An extension that occurred prior to the season and one which many questioned is turning into a smart move given the recent progression of Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus has been a solid contributor to a Houston Texans defense which put up 50 total tackles along with 12 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 14 tackles for loss.
“When he came out of college he had a a bunch of sacks but one of the things he had a knack for knocking the ball out,” general manager Rick Smith commented regarding Mercilus.
The Texans opted to extend their fourth-year outside linebacker before arriving at his fifth-year option in 2016. The Texans pointed at doing the deal early because of the progression Mercilus made over the past few seasons, especially under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel.
“That was something that we saw coming,” Smith said of Mercilus’ arrowing trending up. “He is a guy we extended before the season started; we just felt he was a critical piece to our defense.”
It has not been an easy road for Mercilus, who had a rough training camp in Bill O’Brien’s first season as a head coach for the Texans. Learning a new system and especially needing to become more than a pass rusher by learning the drops needed for coverage in the Crennel defense caused some performance issues on the field early.
Many times after practice Mercilus would be on the field well after his teammates left the field, focusing on some aspect of his game to improve: hand work, drops on the field versus air, or just talking to Vrabel about football. He worked hard to break through the mental block he was experiencing.
That was all a building block for Mercilus and his breakout game came in week six of the 2014 season against the Indianapolis Colts, where he was a edge presence in both the run and pass game. The stat sheet will not show it but Mercilus became more disciplined at setting the edge and became proficient at providing enough pass rush to give some hope to the Texans that he was heading in the right direction.
“We saw progress as he continued to understand this coaching staff and defensive scheme asked him to do,” explained Smith of Mercilus. “The more he started to get that, we just saw him progressing and felt like he could be a really good player for us and an impact player for us. It was really good to see the way he came on this year and perform the way he has.”
Mercilus’ 2015 season resulted in the first time two Texans defenders have had multiple sacks in a season. Mercilus is also the fifth player in the NFL since 1982 to post 3.5 sacks in two or more games in a season.
The growth of Mericlus’ is another example of why writing the book on players early in their careers is not a good practice.
It takes time.
It take patience.
It was better late than never for Mercilus’ rise for the Texans.