With Brian Cushing now on injured reserve, many fans are wondering if the Texans will move one of their top three outside linebackers – Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed or rookie Whitney Mercilus – to inside linebacker.
Asked Thursday if he had given any thought to that idea, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips responded with a resounding "no" – before the question was even completely finished being asked.
That's because they're not inside linebackers, right?
"That's right," Phillips said as he walked through the Texans' locker room at Reliant Stadium.
Simple as that?
"Yeah," Phillips said. "You don't take guys that do well at what they do and try to change 'em into something that they're not as adept at. But, we'll work some things out. And like I've said, we played OK last week when Cush was gone. Hopefully, we'll get better."
Barwin and Reed are in their second seasons as starting outside linebackers under Phillips. Barwin led the team with 11.5 sacks last season. Reed set a team rookie record with 6.0 sacks and had 3.5 more in the playoffs. Barwin does not have a sack yet this season, but the coaches say he has played well and that the sacks are just a matter of time. Reed has 2.5 sacks.
Mercilus is a first-round draft pick who has played sparingly, about 10-15 snaps a game on defense. But he led the NCAA with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles at Illinois last season, and he didn't do it playing on the inside.
The Texans' inside linebacker corps will consist of Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Barrett Ruud, Mister Alexander and perhaps Jesse Nading, who also plays outside. James replaced Cushing in nickel situations after Cushing was injured on Monday and finished the game with a team-high eight tackles. Dobbins stepped in for Cushing at the Mo linebacker spot and had four tackles.
James will continue to start at Mike linebacker. Dobbins will get the first crack at starting at Mo. And the Texans' outside linebackers will remain on the outside.