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These young defenses are leading the way

The Houston Texans made great waves during the 2006 NFL Draft when they bypassed the obvious choice of running back Reggie Bush, whom everyone in the world thought the Texans were taking, and went with defensive end Mario Williams. There was a lot of teeth gnashing by Texans fans as Bush helped lead the Saints to the NFC Championship Game last season and Williams struggled in his transition to the pro game.

But things have changed a year later; Williams and the Texans are off to a fast start and its Bush and the Saints who are now struggling. The Texans, along with the Packers, Redskins and 49ers, are off to a great starts thanks in large part to their young defenses.

The Texans have used their last four first-round picks on defense, starting with cornerback Dunta Robinson (2004), defensive tackle Travis Johnson (2005), Williams (2006) and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (2007). The team also used their 2006 second-round pick on linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who is quickly becoming a star.

After a slow preseason that had Houston fans seeing ghosts of first-round picks past, Okoye had a pair of sacks and forced a fumble in the Texans' 34-21 win over the Panthers. The young defensive line, now starting to gel, held the Chiefs to 72 rushing yards in Week 1 and the Panthers to 66 rushing yards last week. And don't look now, but Williams has more touchdowns than Bush so far this season.

The Giants put up 438 total yards and 35 points against the Cowboys in Week 1, but the Packers held them to 325 yards and only 13 points a week later. Green Bay was especially tough in the second half, limiting the Giants to only a field goal. The Packers have invested early-round picks in linebacker A.J. Hawk (first round, 2006) and safety Nick Collins (second round, 2005). But give credit to the front office for finding starters in the rookie free-agent pool in safety Atari Bigby (2006) and defensive end Cullen Jenkins (2004). The Packers face another test with San Diego this week, and we should get a better chance to see exactly where Green Bay's defense stands.

The Redskins have rebuilt their defense by stocking their secondary with first-round picks –- free safety Sean Taylor (2004), cornerback Carlos Rogers (2005) and strong safety LaRon Landry (2007). Landry is a great athlete and sure tackler who has already paid dividends. It was his big hit on wide receiver Kevin Curtis that forced an incompletion to finish off the Eagles on Monday night. By the end of the year Taylor and Landry could be among the best pairs of safeties in the league. The Redskins still aren't getting takeaways, but they are keeping teams out of the end zone, giving up only one touchdown in the first two games.

The 49ers have failed to gain more than 200 yards in a game this season, but they are 2-0 mainly because of their defense. The big story in San Francisco has been rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, who has really thrived under coach and mentor Mike Singletary. Willis had his second consecutive impressive performance as he notched a game-high eight tackles in the 49ers' 17-16 victory over St. Louis. Nate Clements and Walt Harris give the 49ers the kind of cover corners that will allow them to play more man-to-man and free up the linebackers to blitz. That linebacking corps, however, took a tough blow Thursday when it was learned LB Manny Lawson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

The Texans, Packers, Redskins and 49ers all missed the playoffs last year but are a combined 8-0 this season. They have their fans dreaming of the post-season, thanks to emerging stars on defense.

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