The Houston Texans entered the 2012 preseason similarly to the previous postseason: Without former All-Pro DE/OLB Mario Williams. However, eight months makes quite a difference, considering Houston spent their first round draft pick on Illinois DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus. While some treated Mercilus with trepidation prior to April’s draft branding him a “one-year wonder,” Texans Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips, saw Mercilus as a steal at the 26th overall pick and had even considered trading up for the NCAA sack leader.
At 6-4 260 pounds, Mercilus is more similar in size to Shawne Merriman (6-4 261 pounds) and Demarcus Ware (6-4 254 pounds), two former All-Pro’s and NFL sack leaders in Phillips’s system in San Diego and Dallas respectively, than Mario Williams (6-6 290 pounds) who did not have the prototypical size for the 3-4 defense. Williams entered the 2011 season as an oversized outside linebacker and while he showed some flashes with five sacks in as many games, he tore his pectoral muscle against the Raiders and missed the remainder of the season.
Williams injury history, lofty price tag in a year that the Texans needed to re-sign Arian Foster long term, along with the emergence of both Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed led the Texans to not offer a contract similar to Buffalo’s six-year $100 million offer, thus ushering in a new era of Texans football.
Mercilus has big shoes to fill in Houston and while he turned down the opportunity to sport number 90, he will undoubtedly be compared to his predecessor. One game into the preseason the former Illinois standout is comparing favorably to just about every pass rusher in the NFL as he registered 1.5 sacks against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night. Most coaches would be happy with that stat line from anyone, let alone a rookie in his first game, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak went on to say “After watching the film, he was even better than I thought he was,” leading many in Texan Nation to wonder, just how good can this kid become?