Texans linebacker Mario Williams will miss the rest of the season with a pectoral injury, coach Gary Kubiak confirmed on Monday. Williams will have surgery within the next week and be placed on injured reserve.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Williams leads the Texans with 5.0 sacks from the Will linebacker position, the premier pass-rushing spot in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
"I feel so bad for Mario because, man, he's been such a heck of a player, and what we're doing, to me, is really going to blossom his career from now on," Kubiak said. "I think he had really taken to the position he's playing. He was improving every day in practice, improving in every game and really enjoying – I think I've never seen him so upbeat about what was going on – and to lose him on a freak play, it (didn't) look like much at all.
"I'm disappointed for Mario. Obviously, it's tough on the team. We're missing a great player."
The first overall pick in the 2006 draft, Williams led the Texans in sacks in each of his first five seasons. He has averaged 10.9 sacks per season since 2007. After moving from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker this offseason, he was on pace for a career-high 16.0 sacks.
Williams was hurt while sacking Jason Campbell in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the Raiders. He left the game a play later and returned to the sideline in street clothes after visiting the locker room with trainers.
With Williams out, rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed moves into the starting lineup. A second-round pick out of Arizona, Reed played more than 50 snaps against the Raiders after Williams' injury. He had two quarterback hits and four tackles.
"It's a great opportunity for him in his young career to step up and be a starter, and that's why we drafted him," Kubiak said. "He's very capable of doing it, and he'll get his opportunity here."
Kubiak said the Texans might move Connor Barwin from Sam linebacker on the strongside to Williams' position on the weakside. Barwin has 2.0 sacks this season after missing most of 2010 with an ankle injury. He was a second-round pick in 2009.
"Connor's playing a big role all the time," Kubiak said. "He's playing very well. He played very well in the game… It's kind of like offensively we've got to replace Andre (Johnson) with the group, we've got to replace Mario with a good group of linebackers – not just one guy."
Undrafted rookie Bryan Braman is the only other outside linebacker on the Texans' roster besides Barwin and Reed. Braman led the Texans with 2.5 sacks in the preseason.
"He moves up the depth chart, basically," Kubiak said. "Bryan can rush the passer, so he's going to get some defensive reps, which he hasn't been getting. He's been playing a lot of special teams. He's done some good stuff. But once again, there's another young player that's fixing to get thrown in the fire, so to speak, and we're going to have to expect him to grow up and do some good things real quick."
The Texans could sign outside linebacker Jesse Nading to the active roster from their practice squad, Kubiak said. The fourth-year pro had stints on the active roster in each of the last three seasons.
In much more positive injury news, Kubiak said fullback James Casey suffered a "pec strain" against the Raiders and is day-to-day. Lawrence Vickers, who was signed this offseason from the Cleveland Browns, will start on Sunday at Baltimore if Casey is unavailable.
"He has a lot of starts at fullback and he's got a lot of starts against this team at fullback (from) playing in Cleveland," Kubiak said of Vickers. "That's why we brought him in here. He'll get a lot of work now... He's a little bit different player from James, but I've got a lot of confidence in him."
Quarterback Matt Schaub is also day-to-day with what Kubiak called a "sore shoulder and a thigh bruise."
Kubiak did not rule out Johnson, who had minor surgery last week to repair a hamstring injury, from the upcoming game against the Ravens.
"I don't know," Kubiak said. "We'll see where he's at each and every week. As of right now, the soreness has went away. His rehab has picked up, so we'll see where he's at each day."