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Texans DE Williams' move to OLB won't be all that complicated

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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As Wade Phillips recalls it, the conversation was quick and to the point, just like most NFL activity during the temporary lifting of the lockout on April 29.

The Houston Texans' defensive coordinator used part of that brief window of opportunity to inform Mario Williams about his move from end to outside linebacker and what his new role would entail.

Jack Smith / Associated Press
For seven straight years at least one OLB in Wade Phillips' scheme has produced double-digit sacks, including Shawne Merriman (above) in San Diego.
OLBs in Phillips' 3-4 defense since 2004
Player Team Year Sacks
Steve Foley Chargers 2004 10
Shawne Merriman Chargers 2005 10
Shawne Merriman Chargers 2006 17.5
Shaun Phillips Chargers 2006 11.5
Greg Ellis Cowboys 2007 12.5
DeMarcus Ware Cowboys 2007 14
DeMarcus Ware Cowboys 2008 20
DeMarcus Ware Cowboys 2009 11
DeMarcus Ware Cowboys 2010 15.5

"I said, 'You rush,'" Phillips recalls. "He said, 'OK.'"

And it's pretty much going to be that simple. In Phillips' version of the 3-4 defense, there is an outside linebacker whose job is almost exclusively limited to getting after the quarterback from the open side of the formation.

Think the current dominance of DeMarcus Ware in Dallas, where Phillips was head coach until the middle of last season.

Think Shawne Merriman, who flourished and came up with 27 sacks in his first two seasons with the San Diego Chargers while Phillips was defensive coordinator there.

Think Bryce Paup after he left the Green Bay Packers -- for whom he was an end in a 4-3 scheme -- and then compiled 17.5 sacks as linebacker for the Bills in 1995, when Phillips was defensive coordinator.

Phillips has no concern that, at 6-foot-6, Williams might be too tall to comfortably make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker from 4-3 end. At 6-7, Pro Football Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks certainly was able to function well as the tallest outside linebacker in league history.

The key is that Williams won't have to worry about dropping into coverage or doing anything else that involves rushing the passer.

"He's coming off the corner all the time," Phillips said. "In our system, there's no way to change that. In some 3-4 systems, they can game plan you where the guy has to drop. In our system, it's never been that way. We can make him rush every down if we want to."

Williams' weight shouldn't pose any problem to that. Although he is listed at 290 pounds, much heavier than a typical outside linebacker, Phillips said Williams told him he weighed 282 last month and that his weight fluctuates from 265 to 290.

More pros than cons
Yes, Mario Williams will be a beast of an outside linebacker, but Bucky Brooks breaks down how he has the skills to make the move, using our interactive scouting report. More...

» Brooks: Switch could pay dividends
» Video: Debating Mario's move

Also, working mostly from a two-point stance, he will be closer to the line of scrimmage than he was in a three-point stance, where his feet are two yards behind the line.

That appeals to Williams. It didn't appeal to Aaron Kampman, who wanted out of Green Bay after the Packers hired Dom Capers as their defensive coordinator in 2009 and learned of Capers' plan to move Kampman from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. A year later, Kampman joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, who play a 4-3 and kept him at end.

"Who knows how Kampman could have done at outside 'backer?" Phillips said. "I don't know that he couldn't play it. It's just he didn't want to. Bryce Paup did pretty well (in Buffalo), then left for Jacksonville and played outside 'backer and never was heard from again.

"The player thinks one thing, but what's best for him may be something else."

Luckily for Phillips and the Texans, Williams seems to get that.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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