One of the biggest pieces of football news in this most unique offseason was the Houston Texans' decision to move Mario Williams from defensive end to linebacker as the team converts to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips.
I recently got a chance to sit down with Bill Cowher, a man who spent his whole career looking for 3-4 pass rushers. So who better to examine building the defense than the former Steelers coach.
Cowher was quick to point out that Phillips is a very good coach and knows what he's doing. Even though Phillips has been running the 3-4 scheme for years, many have questioned the wisdom of moving Williams' 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame from end to linebacker.
However, Phillips has talked about the Texans playing more of a 5-2 defense, where five linemen will be used with two inside linebackers. In that scheme, Phillips has said Williams will often line up as the weakside linebacker, but basically still be an end playing on his feet more.
Cowher cited how effective Bruce Smith, who played under Phillips during the late stages of his time in Buffalo, was as a five-technique defensive end and produced pressure on the quarterback and has more sacks than any other NFL player in history. Cowher's point was that the defensive end in the 3-4 can still be a very dangerous player, and if the outside linebacker next to him is someone versatile like Darryl Talley was for Smith the defense works.
As Cowher pointed out, Williams will be rushing most of the time. So while Smith played end and Williams will now be a linebacker, it comes down to having other defenders who can be that Talley and drop back in coverage and do some of the dirty work as Williams goes full out after the quarterback. As far as the ground game, Williams is going to have to learn to protect his legs and understand on run plays he has a lot of surface area that blockers can get to as compared to coming out of a three-point stance over the tackle.
While Cowher felt Williams can make the transition, I got the feeling he might not have done it himself, saying "I would be very careful about it."