Friday, April 25, 2008

Grambling greats: Kenneth Pettway

Pettway brings lightning to GSU defense
October 29, 2003

The Grambling State defense calls itself the Black Front.

"Coming to get you," junior Grambling State linebacker Kenneth Pettway says, with some menace. "Any time. Any day."

Like most fronts, this gathering storm has lightning around its edges.

Pettway was been that lightning - never more so than last week, as GSU's defense held Jackson State scoreless in the second half, securing a muddy 24-17 comeback win. He notched a team-leading 11 tackles - and 10 of them were solo.

"He's like a gazelle - a long, lean gazelle," says Grambling State coach Doug Williams. "He's all over the field."

Pettway also had two crushing sacks - JSU's quarterback eventually had to leave the game - and one forced fumble.

"We expect so much from him," says Tigers defensive coordinator Heishma Northern, "because he's so fast."

Track star fast - but from a guy who is 6-4 and 240.

In fact, Pettway was a four-sport performer at Gilmer High in Houston - earning letters in football, basketball, baseball and, yes, track - before signing with the University of Southern Arkansas. He holds the Gilmer school record in the discus.

But since transferring to Grambling State, all he's been throwing around are opposing offensive starters.

Pettway leads the Tigers this season in tackles, too - with 37 tackles and 14 assists in eight games. He's got four sacks in all.

"I don't know whether he's ever going to be a team leader, because he's so quiet," Williams says. "But he has the ability to be a lot better football player - and to lead by example."

Pettway started this off-season at defensive end, but moved to linebacker - where he has flourished in a system designed for tall and aggressive players.

Grambling State's defense ranks No. 1 in the SWAC in defending the rush. The Tigers rank No. 3 overall on defense, behind only Southern and Alabama A&M.

Much has been made of the play of the Tigers' linebacking corps this season, but Pettway acknowledges the role this GSU line has played in opening up opportunities.

"The line is the key to our defensive success," Pettway says.

Whether the linemen are occupying blockers or occasionally flooding inside to take their shots, it has worked to Pettway's advantage. He's fast enough to shoot gaps and headhunt quarterbacks - and tall enough to make a difference when he gets back into coverage.

"They like playing behind those guys, because they know there will be a chance for some tipped balls," Northern says of the linebackers. "It all works hand-in-hand."

Pettway has also come up with a few did-you-see-that? moments - like last week, when he literally leaped over the top of a Jackson State lineman who was trying a cut block. "Everybody was just sort of open-mouthed at the play that he made," Northern says.

Williams agrees: "When a kid does something like that, you see what they've got to give. And you want to see that again and again."

It's commonly acknowledged, even with the big season he's having, that Pettway can only get better: "He still has work to do on his thought process," Northern says, "on understanding that he can take over a game."

Pettway talks more about technique. "I could still come up faster," he says. "I need to work on dropping back (into coverage)."

His idol, while playing defensive end, was Tennessee Titans stalwart Jevon Kearse. But, even after switching to linebacker, Pettway continues to admire Kearse's rangy aggression and smart play.

"I still look up to that man," Pettway says. "He's a beast in the league. I still feed off his moves. He keeps his head in the game."

Pettway is part of a unit that has grown steadily as performers - and as teammates.

"The way they watch film now is totally different," Northern says. "The way they communicate is totally different."

Pettway says it look a few games for him to find his way at his new school. With so many younger players, the same could be said for Grambling State's defense, too.

"We're starting to come together as a team," Pettway says. "Early in the season, we weren't as tight. But I see us jelling together now."

Octavius is honored: Senior GSU cornerback Octavius Bond has been invited to play in the inaugural Division I-AA All-Star Classic, to be played Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"Nobody works hard than he does," Williams says. "He's a great athlete."

Bonds has 28 tackles on the second, with 21 solo grabs. He also has three interceptions and three pass breakups. His eight kickoff returns have averaged 21.5 yards.

The selections were made by a committee of coaches, administrators and media from the 13 I-AA conferences. Teammate Tramon Douglas, a senior receiver, was among the first 50 players selected to play in this game.

Tiger bites: Texas Southern, GSU's opponent this week, has a three-game winning streak. … When the weather turns cold, it's particularly hard on Williams - who has had five surgeries on his left knee and one on the right. "They get stiff. I gotta keep moving," he says. Like most ex-football players, he has a knack for weather forecasting: "I wake up in the morning, and I know when it's cloudy - just from how stiff they are." … Grambling began a project to audiostream Williams' weekly news conference on the Internet on Tuesday. Portions of his comments are to be available at

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GSU's Pettway ready to tackle pros

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Kenneth Pettway is not just Grambling State's leader in tackles for a loss this year.

He's a nice guy. Off the field, at least.

"Definitely not the rah-rah type," said former GSU coach Doug Williams, who signed Pettway as a transfer from Southern Arkansas in 2002. "His actions speak for him. It's not word of mouth, like so many people."

Williams - who left before last season for a personnel job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - will get another look at GSU's best defender this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, beginning today in Indianapolis.

Pettway, a starter at both defensive end and linebacker, is the only player from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to be invited. He is also the first from GSU since Williams arrived with current coach Melvin Spears as offensive coordinator before the 1998 season.

"He's quiet, but tough - a mild-mannered guy who led by example," said Spears, whose first win as interim in 2004 was keyed by a series of shattering second-quarter sacks by Pettway against Bethune-Cookman. He sent one quarterback to the bench on a crushing tackle, then sacked his replacement on the very next play.

Not that Pettway talks about such heroics, not even on the eve of the combine.

"My attitude going in is very positive," he finally allowed.

It's easy to forget that Pettway was recognized as GSU's defensive player of the year last week, then flew out to Atlanta to receive Sheridan Broadcasting Network All-America honors.

They give those awards to people who knock other people down.

Call him Grambling State's easy-going horseman of the apocalypse, its polite prince of darkness.


Pettway talks about the honor of being invited. Still, he politely - and rightly - assumes that the combine is more of a challenge than a reward.

"The NFL and the combine have gone away from black colleges since the days of Doug Williams and (James) `Shack' (Harris)," Pettway said. "Times have changed. So, it's a real honor if you get selected from one of our conferences."

Pettway is, in fact, one of just eight players from a historically black college to receive an invitation to the combine this year.

"I've got to be faster, a little better," said Pettway. "I want to prove to them that even though we don't play schools like Miami, we still have great players."

Forced to sit out a year after transferring, Pettway had his initial experience at outside linebacker in his first game for GSU, a shutout loss to San Jose State in August 2003.

"I was nervous when I was out there," said Pettway, who had played defensive end at Southern Arkansas. "But at the same time, I was thinking: They put me here because they thought I could do something. I just went about making plays."

Make them he did: Pettway finished with 11 punishing tackles, including five solo grabs and three tackles for a loss of 9 yards. The conference named him defensive player of the week.

He struggled at times, that first year. But by the time he lined up on that soggy night in Jackson, Miss., in October 2003, Pettway was on his way.

The rain was biblical. Only GSU's quiet quarterback killer kept the dissipating crowd from noticing if the local animal population was, in fact, pairing up.

Pettway accounted for 11 tackles, 10 of them solo, and two sacks. Jackson State's signal-caller also had to leave the game, as the local Tigers grinded their way to a win.

"It took him some time to excel, because we had him in two positions," said Spears. "Coach Williams and I wanted to look at where he was going to project in the draft, and play him to that strength. Once he found his niche, he started to find real consistency."

He would finish his junior season, the first at GSU after transferring, with a team-high 70 tackles. That included five sacks for a loss of 20 yards, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Unassuming in life, Pettway proved to be merciless off the edge.


Production and versatility, coupled with Pettway's size and straight-line speed, have garnered uncommon attention for a small-school star.

No surprise here, but Pettway - always more apt to sack than to smack - takes it in stride.

"I've got to keep myself up because I know there will be a lot of competition from larger programs," he said. "They might be thinking I haven't competed at the same level. That keeps me in my place. When I am training, I realize I have got to give a little more."

This week's combine sessions, held in Indianapolis, include both physical exams and hours of interviews on a position-by-position basis. Pettway is expected to be evaluated with the rest of the prospective linebackers on Sunday.

Scouts will poke and prod him, measuring for height, weight, arm length, hand length and body fat. Pettway will run the 40-yard dash, participate in a vertical and broad jump, then grunt through a 225-pound bench press, 20- and 60-yard shuttles and the three-cone drill.

Intelligence will then be measured using the Wonderlic Test, a 50-question exam administered over 12 minutes.

