How is Whitney Mercilus adjusting to the Texans’ new defensive scheme?

·2 min read

The last time Whitney Mercilus played as a defensive end, he was playing in his final year for Illinois coach Ron Zook.

After nine seasons in the NFL as an outside linebacker, Mercilus will be going back to defensive end under new Houston Texans defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, who also was most recently the coach at Illinois.

For Mercilus, going from playing standing up pre-snap in the 3-4 defense to a three-point stance is taking some adjustment, even though it is technically familiar territory.

“Just putting my hand in the dirt honestly,” Mercilus told reporters when asked what the biggest adjustment was. “I can’t see nothing. When I was standing up, I could see everything, the formations, understand what’s coming my way. I see the down and distance. I understand what situation we’re in, things like that.”

As an outside linebacker, Mercilus provided the Texans with 345 combined tackles, 68 tackles for loss, 112 quarterback hits, 54.0 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and seven pass breakups in 128 games, 100 of which he started.

Mercilus probably won’t get 128 games as a defensive end, but the former 2012 first-round pick is seeking to be just as effective. However, it comes with its own challenges.

Said Mercilus: “Now with my hand in the dirt, I’m kind of limited, so I’m depending on what the tackle is giving me, whether it’s the screen, a pass, a run, zone, things like that. My keys are different honestly. So, I’ve got to get my pre-snap reads down, put my hand in the dirt, and just rely on instincts. That’s it.”

Playing defensive end is more fun for Mercilus as there is one objective: get up field.

“Don’t think, just go,” Mercilus said. “You mess up, just mess up big honestly. If you’re going 100 miles per hour, you’re good.”

If the Texans can go 100 miles an hour towards opposing quarterbacks while stopping the run along the way, it will bode well as they seek to recover from a 4-12 record in 2020.

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