Stand and deliver: Williams' move to LB could work for Texans

Count me as one of the many surprised by Wade Phillips' decision to shift two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams to outside linebacker in the Texans' new 3-4 defensive scheme.

Although I've been around the league long enough to understand that coaches will fit their scheme to maximize the talents of players, the thought of the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Williams dropping into coverage led me to question the move.

Williams has blossomed into one of the league's most dominant pass rushers, and it's hard to fathom the possibility of Phillips not taking advantage of his explosiveness off the edge.

Even my colleagues, Warren Sapp and Willie McGinest, expressed their concerns on "NFL Total Access" when discussing the difficulty of Williams making the unexpected switch from defensive end to linebacker.

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However, I've started to see the wisdom in making the move after extensively studying Phillips' system and Williams' talents in the film room.

From a schematic standpoint, Phillips' "30" defense is actually an old school 5-2 defense with five defensive linemen capable of rushing the passer on the field on most downs. The outside linebackers are the designated playmakers in the scheme, with the Will linebacker often occupying the starring role.

Unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers' scheme, which positions pass rushers on the right or left regardless of the strength of the formation, Phillips utilizes a strong and weak side to place his premier rusher on the backside of the formation. With most teams operating under a right-handed premise, this will put his top rusher at the right outside linebacker spot on most downs.

DeMarcus Ware absolutely dominated opponents as a Will linebacker in Phillips' scheme with the Cowboys. He frequently took advantage of isolated matchups on the edge, and it's no coincidence his game took off when he had the opportunity to get after the quarterback aggressively in the system. With 60.5 sacks over the past four years, Ware obviously benefitted from playing the premier position in the scheme.

While some would say that Williams' athleticism doesn't match Ware's, I would point to the early career success of Shawne Merriman under Phillips as a prime example of why the move will work for the Texans.

Merriman, who is 6-4, 265 pounds, had 27 sacks in two seasons under Phillips. This is significant to note because his game is built on power and explosiveness, which also are the strongest parts of Williams' skill set. Merriman found a way to thrive in the system despite his athletic limitations, so it is quite possible that Williams will enjoy similar success under Phillips' guidance.

In the end, this should not be much of a transition for Williams because he has played on both sides of the line based on matchups in the past and often lined up at right defensive end for the Texans in critical situations. Although he will need to adjust to playing from an upright position, he will still get after the quarterback on 95 percent of the snaps.

Of course, there will be some times when Williams gets caught in space as a dropper against a tight end or running back, but Phillips has vowed to use Williams primarily as a rusher. I wouldn't expect to see Williams in a backpedal often based on his ability to rush.

Also, the Texans' willingness to jump into their nickel or sub-packages on second and third down will lessen the amount of snaps that Williams will spend in an upright position. He will likely occupy one of the outside spots in a conventional four-man rush (with two linebackers and five defensive backs) and use his combination of power and explosiveness to collapse the pocket off the edge.

With most offenses using three or more receivers on up to 60 percent of snaps, Williams' position change might not be as radical as it appears on the surface.

Phillips created a stir with his announcement that Williams would switch positions, but if the decision works out it would create an even bigger wave.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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