"In this league, everything counts - and character is very, very important," said Williams, who will scout the combine talent for Tampa Bay. "There won't be any flaws there. He's been grounded for a long time. He's very humble."

Both Williams and Spears attribute that to Pettway's parents - William and Annice of Houston - who have a strong connection with GSU. His father, in fact, is friends with Collie J. Nicholson, the school's legendary sports information director from 1948-78.

"Most of those kids who had folks who went to Grambling grow up as a Tiger," said Spears. "They look forward to upholding the legacy."

Pettway, a nice guy hoping to finish first, is clear-eyed about that challenge - and how it plays out for anyone looking to be drafted out of a historically black institution.

"Coming from Grambling and going to the combine, I just look at it as a privilege," Pettway said. "I want to represent Grambling and all the greatness that has gone through there. It still goes on. I'm just glad I'm getting the chance to show that. Maybe the NFL will get back into the habit of looking at our conference."

Is he a `Road Runner' or a `Widowmaker'?

The only thing missing from Kenneth Pettway's resume is one of those great Grambling State nicknames.

Collie J. Nicholson, GSU's legendary sports information director from 1948-78, penned one for all the legends - from Paul "Tank" Younger to Gary "Big Hands" Johnson.

"They had to have something behind the nicknames," said Nicholson, who still writes about sports from his home in Shreveport.

Pettway, Nicholson agrees, fits the bill. "He should do well up there (at the NFL Combine)," said Nicholson.

Pettway's great straight-line speed might suggest "Road Runner." That quiet intensity? How about "SBD," Silent but Deadly. His versatility as a two-position all-conference player? May we suggest "Switch Blade"? That propensity for crushing tackles reminds us of "Widowmaker."

"You could always go out and get a nickname," Nicholson finally allows. "But Grambling has tried to give them more than just a nickname; they get an education, too."

Degree in hand, Pettway hopes to school opponents on Sundays now.

-Nick Deriso,

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Pettway won't be a surprise at combine

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Kenneth Pettway, the most highly touted NFL prospect out of Grambling State in four seasons, has already garnered some pre-combine notice. lists Pettway as the No. 17 outside linebacker prospect in the nation. Great Blue North Draft Report has him at No. 15.

"He has good height and long arms, which allow him to deflect passes or knock the ball out of the quarterback's hand," said Greg Benjamin, an online NFL draft evaluator at "He uses his quickness to get by opposing offensive linemen and has good closing speed getting to the quarterback on the pass rush. He has a quick first step, which allows him to effectively beat most offensive linemen off the snap."

Josh Buchanan of - who named Pettway the top Division I-AA performer in the Las Vegas All-American Classic - lists him as the No. 18 I-AA prospect in the nation, and the No. 1 defensive end.

"He had a big senior campaign with his 8® sacks and 16 tackles for a loss, really catching your attention," said's Scott Wright. "The level of competition is a concern, but he has the physical tools and productivity you look for."

That could push Pettway up as high as the third round - a great thing for both player and school.

"It's a major recruiting tool for us," GSU coach Melvin Spears said. "It tells you where this program is going since we have been here, from (former coach) Doug Williams through today."

Benjamin expects Pettway's name to be called "during the latter portion of Day 2." He would be just the third GSU product drafted since 1995, and the first since Scotty Anderson was selected in the fifth round in 2001.

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3-4 adds up for Pettway
The growth of the defensive formation means the GSU standout is likely NFL-bound

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - A sudden resurgence in the use of the once-popular 3-4 defensive alignment could be the best thing Kenneth Pettway has going for him in this year's NFL Draft.

The Grambling State defender, commonly called a "`tweener," has the kind of size and speed to fit in that scheme - which values smaller, athletic linebackers.

"A lot of teams are switching to the 3-4 defense, which would enable me to stand up and play linebacker but also pass rush," said Pettway, who began playing outside linebacker as well as defensive end during his junior season. "A year or two ago, there weren't that many who used it, but now there are about 10. The market's really open."

The NFL Draft, held Saturday and Sunday, will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2.

Pettway's stock has been rising with draft prognosticators, who originally projected him as a late-second day selection. A renewed interest in the 3-4 could be the reason.

"There are more teams out there using the 3-4, and that's the good thing about it," said Tampa Bay personnel executive Doug Williams, who coached Pettway for a season before taking the NFL job. "He should get an opportunity with one of those teams."

