The Houston Texans are going from a 3-4 defense, which they ran in 2011, to a Tampa 2 scheme with a 4-3 front.
What the scheme change means is that edge defenders classified as outside linebackers in the 3-4, such as Whitney Mercilus, are going to have to put their hand in the dirt and come off the ball in a three-point stance as a defensive end.
For Mercilus, playing as a 4-3 defensive end is familiar territory, although not one that he has visited since the Texans selected him in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft from Illinois. In Wade Phillips’ scheme, Mercilus was converted to a standup outside linebacker where he has tallied 54.0 sacks through 128 career games.
What’s old is new for Mercilus.
“With Whit, the funny thing is when we talked about the hand in the dirt, that’s the only thing that’s different about what’s going to be his role this year,” defensive line coach Bobby King told reporters on a Zoom call on June 8. “He said, ‘Coach, I haven’t put my hand in the dirt consistently since my junior year at Illinois.’ I said, ‘well, that was about 10 years ago.’ That’s going to be the big thing.”
According to King, after eight weeks of offseason workouts, including 10 sessions of organized team activities, the 30-year-old seems to have found his old groove.
“To be honest, he’s come in and he’s looked pretty natural doing it, hitting the sleds,” said King. “Now, we’re not going against offensive linemen, obviously, right now, but it’s been a pretty natural transition and I hope to continue to see that.”
The Texans won’t put on the pads until training camp. When they do, it will be a more accurate evaluation of how Mercilus can handle coming off the edge in a three-point stance. In shorts and no pads, Mercilus at least has good technique.
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