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Mario silencing doubters


Mario Williams' hard work has paid off with a Texans-record 9.5 sacks this season.


That's the simple answer senior defensive assistant Frank Bush likes to give all those Mario Williams bashers who are now wondering about the big turnaround in the Texans' No. 1 draft pick.

Williams was thrown into an undeserved controversy when the Texans made him the first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft over hometown favorite Vince Young and USC running back Reggie Bush.

The plot worsened for Williams when Young was named rookie of the year and Williams played his rookie season with a painful foot injury that kept him from practicing during the week.

Williams has returned with a fury and he's especially been a force late in the season. He's emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowl possibility. Coach Bush has to smile now that Williams has beaten his detractors into silence.

Maybe the Texans knew what they were doing after all.

"Hindsight is always 20-20," Bush said. "You could be for or against any of those guys, but I'm just happy to see the kid is doing so well."

Bush and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin have worked tirelessly with Williams, helping him learn to turn his enormous talent into production. Bush gives credit to Williams for his progress.

"I think it's work. The kid has dedicated himself to work," Bush said. "He works in practice and he works in the game. He's not flashy, but he works hard. It's work."

{QUOTE}Williams finally has started to show what the Texans saw in him from the beginning. He has a team-record 9.5 sacks this season and needs one more to tie former linebacker Kailee Wong's team record of 15.0. He needs half a sack to become the first Texans defender to get double digit sacks in one season.

What's kick started his season? A bye week after beating Oakland on Nov. 4 helped.

"I don't know. You tell me. I really don't know," Williams said. "I feel like I'm doing pretty much the same thing. I can honestly say that after our break I felt a lot more rejuvenated. It's not just me. I was averaging 70 plays. It was something that was pretty tough. Not just myself, but all of the team has helped me out."

Williams had one tackle and no sacks against Oakland. After the week off, he's had at least one sack in each of the last four games. Williams ranks third among AFC sackers behind Jared Allen of Kansas City and Elvis Dumervil of Denver.

"The offense has stayed out on the field, the players on the defense are keeping me up, and the coaches are keeping me up," Williams said. "I have to stay out there. The offense has really helped out a lot. They keep the ball for a long time and that helps out a lot.

"I've just been feeling fresh and been able to go 100 percent the whole game."

This season has been a huge difference from Williams' rookie year. He was criticized for not becoming a defensive sack monster from his first game. The expectations were through the roof because fans wanted to see Young in a Texans uniform, or at least Bush, a running back prize from USC.

This season, Young is not having a very good year and Bush has been injured. So, is Williams finally having fun?

"No, it didn't stop being fun," Williams said. "With everything that I had thrown at me, it never stopped being fun. The only thing that was a bad thing was just my foot, because it was something that I really couldn't get around. Football is always fun. If it ever isn't, that's when I'll have to consider other things. But I'm sure that won't happen for a while."

Williams started this season with a big game against Kansas City with five tackles and two sacks. He's had 5.5 sacks in the last four games.


"Just the coaches being on me; the players being on me, making me be accountable, and me just being comfortable," Williams said. "I'm just out there and I feel so much more relaxed. Things are just coming together."

His best game as a pro could have been two weeks ago in a loss to Tennessee when he had seven tackles and 2.5 sacks. Yes, he sacked Young, and the critics were silent.

"I try to come out and feel comfortable and relaxed and just play ball," Williams said. "I just let it go. Whatever happens, happens. If I'm on a roll, I'm on a roll."

Williams' coaches have witnessed his transformation and not just his sack totals. Williams has learned to deal with double teams, how to use his body and his hands.

"You always want sacks," Bush said about his star pupil. "That's a measure of how well you're getting after the quarterback. It puts you in a situation where it's longer down and distance and helps you win."

Williams was already playing better before his sack totals increased.

"That's one of those things that can be skewed at times," Bush said. "You never know all the facts involved when they throw the ball. We're happy with the kid's sacks, but we like to get wins."

Williams will experience another personal first on Thursday when the Texans host the Denver Broncos in a nationally televised game.

"It's my first time to do it, and I'm sure it's the first time for a lot of players to do it," Williams said. "It will be a change up, but something we have to do. We just have to be smart with what we do in practice and after practice. We have to make sure we rest after practice when we get the chance.

"We just have to be ready. Everyone that I have talked to is ready for Thursday's game. This game (against Tampa Bay) is behind us. We'll break down the film quickly because we have a short week, and we'll get ready for Denver."

Williams is particularly pleased with Sunday's 28-14 victory over the Buccaneers, a team the Texans consider playoff bound.

"Everybody knows that we're injured, and they're like, 'Well, how are you guys going to win?'" Williams said. "The guys played their tails off. It was just phenomenal. Everybody was out there giving all they had to the last stroke. That's all that matters. And we came out with the victory."

EDITOR'S NOTE: *Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports. *

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