The 3-4 hadn't been fashionable since the early 1980s, but then New England won three of the last four Super Bowls with the scheme as its primary defensive look.

That changes draft priorities. Players who look and play like Pettway are now a hot commodity.

"Getting drafted will be a matter of matching the style of the team that might choose him," said Grambling State coach Melvin Spears, who took over from Williams after serving six seasons as his offensive coordinator. "He'll match up well in a 3-4 front, where they can use his skills as a weakside linebacker."

Devised more than 50 seasons ago by Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson, the 3-4 alignment features three down linemen and four linebackers - as opposed to the more widely used 4-3, with only three linebackers.

By last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers were all using the 3-4 as a primary scheme. Coaches at Cleveland, Dallas and San Francisco are considering a switch as well.

That's why Williams says: "I think he has a great opportunity to get selected - it's just a matter of where," he said. "Here's a guy that has been down on a three-point stance for most of his career, so he will have to do a little changing. He will have to make some adjustments. He will have to drop off and play some man coverage."

Pettway ended his two-season career in Grambling with 115 tackles - including 76 solo grabs - and 13® sacks for minus-75 yards. His 30 tackles for a loss accounted for 114 yards. He also had two blocked kicks in 23 games.

Add in the 16 games Pettway played at Southern Arkansas before transferring and he had 167 tackles (with 102 of them solo), in 39 total games - including 23® sacks and 48 stops for losses.

That production and a room-to-grow 6-4 frame earned Pettway a rare invite to the NFL Combine, the only one for a player from the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2005.

He was slowed by a hamstring pull, but Pettway participated in all of the events. Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. reported his 40-yard time in Indianapolis at 4.75.

"I thought his combine workout was good," said Williams. "The guys who did better had been playing linebacker all their life. For a guy playing a new position, I thought he adjusted very well."

Pettway said he heard from six NFL teams this week, as coaches made final preparations for the draft.

"They are getting draft-day phone numbers," said Pettway, "and seeing how my health is. They've wanted to find out how I feel about the city where I might come."

Pettway added that he will continue serving as a student coach at Grambling State - even with the draft whirlwind circling him. He plans to spend Saturday at the Black and Gold game that concludes the team's spring sessions.

"It's been a trip for me. The combine was really strenuous, but in all of it there was enjoyment - because it was the first time for me going through it," said Pettway. "I'm just excited, and nervous all at that same time."

Pettway file
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 255
College: Grambling State
Scouting report: Was a big-play penetrating DE in college. Is at his best when turned loose up the field. Has very good anticipation skills and initial quickness. Shows some closing burst as a pass rusher and has good instincts in that facet. Has long arms and good-sized hands to occupy blockers. He shows a decent array of pass rush moves. Is a relentless player that makes a lot of plays in pursuit.
- Scouts Inc., for ESPN Insider

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GSU defender spends draft day at home fishing

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Don't look for replays of Grambling State defender Kenneth Pettway on television, receiving word that he was selected No. 227 by the Houston Texans in the 2005 NFL Draft.

He spent the weekend as he normally would, working with his former teammates on Saturday before traveling home to attend church in Houston on Sunday.

Then, the seventh-round draft choice went fishing.

"I kept my phone with me," said Pettway, a speedy, large-framed defender who should succeed in Houston's 3-4 defensive scheme. "I didn't want to be in front of the TV, pulling my hair out. I just wanted to be out there with the people who helped me get to the place where I am now."

So, the draft unfolded a world away.

"He started for the first time here with us," said GSU coach Melvin Spears, "and he was here with us for the draft."

That steady commitment is likely what attracted the Texans, who are based near Pettway's hometown of Gilmer, Texas. He will report with other rookies for Houston's mini-camp on Friday.

The Texans needed an upgrade at outside linebacker, the main pass rusher in head coach Dom Capers' defense. Last year, Houston finished last in sacks with 24; the Texans were second-to-last the year before, with 19.

That must have stung Capers, who has worked as a coordinator on tough, quarterback-harassing defenses at Carolina, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh - grooming Pro Bowlers in Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, who could chase signal callers then drop into coverage.

"For him to go to his home team in Houston is a big thing - and he's close enough that we can still go see him," said GSU teammate Bruce Eugene, who tried to call Pettway upon seeing his name on the draft board - but said he couldn't reach him because Pettway was out fishing.

