Can veteran pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus get right by getting light?
“A lot of people, and lot of teams got thrown off last year,” Mercilus says. “All over the country, whether you’re playing football or whatever, things are starting to normalize and you’re seeing guys get back on top of their game. I’m just happy to get back in the building and train and get my body right and let my body feel the fire so I’m ready for the season.''
The suggestion there from the Houston Texans' defender? He "got thrown off last year.''
But in 2021, with his Houston Texans shifting from a 3-4 defense to new coordinator Lovie Smith's beloved Tampa 2 scheme with a 4-3 front? Mercilus, shifting from being an outside linebacker to being in a three-point stance as a defensive end, will need to be "on.''
This transformation will not be an unfamiliar one. When the Texans tabbed him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft from Illinois, they were getting an end who made the conversion to linebacker. Mercilus also collected sacks that way.
Can he collect sacks this way?
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“With this profile on what we’re looking for, Whitney can run, he can rush off the edge,” Smith said. “We start with that with our upfront guys. In an ideal world, we start off saying, 'We need to be able to get pressure with our four-man rush,' and a part of that is our outside guys being able to win.
“Whitney has proven in his time in the NFL that he can win on the outside.''
Lovie notes Mercilus' weight loss. "He’s in good shape right now,'' Smith says. "He’s going to play lighter than he played last year.''
Mercilus was leaner in 2019 than he was last season, and in 2019 he recorded 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and recorded two interceptions. Those sort of numbers, from a player who has 54 career sacks, would be a boost to the Texans, who are expected to struggle in 2021.
“I definitely want to get after it: rushing the passer, stopping the run, all of that,'' Mercilus said. "So, expect me to do that again. That’s exactly what I’m trying to gear up for. Of course, I want to have the best season ever coming off of last year along with the team and the entire organization.
“When I came out of college, I was in a 4-3, so it’s going right back into what I’ve done: Go see ball, go get ball,” Mercilus said. “I like it.”