Bucky Brooks
Thursday May 15th, 2008

Who said the Pro Bowl is meaningless?

Spurred by his snub from pro football's all-star game in February, former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams made a big splash at the Texans' recent minicamp. "He came to camp hungry," said a Texans official. "He is practicing with a purpose, and that passion has energized the entire defense."

Williams showed flashes of being the league's next dominant pass rusher by recording 14 sacks last season, 10 in the final seven games. Based on his performance at minicamp, it appears he's ready to pick up where he left off last season. "The light has come on for him and he knows that he is the best player on the field," said the Texans official. "Once a player of his caliber realizes that, it often boosts his game to another level."

With his confidence buoyed, Williams has started to combine his freakish athleticism with a solid set of rush moves to wear out tackles on the edge. His consistency is also improving and he appears to be on the verge of becoming one of the game's top pass rushers. "Players typically make their biggest improvement from their first to second year," said the Texans' official. "But Mario's injury hampered his rookie season, so we are expecting him to make that jump this year."

If he does, Williams will continue to justify his selection as the top pick in the draft by receiving his first Pro Bowl bid at the end of this season.

• The resolution of Terrell Suggs' franchise-tag grievance against the Ravens paves the way for big paydays for the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman in the near future. By creating a hybrid "defensive end-linebacker" franchise designation, the league has created a category for the elite pass rusher who plays as a rush end/linebacker in 3-4 defenses.

Prior to the designation, teams were forced to tab their pass rush specialists as a defensive end or linebacker. The difference in position resulted in a substantial disparity in compensation on franchise tenders ($8.879 million for defensive ends and $8.065 million for linebackers). With the "defensive end-linebacker" franchise tag valued at $8.5 million, the market has been established for Suggs, Ware and Merriman to generate big paydays on the open market. Expect each to net deals that average over $10 million annually with at least $25 million in guaranteed money.

• The Ravens quietly pulled off a draft day steal with the acquisition of cornerback Fabian Washington for a fourth-round pick. The move infuses an aging secondary with a young, talented player.

Washington, a 2005 first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, will be given the chance to compete with Samari Rolle, whose skills are deteriorating, for the starting job at right corner. Despite being benched by the Raiders for his poor tackling last season, Washington has the tools to be a quality man-to-man cover corner and is an ideal fit in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's aggressive scheme.

Last year the Ravens struggled when injuries to Chris McAllister and Rolle pressed Derrick Martin and David Pittman into the lineup. The addition of Washington, who has 27 starts in his three-year career, is a much-needed pickup to solidify an already vaunted defense.

Roy Williams' reported displeasure in his role in the Cowboys defense is an example of a player having an unrealistic assessment of his own skills.

Despite earning five Pro Bowl nominations, Williams is a one-dimensional player with severe limitations in coverage. The Cowboys' decision to keep him off the field in obvious passing situations was wise considering his struggles against the deep ball. "Roy has to trust that I'm going to put him in situations where he can be successful," Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "But I can't compromise the success of the team to appease one player."

The Cowboys still envision Williams being integral to their defense and will likely experiment with several packages to get him back on the field in some passing situations. One of those packages may include Williams lining up as a nickel linebacker in their dime defense. By inserting him into the hybrid position, the Cowboys can take advantage of his rush skills while limiting his exposure in coverage. Crafting a role that plays to his strengths could satisfy the disgruntled veteran's wishes to be more involved in the defense without weakening the Cowboys' coverage.

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