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Interview With The Newest Texans Defensive Lineman: Connor Barwin

From the very second the pick was made on Saturday, I’ve been thrilled about the Texans’ selection of Connor Barwin with the 46th overall pick.  His rare athletic ability, non-stop motor and intelligence are rarely found in the draft, especially in the second round.  I’ve been on record from the beginning that I think he’ll do well rushing the passer in the NFL, and I know scores of you have stated your support for the pick as well.

Tonight I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the Texans’ newest addition to the defensive line.  We discussed everything from his collegiate success, the process of becoming a Texan, and what he expects while playing at the next level in the NFL.  I think you’ll be even more enamored with him after reading what he had to say.

TT:  Today I have the distinct pleasure of talking to one of the newest members of the Houston Texans, Defensive End Connor Barwin of the University of Cincinnati.  Connor, our readers were thrilled with your selection and are considering it a steal in the second round.  So, for all the Texans fans, welcome to Houston.

Connor:  Thank you, thank you.  To all the fans, I am pumped up about being a Houston Texan.

TT:  I thought that you would surely be taken either in the end of the first round or the beginning of the second.  Not that the middle of the second round is “late” by any means, but after these expectations were you disappointed at all to be selected a little behind schedule?

Connor:  Looking back on it, no I’m not disappointed because I’m excited about the situation that I’m coming to in Houston.  Yes, I’ll agree with you that everyone around me thought that I was going to be a late first round pick, maybe early second.  Looking back on it though, everyone around me including myself, we’re all happy and excited about being the 46th pick and being in Houston because it’s a great opportunity for me.

TT:  I heard that you were caught off guard when you were selected by the Texans because you had little to no interaction with the franchise between the Combine and the Draft, which to me means that the Texans staff was in agreement that you wouldn’t be around for their second pick.  What Texans personnel have you met with since the Draft and what was said in those meetings?

Connor:  I did meet with the Defensive Line Coach [Bill Kollar], the Head Coach [Gary Kubiak] and [General Manager] Rick Smith at the Combine, but I met with a lot of teams at the Combine and I had a whole bunch of interviews with everybody.  I was surprised that I was drafted by them because I met with several teams since the Combine, and the Texans weren’t one of them.  From the conversations I’ve had, they liked me and they learned a lot about me throughout the whole process.  As far as the draft goes, they told me that they thought I would be gone 10 picks earlier and when they saw I was still there at the 46th pick they were really, really excited.

TT:  This will be Frank Bush’s first year as defensive coordinator for the Texans.  After speaking with him, what do you think the overall philosophy of the defense is and how will you be utilized, or was the talk just too brief?

Connor:  I spoke with him briefly on Sunday, just briefly.  He just said that he was excited about having me.  He said that he was excited about me coming in there and making an impact right away by just being able to do more creative things with my athleticism on defense.  The talk was just too brief.  I feel that he’s a great coach and that I’m going to work well with him, but the conversation was too brief to go into his whole defensive philosophy. 

TT:  New defensive line coach Bill Kollar has a reputation as an intense leader who demands results.  How do you react to coaches with type of personality?

Connor:  I think you have to react to it by getting better.  I’ve had coaches on both sides, some that were relaxed and some that were never quiet and never satisfied.  I think I’m a guy that is really self-motivated, so it’s not going to be an issue whether I have a coach yelling at me or not.  I’m excited just from his reputation as a good defensive line coach from whom I have plenty to learn.

TT:  Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans’ 25 sacks last year and is considered one of the, if not the, best defensive end(s) in all of football.  How much pressure will that bring off you when you get the chance to line up opposite of him?

Connor:  I think that’s going to help me a lot, obviously.  Every team is going to be worried about him and not me.  They’re going to put blockers along with the running backs and tight ends to try and block him, which would leave me in a one-on-one matchup because everyone will be worried about him.  That’s going to help me, and I’m excited about that.  It’s like when I played at Cincinnati; we had a lot of good defensive players on our team.  The Houston Texans have a lot of good defensive players and we’re all going to make each other better.

TT:  Many people had projected you to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme because of the impressive athletic ability that you showed at the Combine.  What do you think is the best way to utilize a player like yourself?

