The breakout star of the 2011 NFL season? Could be Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin, who has already registered a career high in tackles and sacks in his third year in the league. A former second round pick, Barwin joined Shutdown Corner for a "nickel's worth" of questions.
Q: Two weeks ago in Jacksonville, you suddenly had four sacks against the Jaguars — a career high. Where did that come from and did you feel like you were in the zone that day?
CB: I had been paying well, been getting more comfortable in the linebacker position. I had a tackle for a loss early in the game, and that started things well. I guess you can say I was sort of in the zone that day. After I got the first and second sacks, I said 'Man this is just special day.'
In the weeks leading up to that, I had been playing well and I was growing in confidence. It just came together nicely on that day. It was special, something I hope to carry into the rest of the games this season.
Q: Are you surprised by the four sacks? It seems like Jacksonville could do nothing to stop you.
CB: I don't want to say unstoppable! It was a special day and one of those days where what we were doing — we really executed our game plan — seemed to work. I was playing well up to that point in the weeks before but the success I had that day, it was really the interior line who was doing really well that game. They kept getting pressure, getting through and forcing [Blaine] Gabbert out of the pocket. When that happened, it opened up opportunities for me.
It really was their pressure, we were getting pressure from every angle. They were tremendous that day. I was fortunate to benefit from what they were doing.
Q: In college you converted from tight end to defensive end and now in your second year in the NFL, you're having success as a linebacker. Which was the hardest transition — from offense to defense or the switch this season to linebacker?
A: I think the biggest difference was the initial switch from defense to offense. That was a real switch right there, a 'shock' if you will to what I was used to in college.
My background of playing offense helped me more in my move to linebacker. As a linebacker, there is a lot more to do than as a defensive end; you drop into coverage and things like that. My understanding of routes and route concepts helped a lot in making that transition, as did already playing on the defensive side of the ball for a year.
I feel like I understood the switch to linebacker because of my experience on the offensive side of the ball.
Q: Now entering your third year in the league, the Texans still haven't made the playoffs. Does this team still feel like, even at 9-3, that it is that average, middling team that never lives up to the hype?
CB: I don't think we feel like that. We all understand that there is a lot more work that has to be done and we know that we're not the team from the past.
I think this team feels different than years past. I think with Wade Phillips coming in as defensive coordinator and coach Reggie [Herring] bringing what they brought to the defense, we're an improved unit and playing better and having success. Obviously the offense has been good for a while but now the defense is playing well too. We feel like a team and a team that can do a lot more too.
Q: Many people don't know that not only did you make the switch from offense to defense while in college, you also played two years of basketball for Cincinnati in the Big East, arguably the toughest conference in the country.
CB: Yeah, I played for two years. It was great.
I was asked to play my freshman year after a guy got hurt on the basketball team. [Former Bearcats football head coach] Mike D'Antonio knew I had played in college and he suggested me when asked if any of the players on the football team played basketball. [Former Bearcats head coach] Andy Kennedy approached me about it.
I don't regret only playing for two years as it was fun and I wanted to focus on football my final two years. Do I think I'd have played in the NBA if I continued? No, definitely not. But if I had focused on just basketball, maybe I'd be playing in Europe somewhere right now.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer