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Texans seek smart, versatile communicator for starting safety

HOUSTON -- When the Texans released D.J. Swearinger last month, it left a hole in their secondary in need of addressing.

But it's not the hole that's often talked about. They aren't seeking a strong safety under the traditional definition of that position. The discussion of the Texans' safety position needs nuance.

"One thing about when you play defensive back is that you want to be able to play all positions," safety Rahim Moore said. "You can’t be a free safety and say, ‘You know what, I don’t cover, I don’t go in the box.’ You don’t want to be that guy. Now you’re going to be one dimensional. What we’re trying to do here if we’re going to play man coverage, we shouldn’t have to pull in another corner to play a safety. If we’re going to play in the box, we should be versatile."

Moore has been considered a free safety, but the Texans ask their safeties to know both positions and just play sides. Sure, players have different strengths, and the Texans have to be cognizant of that in choosing each person's assignment.

Ideally, Texans coach Bill O'Brien would love if his two starting safeties were interchangeable, but he is neither expecting that nor does he need that from that position.

"They have to be good communicators and they have to be smart," O'Brien said. "They have to be able to play man coverage, they’ve got to be good blitzers, and they’ve got to be good in zone coverage, as far as understanding pattern reads and where they are in the zone and what they’re assignment is in the zone. We have a lot of good competition at that position. You just look out there today, a lot of those guys made plays today and it was good to see."

The mantra was that both safety positions are up for grabs, but I'm expecting Moore as one starter.

As for the other, during organized team activities, the Texans have tried a variety of players. Free agent pickup Stevie Brown, who was at his best as a free safety with the Giants, has been sidelined with an injury. O'Brien mentioned Eddie Pleasant, Andre Hal, Lonnie Ballentine and underafted rookie Terrance Parks among those.

"It brings a lot of competitive nature, especially when you know you’ve got an opportunity to come in, make plays get a starting position on this team," Ballentine said. "I’m just trying to really come in, be the best teammate I can be, and help the Texans get a win."

Ballentine spent last season on injured reserve. He was the last pick in the 2013 draft coming out of Memphis, where he said the plan with safeties was similar.

"We did left right, really no strong, no frees," Ballentine said. "Here it’s just left right. You've gotta know it all. Be able to be versatile. Play down, play high."

Pleasant has been with the Texans since entering as an undrafted rookie in 2012, a strong contributor on special teams. He re-signed as a restricted free agent his offseason.

Hal came in as a corner out of Vanderbilt.

"It’s more mental," he said of playing safety. "Corner you’re just covering. Safety you’ve got to call the play out, call certain formations, two by two, three by one, you’ve gotta see all that. I think the difference between corner and safety for me is to have to see it and then react to it. Corner you just react.

"I think they wanted me to be able to play corner and safety and nickel. Just doing it, I think they have the faith in me to do it. They said all spots are open so we’re all competing right now."