The 6-foot-6 Williams was the Texans' sacks leader in each of his five seasons as a defensive end, but change has arrived: He will move to outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, a transition that will be key to improving a defense that ranked at or near the bottom in most categories in 2010.
"Little things seem kind of difficult but it's something we'll get used to," Williams said. "The biggest thing is technique and not having any wasted motions at this point, so it can be a pretty simple formula."
Williams, the top overall pick in the 2006 draft, said the biggest change for him is standing up instead of starting from a 3-point stance. He will drop into coverage at times, an added responsibility that he's confident he can handle.
Williams had 8.5 sacks last season, his lowest total since his rookie year, then sat out the last three games because of a sports hernia. He's fully recovered from offseason surgery and reported to camp at a trim 285 pounds, a weight he thinks he needs to be at for his new role.
"I'm really excited," Williams said. "It's one of those things that we got to stay in the classroom and really got to focus on working on the fundamentals. Like I said, it's the technique things that are different right now for us in the 3-4."
The Texans ranked 23rd in sacks last season (30), and their weak pass rush contributed to the team finishing last in pass defense (267.5 yards per game).
Kubiak watched intently Monday as Williams tiptoed over obstacles in a footwork drill, drawing raves from Herring, who was the defensive coordinator at North Carolina State when Williams was a sophomore.
"I think he's going to be excellent," Kubiak said. "Listening to Reggie talk about how they can improve Mario's footwork, and how much progress he can make. The neat thing for me, just watching Mario take to their coaching. I'm excited to watch it happen."
Phillips said Williams will be a "force" from wherever he lines up in the new alignment.
"The position we put him in is going to give him a chance to make plays," Phillips said. "He's our playmaker. He's pretty natural. He can run, and that's what you need. He looks like he's going to be able to rush the passer well from there."
"You look around the league and most of the linebackers that get the sacks are in a 3-4 defense," Williams said. "There are big names out there obviously from the 3-4, so it's still the same thing in a 3-4 defense -- you want to get to the quarterback."
Herring corrected Williams during practice, and they talked about that afterward.
"It's a different way to play the technique and that was the thing," Williams said. "We did it out there (in team drills) and we did it in here (in individual drills) and come to find out it's really easy. We were just doing it wrong because we were in the mentality of having a 4-3 defensive end."
Overall, though, Herring was impressed with how Williams looked on the first day.
"He moved as well as any of the backers in any of the drills," Herring said. "He's in a great shape. He's accepted this move and it's all been very positive. He seems to catch on very well, and we're really excited about what he can do."
The lockout cost Phillips valuable time in the offseason to teach his scheme to not only Williams, but to the entire defense. He saw several mistakes on Monday, but thinks he will have enough time to iron them out by the time the regular season begins.
"It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort," Phillips said. "But the players are dedicated to getting it done, and we are, too."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press