That's in-character for the grounded Pettway, who served as a student coach with the team during the GSU's just-completed spring sessions - sharing the lessons he learned, until the very end, as the only Southwestern Athletic Conference player to be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine this season.

"When I am on the field, I'm just teaching what somebody else taught me - from trying out, from playing under (former GSU) Coach (Doug) Williams and Spears, from going to the combine," said Pettway. "I want to hand out that information."

The combine experience turned into another showcase for Pettway's attention to his craft, when he injured his groin on the very first attempt at the 40-yard dash - but participated in every drill anyway.

His stock had been rising, with positive notices in USA Today last week, among others.

"Everybody has aspirations, and I do too," said Eugene. "But for it to become a reality, that's a dream come true."

Pettway attended Gilmer High School, playing football for coach Mike Mullins. He also lettered in basketball, baseball and track before spending his first two collegiate seasons primarily as a backup defensive end at Southern Arkansas.

Pettway then transferred to play for Williams in 2002 and began garnering playing time at outside linebacker, as well.

He grabbed 70 tackles and made five sacks as a junior, then earned All-America accolades from The NFL Draft Report and All-SWAC first-team honors as a senior. Pettway made 45 tackles, including 28 solos, and ranked second in the conference with 16 stops for losses last season. He also tied for a SWAC-best 8.5 sacks.

But GSU, a haven for NFL talent in the 1960s and '70s, hadn't had a player drafted since Scotty Anderson was selected in the fifth round by Detroit in 2001.

"A dream come true, absolutely," said Spears. "This is a great day for Kenneth Pettway - and also a great day for Grambling."

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GSU's Pettway keeps focus
Houston's pick in the 7th round gets NFL taste

By Nick Deriso
Grambling State product Kenneth Pettway got ready for his first taste of the NFL by continuing to run his linebacker drills on the practice field where he played college ball.

He couldn't have guessed how long he'd end up spending inside the Houston Texans' facility, meeting and studying the club's scheme.

"The meetings were about 10 times longer than college," said Pettway, a seventh-round pick for the Texans last month. "I think the shortest was about two hours. You've got to stay focused. There are no wasted words. Everything they say is something you need to know. There is no room for errors."

The Texans' six draft picks - as well as free agents, and others trying out - participated in four rookie practices earlier this month where coaches introduced the players to the system.

He then returned to Grambling State, where he lifted and ran with friends.

"Working out, it feels the same," said Pettway. "But being back in Grambling, there was a different intensity. So many people know I have been drafted, and are pulling for me."

Pettway is back in Houston this week to participate in 14 coaching sessions that last through June 8. A three-day minicamp follows, before a long break in front of training sessions.

"They emphasized before every meeting that we take notes," said Pettway. Houston coach "Dom Capers walked around and watched for who was taking notes and paying attention. They didn't let us take the playbook home, but he said we could take the notepad home. We were expected to know the defense when we got back. I wrote down some extra things to work on."

Pettway will keep the same number he had in two all-conference seasons at Grambling, the departed Jamie Sharper's No. 55. He found a jersey with his name already embroidered on it when he arrived at camp.

"It was Grade A treatment," Pettway said. "We got off the plane and there was somebody waiting for you with Texans apparel. When we got there, our lockers were all set up. Everything was there, and it was all the right size. Everything you need, they had it."

Pettway's transition was easier than many of the other newcomers, because he was born and raised in nearby Gilmer, Texas.

"A lot of guys were from faraway places," said Pettway, a multi-sports prep star. "They had a couple of guys from Florida and California. Some of them said, `You are lucky to play in front of your hometown.' To me, it was big joy to get the opportunity to play where I grew up."

His familiarity didn't translate, however, into recommendations on places to eat around Houston.

"They fix everything for you," said Pettway, chuckling. "They give you a target weight and then you eat in the cafeteria, and that's it. You can go out and get your own food, but they encourage you to eat what the nutritionist has for you."

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Pettway's first NFL deal is for three years with Texans

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Will Jordan, agent for Grambling State product Kenneth Pettway, says his client has signed with the Houston Texans.

Pettway, a seventh-round pick in last April's NFL Draft, inked a three-year deal, Jordan said in a phone message on Friday. The contract, reportedly worth $965,494, includes a $40,494 signing bonus.

