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Houston Texans' Wade Phillips expects improved pass rush

No Mario Williams? No problem.

The Houston Texans defense did just fine after it lost its star defensive end early during the 2011 season, finishing the year with a team-record 44 sacks, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expects even bigger things from the unit in 2012 -- even if Williams now calls himself a Buffalo Bill.

That's because players like Brooks Reed (six sacks in 2011), J.J. Watt (5.5) and Antonio Smith (6.5) all have a year of experience in Phillips' system, and the Texansreloaded the position by drafting Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus and Nebraska's Jared Crick.

"They're all really good players," Phillips recently said, via the Houston Chronicle. "We can be awfully strong."

Phillips went as far as to compare Watt, a rookie in 2011, to Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long, and he noted that he sees similarities between last season's freshman class and the players the Texans drafted last month.

"The two guys we got (Mercilus and Crick) are good players who fill needs," Phillips said. "They're our kind of guys — talented with great work ethics. They're a lot like the guys we got last year."

Linebackers Connor Barwin, who led the Texans with 11.5 sacks in 2011, and Brian Cushing are also candidates to rush from the two-point stance, according to the newspaper.

"Connor's unbelievable," Phillips said. "He's just relentless. So is Brooks. They just wear people down. It's hard for two guys to do every rush, so if you have a third one, it can make a difference. It helps keep them fresh and from being hurt. Some of it will be rotation.

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