Whitney Mercilus is going back in time. Sort of.
It's been a decade since the Texans defensive lineman played in a 4-3 scheme, but when he was there last, Mercilus racked up 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles in just 13 games. That was at the University of Illinois in the fall of 2011. The next spring he was plucked by the Texans in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. In the ensuing nine years, he lined up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, and tallied 54 career sacks.
New defensive coordinator Lovie Smith is excited about Mercilus' possibilities in the 4-3.
"Whitney can run, he can rush off the edge," Smith said. "Whitney has proven in his time in the NFL that he can win on the outside."
Smith added that Mercilus was in "good shape" during Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
"He's going to play lighter than he played last year," Smith said. "That body type has had success in our system. We talked about a lot of the young players, but to have an older player that's done it the right way and has been a great Texan, so I'm excited about him, too. He's going to have a good year for us."
Defensive line coach Bobby King has been around Mercilus a lot the last decade. A defensive assistant in Houston from 2011-2013, and then again from 2017 to now, King said Mercilus appeared to adjust pretty well to the move, despite the 10-year layoff from the 4-3.
"He's looked pretty natural doing it, hitting the sleds," King said. "Now, we're not going against offensive linemen, obviously, right now, but it's been a pretty natural transition and I hope to continue to see that."
Mercilus and the Texans begin training camp at the Houston Methodist Training Center in late July.