Today the NFL world (one that because of the NFL lockout technically doesn’t currently exist btw) is a buzz with the news out of Houston that Wade Philips is going to use Mario Williams as an outside linebacker in his 3-4 scheme rather than a defensive end. This is a change from what the majority of folks had assumed, however, if you been tuning in here with us and paying attention at all, you know that I’ve been all over this from the day the Houston Texans hired Phillips to be their defensive coordinator.
In 2006, the Houston Texans selected a defensive Williams out of North Carolina State. It was one of the most criticized picks in draft history. Many local fans wanted hometown star, Vince Young or all-everything back Reggie Bush. The Texans stated that they weren’t going to beat the Indianapolis Colts by outscoring them (ironic now). Management at the time said that to have any chance of taking this division, they would have to pressure Peyton Manning and keep him uncomfortable. That’s exactly what this brilliant move does.
For some reason there is uproar about why this won’t work. Well, I’m here to tell you it will. I stated back in January that Williams would be best suited in the 3-4 as an outside linebacker in the Demarcus Ware role. I was told then that because Phillips’ 3-4 is closer to a 4-3 base than any other 3-4 system, that Williams would be better suited as a defensive end, much in the same role as Bruce Smith under Wade Phillips in Buffalo. I disagreed and even wrote an article stating that the Texans should trade Williams straight up for Elvis Dumervil if they weren’t going to use him as an OLB. Dumervil, who is better suited for a 3-4 outside linebacker role, is also going through a scheme change. In fact, this will be Elvis’ third system switch since being drafted by the Broncos in 2006.
Phillips previously stated that Williams had a false step when he was standing as opposed to playing with a hand in the ground. Even if this was true, any defensive genius worth a damn would be able to coach that out of an elite athlete. He was just selling the move to a general manager, in Rick Smith, who by his own admission knows nothing about 3-4 personnel.
People seem infatuated at the suggestion that Williams will play OLB at 6’7 290 pounds. First off, Williams will drop weight for his new role, I fully expect him to be around the 278 range. Second, even if he stayed at his current weight, he would be able to play the role of an outstanding, pass rushing, outside linebacker. He’s called Super Mario by his fans for a reason. If you’ve ever stood by him, you’ll see that he resembles Shaquille O’Neal when he was young with Orlando. For those of you that don’t remember Shaq when he first came into the league, he was 7’1 303 pounds and only 8% body fat. He was perhaps the biggest, most agile athlete that any of us has ever seen.
Perhaps a football comparison would be better than O’Neal. Levon Kirkland played inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers at a Pro Bowl level. He wasn’t the physical freak that Mario Williams is, but he still managed to play at that high of a level, and in some seasons, on the inside of the linebacking core at 300+ pounds.
People seem so concerned about Mario Williams’ weight and size. It’s not wise to just throw a blanket around everyone and characterize them as all the same. Mario Williams is built like Superman and I think the most of us are getting him confused with the average, every day Clark Kent. He’ll play the Demarcus Ware role in Wade Phillips defense and he’ll be damn good at it. I’ve heard experts talk about Williams being 30 pounds more than Ware. Williams will probably play somewhere in the range of 15 pounds more than what Ware is plays at. Remember, the season doesn’t start tomorrow. Also, Ware is 6’4 and Williams is 6’7, do you think that could factor into the weight difference a bit or do you think Mario eats a lot more Double Dipped Oreo Cookies. If you take off Mario’s 3 inches of height, they probably both weigh about the same and at their respective heights and their speed mirrors each other.
Williams won’t be exclusively playing standing up he’ll also have his hand on the ground because the draft picks of JJ Watt and Brooks Reed allow for the Texans to be more flexible. In fact, those picks are what caused Phillips to make this change. This defense is athletic now, they have the luxury of kicking Watt inside and having Williams and Antonio Smith play with their hand in the ground, while Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed rush the edges and Demeco Ryans and Brian Cushing maintain the middle of the front seven. You should be sweating now if your team faces this Wade Phillips defense this year.
I understand that it’s easy to get the soft spoken Williams confused with Clark Kent off the field but when the ball is hiked, there won’t be any glasses on this Superman flying around the edges on your poor offensive tackles. Also, before you criticize the move of a defensive genius, go ask Peyton Manning what he thinks about his rookie tackle, Anthony Castonzo facing the oversized linebacker. Do you think Castonzo will be prepared? After you get Manning’s thoughts, ask rookie quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville and Jake Locker in Tennessee how they feel right about now.
Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You may email Jayson directly @ email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock