The Texans’ decision to move to outside linebacker has sparked plenty of hoopla and debate. Williams has been one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL as a 4-3 defensive end, and he’ll be an unconventionally large linebacker at 6-6, 290 pounds.
On Monday, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said that Williams essentially will still be an end in his defense – he’ll just be on his feet more.
“They say ‘3-4’, ‘4-3’, all that,” Phillips said at the Texans’ annual Charity Golf Classic. “We really play a 5-2. We play five defensive linemen that can rush the passer and two inside ‘backers who can tackle people. And we think Mario certainly fits in there.”
In that 5-2 front, Williams will often be standing up on the right edge of the defensive line as the Will (weakside outside) linebacker.
Along the line to Williams’ left will likely be at right end, or at nose tackle, at left end and or at Sam (strongside outside) linebacker. Standing behind them will be inside linebackers and .
“We have a lot of versatility,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. “Cushing gives us a lot of versatility. Connor Barwin gives us a lot of versatility. If … ends up being ours throughout this (free agency) process, he gives us versatility.
“So we’ve got a lot of good athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and the combinations we just added to it (in the draft) with J.J. and Brooks and those guys give Wade a great a lot of great talent to work with. We’ll have to see how it all fits, but there’s a couple of guys that can play multiple positions.”
Phillips often says that he fits his defense to the players, not the other way around.
“The more you can do with players scheme-wise helps you,” he said. “We’re going to put Mario down some, but we’re not going to tell them when. And same thing with Cushing: We’re going to play him inside most of the time, but sometimes he’s going to be rushing outside.”
Asked how much concern he has about Williams dropping into coverage, Phillips replied, “None.”
“We’re not going to drop him,” Phillips said. “We’re going to rush him. That’s why I say we’re more of a 5-2, in that those five guys are coming a lot of the time, especially the position Mario plays. DeMarcus Ware played that position, Bryce Paup – on and on, guys that have led the league. They didn’t lead the league in sacks by dropping a whole lot.”
Williams has 43.5 sacks since 2007, but he hasn’t finished a season in the top-10 in sacks since 2008. Phillips said that he has coached outside linebackers who have led the league in sacks from both the Sam and Will positions.
“We put (Williams) in the premier position,” Phillips said. “You’re rushing the passer more at Will, and so that’s where we put him. We were looking in the draft for the best pass rusher. Well, we had him on our team, and so we just moved him to that position rather than going the other way around.”