There was a collective sigh in Houston on Sunday, after Mario Williams had two sacks, two quarterback hits, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble in the Texans' 34--7 win over the Colts at Reliant Stadium. Before the demolition of the Peyton Manning--less Colts there had been angst, if not outright concern, about whether Williams could transition from lining up in a three-point stance as a 4--3 end to standing upright and playing outside linebacker in new coordinator Wade Phillips's 3--4 scheme. The franchise's alltime leader in sacks, Williams failed to drop a quarterback in the preseason and at times appeared noticeably uncomfortable. Even management was uncertain how the move would turn out, which is part of the reason it put off discussions on a new contract—Williams's rookie deal expires at the end of the season—until it could see him in game situations.
This is an article from the Sept. 19, 2011 issue
The sixth-year pro was disciplined and disruptive against the Colts. It would be a stretch to call him dominant considering that both of his sacks of Kerry Collins were in one-on-one situations against tight end Dallas Clark, who is known more for his pass catching than his pass blocking. Williams showed enough, however, to allay concerns. "I'm very encouraged about where Mario can go with this," coach Gary Kubiak says.
Questions about the transition were understandable given Williams's stature. At 6'6" and 283 pounds, he has the size and strength to take on offensive linemen, but few individuals of that build have the agility to drop in to pass coverage. Williams could be an exception, although because the Texans want him rushing the quarterback whenever he can, he backpedaled into zone coverage just two times in his 44 plays. Overall, he started upright on 24 snaps and rushed from a down, three-point stance 20 times, usually when the Texans were in their sub packages. He took 31 snaps on the left side and 13 on the right.
"I had a lot of things happen my first five years, from being drafted Number 1 and trying to focus on football and avoid all the he-said, he-said stuff [about whether he should have been the top pick], to dealing with injuries and nicks and bruises," said Williams, who has 50 career sacks, including a franchise-record 14 in 2007. "But my attitude now is, You've got to deal with me. This year is all or nothing for me—not just me, but my team, too. At this point it has to be all out, no thinking, no worries about injuries or nicks and bruises. My mentality is that I can be as good as I want to be, and I want to be great."
If Williams has a monster season, it could mean another bout of angst for Houston. It will cost the Texans almost $22 million to use the franchise tag on Williams if they can't reach a new deal before next season. But that's a discussion for another time. For now everyone is relieved that Williams appears comfortable with where he is: playing outside linebacker.