The elder statesman of this new look Houston Texans defense, defensive end Whitney Mercilus has opened up camp in great shape. He'll need to be at his best in what is for him a pivotal year with the franchise.
Training camp is under way and Mercilus seems to be on the upswing. He feels stronger, leaner, and faster in every way possible. Combine this with a new defensive scheme implemented by coordinator Lovie Smith that is seemingly focused on simplicity and play-making, things are different.
Mercilus now is in a prime position to succeed in 2021 after what downright a down year in 2020.
"With the pass rush with the four down(linemen), it's nice because now it's like, 'All right, everybody doesn't really have to think,' especially with the outside linebacker," Mercilus said Friday after practice. "Especially for the ends, whether we've got to drop or anything like that, it's just see ball, go get ball, hit, react off the tackles, react off the tight ends and all that, and go make a play."
The "back-to-basics" approach should be a breath of fresh air for a defense that had its share of difficulties in 2020. New players, new coaches, and an emphasis on just getting the ball - all that sounds like fun.
It still requires plenty of work and a certain degree of adjustment from the likes of Mercilus, who'll be playing with his hand in the dirt for the first time in some years.
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The last time Mercilus played his snaps from a three point stance, he was still at Illinois.
"I can't see nothing," Mercilus said. "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. 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.
"I've got to get my pre-snap reads down, put my hand in the dirt, and just rely on instincts."
A tough adjustment? Absolutely. But, fun? Well ...
"Oh yeah for sure, definitely," Mercilus said. "Don't think, just go. You mess up, just mess up big, honestly. If you're going 100 miles per hour, you're good."
Mercilus' strong suit in recent years has been pass-rushing. The adjustment of the new system and responsibilities could well play right into the defense's hands.
Don't think, just go.
Maybe that's a motto the Texans' defense needs to follow all season long.
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