Brooks Reed's groin injury is shaking up the Texans' outside linebacker corps.
Reed, the starting strongside linebacker, will be out for what sounds like at least a couple weeks. He hopes to return for the end of the regular season.
In the meantime, rookie first-round draft pick Whitney Mercilus moves into the starting lineup on the weakside. Connor Barwin, the starting weakside linebacker, moves over to the strongside. Bryan Braman, a second-year linebacker and special teams ace, will play in a rotation with Barwin and Mercilus.
Mercilus, the 26th overall pick out of Illinois, has three sacks and two forced fumbles this season. He has played about 10-15 defensive snaps a game behind Barwin and Reed.
"It's one of those situations where that's why you drafted him," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Monday. "You hoped that growth period would take place over a period of time and not be pressed into the duty he's being pressed into, but that's why he's here. He has played his best football for us the past month, and we need that to continue."
Last season at Illinois, Mercilus led the NCAA with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. He left for the draft after his junior year. Just 22 years old, he's now in the same situation that Reed, a second-round pick in 2011, was put in last season after Mario Williams' season-ending injury in Week 5.
"I'm ready for it," Mercilus said. "I've been coached up and all that. It's what I've been preparing for, what I've been training for. The time has come now for me to step up and show the coaches that I've taken all the coaching and I'm ready to play."
Braman has 11 special teams tackles this season, second on the Texans and tied for eighth in the NFL. An undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M in 2011, he has become a fan favorite for his big hits, long hair and infamous helmetless tackle on a punt return last season. He has 3.5 sacks in the last two preseasons.
"Braman's been an exceptional special teams player for us," Kubiak said. "This will be the first time we've asked him to play a lot of extensive defense for us, but he's very talented. He can rush the passer. He can run. It's going to be a big opportunity for him in his career."
Braman called it unfortunate to see Reed get injured but said he is "ecstatic" for his opportunity.
"I love to play the game, and having the opportunity to do it at this level is definitely a blessing," Braman said. "I'm very thankful. I'd like to be able to go out there and show people that I'm not taking it for granted and that I'm taking advantage of the opportunity."
Barwin is comfortable on the strongside. He played there for the first six games of last season before switching to the weakside after Williams' injury. He played almost 70 snaps at the position last Thursday at Detroit after Reed was injured in the first quarter.
"Moving Connor, it's been hard on Connor," Kubiak said. "To sit there and ask him to do what he did in that game, he's an unselfish player and flips from one side to the other, plays a totally different position where there is a lot of pass drop involved. Right now, it's a matter of settling everybody down and getting the healthy guys lined up and ready to go."