HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has faced an uphill battle in Houston ever since the team drafted Jadeveon Clowney. Next Sunday in Oakland, he’ll start in Clowney’s place, after the rookie reportedly suffered a torn meniscus in Sunday’s 17-6 win over Washington. Mercilus is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s cool,” said Mercilus “Somebody goes down, next man up. That’s all it is. [Gotta] take advantage of the opportunity.”

Like he had in the last two preseason games (Broncos, 49ers) against backups, Mercilus was once again productive on Sunday. He had a sack in the second quarter – which was later taken away because of a Kareem Jackson illegal contact – and two hits on Robert Griffin III. His colleague – linebacker Brooks Reed – has noticed his growth.

“I think Whitney’s matured a lot and grown,” said Reed. “He’s gotten better as a football player these last two months, so it’ll be fun watching him play.”

“It’s just not thinking and being comfortable with the defense,” said Mercilus. “Just reacting and going.”

Like Mercilus, safety D.J. Swearinger said it’s another case where the next man on the depth chart has to step up.

“Mercilus, he’s been starting here, so he’s up,” said Swearinger. “I’m sorry for my boy [Clowney], we want him out there for sure.”

Swearinger was optimistic that Clowney will be back before long, but knows this has got to be tough for Clowney getting injured in his first game.

“As a rookie – coming in having a lot of the hype he has – that’s something he doesn’t want to happen,” said Swearinger. “I feel his frustration.”

Swearinger said that he and fellow South Carolina alum Johnathan Joseph will keep in Clowney’s ear to help him keep his frustration in check.

“I would be mad too,” said Swearinger. “Me and J-Joe are going to stay in his ear, make sure he doesn’t get down on himself so he can bounce back.”

“It’s always unfortunate to have a guy go down,” said Joseph. “We’re all close to him. It’s close in that locker room. He’ll have a great supporting cast behind him. And it’s just his job to take his time rehabbing and get better so he can help us.”

Again, Mercilus has played well of late. Still, it’s a tough to pill to swallow for this defense that Clowney – who was so electric to watch in limited action this preseason and against Washington.

“It definitely sucks,” said cornerback Kareem Jackson. “I know it sucks for him. It sucks for us as a team. But…it’s football. Those things are going to happen. He’s just got to keep his head up…and come back when he’s 100% healthy.”

Other Notes:

      • Tight End Garrett Graham said that he’d suffered the back injury – which kept him out of Sunday’s game against Washington – in practice. He said he couldn’t remember how the injury happened. He also seemed unsure of how long it could keep him out, saying “I’m just going to take it day by day right now, and go from there.”
      • Per Albert Breer of the NFL Network, D.J. Swearinger said the field at NRG stadium may have been a factor in Clowney’s injury:
      • Head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t see it that way at his press conference this afternoon. He felt Clowney just came down awkwardly. He said he doesn’t have a problem with the field.

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