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Texans rookie linebacker Brooks Reed is easy to want to root for.
He’s the proverbial little guy who must do something big as he attempts to fill the mammoth shoes of outside linebacker Mario Williams in the Texans defense. Reed has been elevated into the starting spot held by Williams, who suffered a season-ending pectoral tear last week against the Oakland Raiders. The first test and first start come Sunday when the Texans take on the Baltimore Ravens.
Every play Reed makes or doesn’t make against the Ravens will be dissected and heavily scrutinized. Talk about a difficult situation to be in just six games into your NFL career.
“Obviously there is a lot of pressure, I’m a rookie first year playing and stepping in for a Pro Bowler,” said Reed, a second-round draft pick for the Texans last spring out of University of Arizona. “So there is pressure but I like that. I think I will respond well.”
Reed performed fairly well after Williams was sidelined nine defensive snaps into Sunday’s loss to the Raiders. It’s bound to be a lot more difficult on Reed this week given that the Ravens will have had six days to game plan to exploit the new weak link on the weakside of the Texans defensive line.
But if Reed plays to level that he did during the preseason, where at times he outplayed Williams at that pass-rushing outside linebacker spot. Reed epitomized tenacity and fearlessness in pursuing the quarterback, at times seeming as though he had forgotten he was a just a rookie operating a serious learning curve.
That isn’t to suggest that Reed will step in and fill the void left by Williams seamlessly. He won’t. But don’t think he will back down at all, either.
Reed certainly made his presence felt this past Sunday in his first significant playing time outside of special teams. He won his share of battles at the point of attack and times was a menace to Jason Campell, add two quarterback hurries with four tackles on the day.
“I watched him on film and he beat the tackle pretty regularly and he hit the quarterback three or four times,” said defensive end Antonio Smith, who will line up next to Reed. “There is no doubt about his passing rushing ability. He’s pretty good at it. He’s just going to have to pick up the slack for Mario.”
Not surprisingly, Reed is eager for the opportunity. He won’t provide the same presence of the 6-foot-7, 280-pound Williams, who has become one the most feared and respected pass rushers in the NFL first as a defensive end and now as an outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense.
But the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Reed can make for what he lacks in size and experience with speed and quickness and a motor that knows no quit. Picking up the slack for Williams’ absence will fall to guys like strongside outside linebacker Conor Barwin and defensive ends J.J. Watt and Smith.
“I’m going to contribute the best I can,” said Reed, who had 104 tackles and 17 sacks during his UA career. “I know no one is expecting me to produce as much as Mario. I think it will be a collective effort.”
But make no mistake this is also a huge shot or Reed. Holding his own and becoming a presence that offenses have to account for will certain put the soft-spoken youngster on the map. Not performing up to expectations will relegate him back to special teams duty with the proverbial potential tag attached.
“This is how you make a name for yourself in the NFL,” Smith said. “Sometimes if you come into the NFL and you are not one of those first round picks or a top 10 pick then you behind somebody. And if you are behind somebody great it might be a few years before you get seen.
“But he gets to do it a little bit earlier and he needs to showcase his talent. That’s what the league is all about. You come as the underdog and you’re not a starter and now he’s the starter.”
That’s what makes it so easy to root for Reed. Everybody loves the underdog, especially when he exceeds expectations.