Mario Williams continues to dominate this preseason.
METAIRIE, La. - It's no surprise that the major topic of conversation Wednesday at the New Orleans Saints' practice facility was the matchup between Texans defensive end Mario Williams and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush.
Although the 2006 NFL Draft was more than two years ago, Williams and Bush, the top two picks that year, are inextricably linked because of the attention surrounding the first overall pick.
While Williams carried a large burden after his rookie season, his 14 sacks in 2007 silenced many of his critics. The Texans' convincing 23-10 win over the Saints at Reliant Stadium last year also served as a measure of validation.
Bush, meanwhile, has yet to find the success that he appeared destined for upon arriving in New Orleans.
Local media asked Williams if he ever thought he would be drafted by the Saints considering he had such close talks with their team officials leading up to the draft.
"I didn't know where I was going," Williams said. "It was out of my hands – one of those things I can't control. So I don't worry about it.
"You can have anyone talk to you, but then all of a sudden the tables turn. You really can't go off of that."
Bush also shrugged off questions about how close he was to joining the Texans.
"Once I became a Saint, I didn't think about it," he said. "I try to block that out of my mind as far as thinking about how close I was to being a Texan. That's two years in the past. I'm focused on bigger and better things right now."
Texans owner Bob McNair also attended practice. Afterward, he spoke to reporters about the 2006 draft in vivid terms.
"What it came down to was: As a team, if you improve your offense by having Bush, are you a stronger team if you just put him out on the team? Do you have a better chance of winning with him on the Houston Texans or by improving your defense by taking Mario Williams?
"Our coaches felt that we had a better chance to win by improving our defense and that even if we had a Bush, our offense would not be better than, say, Indianapolis. So the way for us to win in our division was to strengthen our defense, and that was the decision that was made. Mario is turning out to be a great defensive player for us."
Williams and Bush have not developed any animosity despite the fact that they often are measured against each other. In fact, they seem to have bonded through all the controversy that has arisen.
"He's a great player, obviously," Williams said of Bush. "He's just an incredible athlete, and I wish him the best."
Bush also thinks that Williams is on his way to accomplishing great things. He says that the constant comparisons don't bother him, either.
"I blocked that out of my mind," Bush said. "He's a great player. He has a long career ahead of him. I think he's going to be great in this league. All the best to him.
"We actually hung out a little bit this offseason at some different events. We're fine. We talk like normal people. We don't worry about (comparisons)."
The added attention Wednesday didn't affect Williams' play. Facing Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown, Williams had his way in pass rush drills. His quickness off the ball seems to increase at every practice.
Afterward, he spoke openly about his sack numbers.
"The sky's the limit," Williams said of his potential. "When I looked at last year after I critiqued myself and had my coaches critique myself, there was a lot of things where I was like, 'That could have been another one (sack). That could have been another one.' And that's how you've got to see it.
"That's the thing about football, the guys throughout the season, they don't get them all. But if you can get them all or try to get as many (sacks) as you can, the number can be outstanding. I just try to focus on things like that."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees noticed Williams' presence in the pocket.
"I felt him," Brees said. "But you just step up and avoid (it) and do all those things that you've done your entire life when guys are chasing you."
Watching Williams blow past one Pro Bowler on his way to pressuring another Pro Bowler is an impressive sight.
For McNair, it's just more evidence that the Texans made the right choice.
"How often do you see a physical specimen like him?" McNair said of Williams. "He's 6-6, 6-7, 290 pounds. He can run and jump like a running back. He's phenomenal. He came from a small town (Richlands, N.C.). He didn't play that much big-time football and he was playing a position now where he had to learn technique and things like that, and it took him a little time. He's still learning. He's still not at the top of his game. He's still getting better.
"We took a lot of flack, a lot of criticism. Offense always gets the headlines, as you know, and everybody was familiar with Reggie Bush. He is a phenomenal player and he's a great player for the Saints. There was that familiarity with Bush, and people said, 'Who is Mario Williams? How could you pick somebody I don't know versus somebody I know?' We heard a lot of that."
Chances are that the Texans will hear more talk in the future.
Yet every time No. 90 puts his hand down on the turf, the chatter just seems to drift away.