"Pettway is a very special guy who has great skills," said Melvin Spears, who was an assistant and then interim head coach during Pettway's two seasons at GSU. "The Houston Texans are going to benefit more than they know."

Playing both defensive end and outside linebacker, Pettway recorded 115 tackles and 13® sacks in 2003-04 at Grambling.

Jordan said a quick deal is essential for rookies, who need to focus on making the team - not negotiating a deal.

Hayes day in Bossier: Former GSU star Lionel Hayes lit up the Battle Wings last week in Bossier City, as the af2 Macon Knights posted an easy 57-36 victory.

He finished 18-of-29 in the air, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jamaal Garman. Hayes also ran for a 4-yard touchdown as Macon improved to 4-6 with the victory.

Quarterback at GSU during former coach Doug Williams' first two seasons at the helm, Hayes had his best year as a senior in 1999. Hayes completed 188-of-366 passes for 2,935 yards and 30 touchdowns with just six interceptions. A year earlier, as a junior, Hayes completed 151-of-301 passes for 2,373 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Home cooking with Doug: Williams, now a personnel executive with the NFL's Tampa Bay franchise, talked about scouting Southwestern Athletic Conference products in a Q&A at this week.

"Well, No. 1, my job is for the Buccaneers, to get the best players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," he said. "But at the same time, there's no doubt that I might be a little partial to the historically black colleges, the SWAC or what have you. I'm not going to bring in a kid just because he went there. I want him to be able to show it."

The Bucs have drafted former Southern cornerback Lenny Williams and given a tryout to ex-Grambling receiver Scotty Anderson since Williams arrived in Tampa, but neither made the team.

Williams couldn't attend the opening of an exhibit of Eddie Robinson memorabilia in Grambling on Friday, he said, because he is filming a new special by NFL Films on the Super Bowl. Williams was the MVP of the 1988 game leading Washington over Denver.

Tiger bites: The just-completed Melvin Spears Football Camp included 200 young hopefuls - hailing from places as far flung as Alaska. Large groups came from Shreveport, Alexandria and Belzoni, Miss., as well. … The AFL's New Orleans franchise re-signed Grambling product Calvin Spears, who has played for the VooDoo for the past two seasons. Spears coached the secondary at Grambling last season, then returned to finish fifth on the VooDoo with 32® tackles.

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GSU's Pettway staying a Texan

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Grambling product Kenneth Pettway is staying home.

Pettway, a seventh-round 2005 draft pick for the Houston Texans, has reupped as an exclusive-rights free agent.

"This is a really good organization," said Pettway, a native of Gilmer, just outside of Houston. "I was born and spent most of my life here. The city has grown a lot but, at the same time, it's home to me. As far as this franchise goes, they handle their business really well."

Taken 237th overall by the Texans last year, Pettway finished with 115 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 30 tackles for a loss, 10 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles, four passes defensed and two blocked kicks in 23 games at Grambling. He later garnered an invite to the 2005 Las Vegas All-American Classic postseason all-star game and was the only invitee from the Southwestern Athletic Conference at the 2005 NFL Scouting Combine.

Pettway says he signed one-year contract, just as he did last season, in the hopes that a breakout year might result in a better deal.

He's met new coach Gary Kubiak and a series of new assistants who were hired in the wake of Houston's league-worst 2-14 mark last season.

"When I first met the new coach, he came off as a really good guy," said Pettway, who spent most of his rookie season — save for games against Jacksonville and San Francisco — on the practice squad.

Kubiak and defensive coordinator Richard Smith Miami's coordinator last season under Nick Saban are moving from Houston's familiar 3-4 defensive alignment to the more conventional 4-3 look, with Pettway working on the outside.

"So far, so good," Pettway said. "They've got me playing Sam or Will, either one."

Pettway, who is participating in off-season training right now, said he expects the 4-3 playbook to be installed later in the spring.

"We've been running and conditioning," Pettway said. "We'll start learning the new defense when we start coaching sessions."

Pettway began his collegiate career at Southern Arkansas, where he had 52 tackles, 10 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries and one forced fumble in 16 games. He was a four-sport performer in football, basketball, track and baseball at Gilmer High.

The Texans now have signed nine free agents, and re-signed another eight players. They hold the top pick in April's NFL Draft and, by exercising a $8 million option that extends quarterback David Carr's contract through the 2008, seem to be positioning themselves to select Texas running back Reggie Bush.