We’re a couple of preseason games in, and nobody in the Texans camp seems to be overly concerned about whether All-Pro Mario Williams can make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker.
Everyone from Williams down to the water boy understands it’s a process.
But that type of level-headedness doesn’t seem to exist around this city where people are concerned that new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ experiment that will transform Williams into the next DeMarcus Ware in his 3-4 scheme won’t work.
In fairness, Williams hasn’t resembled the dominant player we’ve watched blossom into as one of the premiere defensive ends in the NFL the past five years. He’s looked tentative, awkward and flat-out uncomfortable making the transition from a guy who rushes the passer from a three-point stance to an outside linebacker whose job is primarily to get after the quarterback from the standing position.
The Texans are being questioned daily about the wisdom of potentially messing up their best defensive talent.
But it was interesting Tuesday to listen to Williams discuss how he’s dealing with the scrutiny after not performing to expectations in the first two preseason games.
“I don’t worry about it,” Williams said. “I don’t care what people analyze. It doesn’t bother me when people analyze. You’re going to analyze what you want to analyze.”
He hasn’t faced this much criticism since former GM Charley Casserly made the “boneheaded” decision to select Williams No. 1 overall instead of Reggie Bush or Vince Young. By now you would think some of us would have learned patience and the lost art of letting situations play out.
This experiment with Williams could work out. There is a great chance it won’t.
But by all accounts, Williams is on board with the change even in his contract year. He seems convinced, if given time, he will make the transition, and that confidence seems to give his teammates and coaches confidence as well.
“I think he’s done a good job,” inside linebacker Brian Cushing said of Williams’ transition to outside linebacker. “Everyone’s really critical of him right now and trying to figure out whether he can do it or not, but I definitely do. It’s going to take him a little time.
“It’s a big role from putting your hand down to standing up and now rushing the passer and dropping, doing things he’s never done before. For the adjustment he’s made in the short amount of time, I think he’s done a great job.”
Those who are worried Williams didn’t have any stats to speak of in a quarter of play during the preseason opener or that his biggest statistical accomplishment in half of a football game last Saturday was falling on a fumble must remember this is an odd year for all of the NFL. The lockout took away all of the OTAs that would have made this a smoother transition and special sessions Williams would have had with linebackers coach Reggie Herring and Phillips.
Still, the consensus out at Texans camps seems to be that Williams is progressing at an acceptable rate.
“It is a change, but every step has been positive,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “What they’re trying to get him to do, it’s a total change in technique in how you play and the scheme is playing and what he’s being asked to do. Mario’s working. Mario hasn’t missed a day, except the day his dad was ill. He’s been working his tail off.”
Phillips, whose kind of wagering his tenure here with the Texans on this move, seems to also like the progress Williams is making.
“I think he’s doing fine,” Phillips said. “He’s adjusting well. He gets better every game. He only played a half. Once he plays a whole game, I think they’ll have problems with him.”
Make no mistake, this is a tough transition for the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Williams, whose played his entire career from a three-point stance. He has more keys to read and occasionally he may have to drop back into coverage. But maybe the most difficult part will be learning to play low.
“I think the biggest thing is bending,” he said. “I’m so tall, so I think that with my angles and keeping my knees bent and waist bent, proper angles, I think it will be a lot easier, but I’m not used to doing that as much.”
That’s interesting, because Williams isn’t the only one who may have to get used to doing something that doesn’t come naturally. If Williams can learn to play low, maybe the analyzers can learn to be patient.
Contact Terrance Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris