It didn't take long for the 2011 NCAA sack leader to tally his first sack as a professional in 2012. Rookie Whitney Mercilus dropped Carolina quarterback Derek Anderson for a four-yard loss with 3:45 remaining in the first half, just moments after he'd entered the game. The instant gratification was a welcome change from the first two weeks of training camp, when Mercilus and the rest of the Texans' defense had to take it easy on the likes of Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, John Beck and Case Keenum.
"It felt relieving, actually," Mercilus said. "In practice, you can't hit the quarterback, so as soon as you get to the quarterback there's a sense of relief."
Mercilus teamed with linebacker Tim Dobbins for a half-sack in the second half, and notched three total tackles in the team's 26-13 triumph at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night, and his head coach liked what he saw out of the Illinois product.
"I was very impressed, but I've been impressed from day one," Kubiak said. "He was pretty darn good all night. I love Whitney's effort on the football field, chasing those type of things. That's where he's going to be huge for us."
Last season as a junior, Mercilus finished with 16 sacks and eight forced fumbles, both tops in college football in 2011. The 26th pick in the NFL Draft wasn't fazed by the jump in the speed of the game against the Panthers, and he credited it to the rigorousness of Texans' Training Camp.
"It felt pretty normal," Mercilus said. "Going through camp, two weeks of really hard work, it really gets you up to speed about how fast the game is going to go. All the players are smarter. Everybody's good. They're a lot faster. Going through training camp and going against good guys just helps you get caught up to the game."
The mental adjustments by the rookie have been noticed by Kubiak, who believes Mercilus will be one more weapon for coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
"Very smart, has taken to what Wade does, we play him a little bit of everywhere, and he's an effort football player," Kubiak said. "He's on the come. He's a young, young kid. So we're excited about his development."
Despite the impressive debut, Mercilus was still able to point out areas in which he needs to improve.
"I've got to work on a lot more aspects in the run game," Mercilus said. "Reverses and things like that they threw at me."
The rookie outside linebacker joked about how he wished he "could've got two" sacks instead of the 1.5, but he'll get that chance next Saturday when he and the team host the 49ers at Reliant Stadium.