Connor:  I’m not sure, I think that’s really for the coaches to figure out.  I’m not the coach; I’m just the player.  I think my best attribute is rushing the passer.  If the Houston Texans keep my hand down and rushing the passer, it’s smart and I’m excited about that.  I think they can do some creative things with my hand down and dropping into zone blitzes, but that’s for the coaches to figure out.

TT:  You had just short of 400 yards receiving as a tight end in 2007.  What made your coaches at Cincinnati decide to move you to defensive end for your last year of your collegiate career?

Connor:  The idea first started because of a need; both our defensive ends graduated in 2007.  Coach Kelly realized that he doesn’t need a great tight end for his system because the tight end is usually the third or fourth read.  So whether I was getting open or not, he knew that I wasn’t going to get stats or make an impact on the game, whereas he thought I was a guy that could definitely make the transition quickly.  Over on defense, it was on me whether I was going to get sacks or not and hopefully make a bigger impact on the game and help the team.

TT:  How do you feel about playing either offense or special teams in the NFL?

Connor:  I’m excited about being able to do those other things, but my number one focus is going to be working on my pass rush.  I know for sure that I’ll be on special teams, and I did that all through college.  As far as offense goes, it’s up for the coach to determine if there are any goal line packages that they want to throw me into.  I know they drafted a couple of tight ends so I don’t think they’ll need me over there.

TT:  For your first year at defense end, you were incredibly successful, as evidenced by your 12 sacks.  How were you able to make the adjustment so quickly?

Connor:  I think I was able to be productive because my coaches put me in good situations to use my athleticism.  Overall, I just really played hard and wore tackles out and kept trying and trying.  Whenever a tackle made a mistake, I tried to be there to make the play.

TT:  One thing the Texans lacked last year was a consistent pass rush.  How many pass rush moves do you have in your repertoire, and which ones do you think you have the most success with and why?

Connor:  I have a number of different moves.  I think my speed rush is my best move, just getting a jump off the ball and using my speed.  After you’ve got a guy worried about your speed it sets up everything else; you set up your inside spin move, and you set up your speed bull rush.  I think those are my three top moves, but after you set them up with your speed, you open the door for a lot of other things.

TT:  On the flip side of that coin, what style of blocker gives you the most trouble?

Connor:  The blocker that maybe gives me the most trouble are the faster, more athletic tackles, the ones that can match some of their athleticism with mine. 

TT:  Most defensive ends are bigger than 255 pounds in the NFL, with the exceptions of some pass rushing specialists, which is what you seem to have been drafted for.  What do you consider to be your ideal playing weight at the next level?

Connor:  I think I’ll probably get up to about 260 pounds, maybe 265.  What some people don’t realize but the Texans do realize is that I’ve only had one offseason in my college career.  I played my first three years at 240 pounds and due to playing basketball during every offseason, I dropped to about 230 pounds.  Before my senior year, I didn’t playing basketball and I gained 15 pounds, so I’m about 255 right now.  I think in this next offseason I’ll try to put on another five pounds, so I expect to play at about 260 pounds this coming season.

TT:  You won’t be able to participate in any Texans activities until you are finished with school in June.  What are you going to do until that time to get ready for camp?

Connor:  I’m back in Cincinnati, and I’ve got six weeks to train as hard as possible.  I’m completely locked in and focused on being prepared as I’ve ever been for June 14th, when I can go down to Houston, and June 15th we start camp.  I’ll just continue to run and lift as hard as I can and focus really on my pass rush and playing defensive end.

TT:  Connor, it was a pleasure to talk to you and we hope we get a chance to hear from you again soon at Battle Red Blog.  It’s going to be great to see you in Steel Blue in the upcoming season.

Connor:  Thanks; good talking to you.

I feel even better about the selection now that I’ve gotten the chance to sit down one-on-one with Connor and validate all the good things I heard pertaining to his character.  I couldn’t help but notice how much he talked about his coaches and teammates before he talked about himself, which is exactly what you want to hear from a player you just drafted and are about to hand a large sum of money.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we are going to see good things from Connor, even in his rookie year.

(Authors Note:  I would like to give a special thanks to Connor’s publicist, Shawn Smith of XAM Sports.  I emailed Shawn on Sunday to request an interview, but I assumed with everything that had occurred the day before that I would hear from her sometime during the week, if at all.  I had a response from her within an hour stating that Connor would love to do the interview because he knew how important it was for the fans.)