HOUSTON – Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips says his renovation of the Texans' defense begins with the draft.
The Texans took Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt with the 11th overall pick Thursday night, and Phillips said the team won't stop there as they try to bolster a unit that ranked 30th in yards allowed last season.
"We still need some more defensive players," Phillips said. "What's best for the team is what's best for me, I don't mean that. I think it's clear that we need a lot of defense in this draft."
Phillips is hoping that the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Watt develops into a solid complement for Mario Williams, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 and Houston's all-time sacks leader.
Watt made 43 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 11 1/2 sacks, in 26 games at Wisconsin. A former tight end, Watt transferred there after playing one season at Central Michigan. He entered the draft after two seasons with the Badgers.
Watt knows, as a first-round pick, that he'll be expected to contribute immediately.
"No one has higher expectations for me than I do," Watt said in a conference call on Thursday night. "I am going to come in and give it everything I have, and at the end of the day, I hope it helps the team win football games because, that is what it's all about."
Houston ranked last in pass defense last season, allowing 267.5 passing yards per game. The Texans ranked 23rd in both interceptions (13) and sacks (30) in 2010, and Phillips replaced Frank Bush as defensive coordinator.
The Texans have taken a defensive player with their first overall pick in seven of the past eight drafts.
Houston passed up the chance to take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara to shore up the secondary. Phillips said the Texans were also eyeing Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, who was taken by San Francisco at No. 7.
Watt led the Badgers with seven sacks in 2010, and also broke up eight passes, a statistic that caught Phillips' attention. He ranked second on the team with 62 tackles, intercepted a pass and blocked three kicks in 2010.
"Passes defensed for a defensive lineman and tackles for a defensive lineman at that position are rare," Phillips said. "This guy makes a lot of plays."
Watt said he developed a knack for batting down passes at the line without much instruction from coaches.
"I was never really taught about it," he said. "I figured it's one great way to limit the QB's throwing range is to put your hands up. It's something I have tried to work in over my career and it's worked great for me."
Watt said he'd be willing to move inside if Phillips wants to use him that way. And he wasn't shy about calling out his main target — quarterback Peyton Manning of the division-rival Colts.
"I feel very comfortable playing anywhere along the defensive line," he said. "The goal is to sack Peyton Manning. That's what everyone around here is saying. That's my job."
Houston has the 42nd overall pick in the second round, and the 73rd overall selection in the third round. General manager Rick Smith said this week that he was open to trading picks to move up in the draft order, but Phillips said the right scenario never materialized.
Phillips will implement a 3-4 defensive alignment, and said he's confident that Watt can fit into the scheme.
"You have to project what a player can and can't do, but he did play a lot against offensive tackles and five-technique type things," Phillips said. "He's really good at getting off blocks. Once he's engaged, he gets of blocks quickly and that's why he's been able to make a lot of tackles."