baseball games; unless it's the Astros, in which case meaningful baseball ended a month after the season started.  Fortunately for us, it looks like there may (knock on wood) be a full season of football coming up and the lockout may be coming to an end next month.  Thank goodness for it, too, because after reading so many articles on Nnamdi Asomugha, I'm starting to have nightmares about him signing here and then, for some reason, losing his legs in a tragic grain thresher accident; all before taking a single snap for the Texans.

Instead, this is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about players that are either stepping into starting roles for the first time, or players that have, for whatever reason, underperformed in previous years and must finally step up and take that great leap forward.  Take a leap to read more.

Why Barwin must show improvement this year:  This is the first time Barwin will get regular playing time since being drafted by the Texans in 2009.  Unless something disastrous happens, Barwin will be the starting strong outside linebacker in Wade Phillips 3-4.  As it's been noted in MDC's seminal post on Wade Phillips' defensive scheme, the SOLB will be responsible for rushing the passer.  Make no mistake, Mario Williams will be the primary pass rusher in the linebacker corps, acting like the fourth lineman in the backfield.  Barwin's job will be to provide the additional pass rushing threat and clean up whatever havoc the charging elephant Mario causes.  In 2009, Barwin acted as a pass-rushing defensive end in third down situations, making 13 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his specialized role.  Last year, he was supposed to have an expanded role in the defense; unfortunately his season ended far too soon for him to capitalize on the opportunity.  He must make a significant contribution this year.  Without an effective pass rush from the strong side, offenses will focus on Mario Williams as the primary rusher and, as of right now, our secondary is essentially the same as it was last season; the only difference being the most experienced corner (if Quin is moved to safety) is now Brice McCain and Kareem Jackson is our CB1.  The Texans can't afford for the pass rush to stall out under these circumstance.

What could potentially stand in Barwin's way:  I do not get squeamish easily.  I can watch horror films, clean all the leftovers out of my refrigerator, and watch the Texans play defense next year all without losing my lunch.  But when Barwin's foot nearly fell off, I had to look away.  I can't possibly imagine how painful that must have been for him to experience.  If you blocked it out of your mind, Barwin suffered a season-ending ankle dislocation last year in the first game of the year; robbing him of a year of experience on the field.  There is also some concern that at the University of Cincinnati, Barwin played just one year at defensive end and before that he was...yep, you guessed it, a tight end.  He has never played OLB in his life.  Will Barwin be comfortable making the switch to outside linebacker?

Reasons to believe he can make the leap:  Fortunately, Barwin's ankle injury is expected to have no long-term effects on him.  And while he's never been an outside linebacker, in many scouting reports from 2009, Barwin "lacks the ideal size to play defensive end at the NFL level" and have said that he is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.  Barwin is intelligent and learns quickly, and once Wade Phillips gets a chance to coach him, I think he will flourish in a SOLB role.  Something else to consider:  In Wade's last two stops (Dallas and San Diego), the second pass-rushing linebacker on each team (Ben Leber, Shaun Phillips, Greg Ellis, and Anthony Spencer) has averaged 7.3 sacks per season.  If you leave out Leber (whose personal best for sacks in a year is 5.0), that average goes up to 8.4 per season.  I think Barwin should have little trouble registering 8 sacks on the year next year.  I actually think he could register an even 10 sacks next year.  Yes, I'm choosing to be optimistic this year, dammit!

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