Defense wins championships

Much like a pitcher can take over a baseball game, a defense in the NFL can neutralize a good offense. While the glory may go to the team that puts points on the board, the ones who keep them off the scoreboard are vitally important as the calendar turns into January.

On Monday, the defensive line was showcased on the RCA Dome turf. And the coaches were out in full force.

Houston head coach Dom Capers snuggled up tight to the action. After selecting a cornerback in the first round last year, he is seeking a rush end to complement the defense. The Texans were last in the NFL in sacks and Capers and general manager Charley Casserly know that a pass rush works hand in hand with coverage.

Casserly admitted that no one was jumping out this year as opposed to years past and that could force them to be safe in round one and take the chance in round two. Playing the 3-4 does afford him the opportunity to take an outside linebacker, but Casserly worries about how many teams are switching to the 3-4 defense.

"Only two colleges in the country, Virginia and Maryland, play the 3-4," Casserly pointed out. "All those outside linebackers are projections. Those projections are not easy to get right."

Oakland head coach Norv Turner brought his 30th-ranked defensive minds to the combines on Monday. While the Raiders crave a running back, they lost defender Napoleon Harris with the acquisition of Randy Moss. They also placed 31st in sacks, a number they would like to see grow this year.

They have already shown interest in a number of defensive prospects at the combine, including middle linebacker Albert Fincher, and on Monday they were very intrigued with several defensive line prospects that can help shore up their run and pass defense.

Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher was again on the front lines Monday to take in the workouts of the defensive line. The Steelers are set to lose 12 players when unrestricted free agency begins and besides the losses along the offense, often-injured LB Kendrell Bell will move onward.

Though Bell did not play a significant part in their defense over the past two years, Cowher will be looking for that next tweener/playmaker to keep Pittsburgh number one in defense. As many as 22 players worked out at two different positions during the combine this year.

Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis is looking to upgrade a unit that was 26th in the league against the run. Lewis has said they need more consistency from their pass rush and someone to step up and plug the running lanes.

It was no surprise when they pulled Anttaj Hawthorne aside and ran through the interview process with the Wisconsin defensive tackle prospect.

They have also looked at Travis Johnson but he figures to be long gone by the time the Bengals pick at 17.

More visible than any head coach during the combines was Bill Parcells. Many scouts believe the Dallas Cowboys are close to contending, but Parcells wants to see the results firsthand. His team was minus-15 in the takeaway/giveaway category and the coach would like to get results after the failed Marcellus Wiley experiment. The team, coincidentally, was 26th in the league in sacks.

"I would say I would like to get a pressure player on defense," the coach admitted. "I would like to get that, whether it be a lineman or a big linebacker that can do something."

His goal is to force pressure on the quarterback to generate more turnovers in the form of forced fumbles and interceptions. It all starts up front and it was no surprise that Parcells staked out the linemen on Monday.

The Vikings were not able to get anywhere through the years of Randy Moss. With the most explosive playmaker in the game, the defense could not hold the fort and ultimately lost games. Mike Tice took Monday's session in with knowledge that his team must improve upon its 28th-ranked defense.

Although he threw off reporters by discussing the running back crop coming out, the Vikings would like to add some difference-makers on defense to compensate for their offense. Moss may be gone, but the defense is still in shambles.

Draft prospect falling?

David Pollack may have hurt his draft status without any drill in question. He had the shortest arms at 30.5 of any defensive linemen. Teams place an emphasis on arm length because it helps ward off offensive linemen while pursuing a quarterback. An offensive lineman with five inches in reach over Pollack could disable his ability to turn up the field.

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