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Your Texans: Defensive ends


Texans senior defensive assistant coach Frank Bush doesn't question defensive end Mario Williams' talent.

"He's got a fast ball, he's got a curve, he's got it all," Bush said. "He just needs to figure out when to use them."

N.D. Kalu marvels at his teammates' moves.

"I tell him you've got to be a freak because he's a freak of nature," Kalu said admiringly. "Some things that a guy like me that's not as physically talented has to do, he doesn't have to do. That's what I try to get across."

Under more amenable circumstances, Williams could have been the first pick in last year's NFL draft and quietly taken his place along the Texans' pass rush starved defensive line.

Pride and passion for the game made Williams believe he'd make an immediate impact. His rare gifts had always come through for him in the past. This was just the next step.

{QUOTE}Instead, Williams stepped into a searing controversy more intense than any offensive line he'd ever faced. And most of it was out of his control.

Fans and media screamed when the Texans made Williams the first pick in the 2006 draft.

It wasn't because Williams lacked credentials.

It was because the Texans ignored the city's hero, Texas quarterback Vince Young, who led the Longhorns to the national championship in a dramatic Rose Bowl victory over USC. He scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds. The game will be talked about for decades.

While speculation had the Texans surely taking Young or at least USC running back Reggie Bush, the team instead invited Williams into an exploding mine field of scrutiny.

The fans' perception: If Williams was selected over Young and Bush he'd better be the pass rushing monster of all time as a rookie.

It didn't happen.

Williams fought through a foot injury and finished with 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles. That was far below outside expectations, especially with Young leading Tennessee on a six-game win streak and Bush becoming a fixture in New Orleans.

Williams started all 16 games last season despite playing through the pain of a plantar fasciitis injury. His toughness was lost amid the headline-grabbing antics of Young and Bush.

The roar hasn't stopped this season. The defensive line has been the focal point for improvement and Williams is its lightning rod.

Williams said early in training camp he doesn't hear the negative voices.

"The last thing I ever think about is what people are saying about me," Williams said.

Veteran defensive end Anthony Weaver believes his teammate is affected.

"It's everywhere (criticism)," Weaver said. "It's not something you can avoid when you're the No. 1 pick over all. You say put it in one ear and out the other, but when it's constantly coming in your ear it's hard to avoid."

Weaver knows some of the clamor sticks inside Williams' head.

"The kid works hard," Weaver said. "You can tell the criticism and expectations start to wear on him a little bit, but in the end you can't worry about that stuff because you have no control over it."

Any team would drool to have a frothing pass rush threat like Williams with his 4.7 speed in the 40, his 40-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot long jump all wrapped in a 6-7, 280-pound frame.

Still, as the Texans near the season opener, coach Gary Kubiak is trying to help Williams and the entire defensive line through the turmoil. He shifted Williams to the left side against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago.

Subs played most of last week's final preseason loss to Tampa Bay.

"We slid Mario to the other side for a few snaps, so that people aren't always zeroed in on exactly where he's at," Kubiak said. "I'll have to go back and watch the film. It looks like we were more disruptive making their quarterback move around a little bit."

Williams feels he's better prepared for this season's alignments.

"It's a different side (this season) but we're not flip-flopping," Williams said. "That was the thing that was driving me crazy last year was we kept flip-flopping. We're not just flip-flopping now."

The pressure is still on Williams and on the defensive line to get more push.

"Right now we're looking for a pass rush and I don't think it's (criticism) over-reaction," Kalu said. "You can say all the right things and look good in practice, but if you don't produce when the game starts, you have to make changes."

Weaver is the anticipated defensive end starter opposite Williams. But which side?

"Everybody has a dominant side and for Mario it's the left side," Weaver said. "You want him to be on the right side and be on the blind side of the quarterback and go against their best offensive tackle and dominate him.

"But if the left side is where he feels most comfortable and where he's going to be most effective then that's where you've got to put him.

"I also feel comfortable on the left side, but I can play either side. I can play that three technique and be all right. No rocking the boat here."

Bush believes it's a matter of time before Williams produces big numbers.

"Mario is working hard. He's trotting along every day getting better," the coach said. "He's like all the rest of the kids, he's trying to get done what we're trying to implement and improve. We're fine with Mario."

The grueling spotlight on Williams isn't a coaching problem.

"It's not a burden. It's a challenge, of course," Bush said. "He's a very talented young man and we've been assigned to kind of help bring forth some of that talent."

Williams doesn't feel the same heat he faced as a rookie.

"Basically, I'm trying to be smooth when I go out there, not be uptight and let everything else take care of itself," Williams said.

"During the week we watch film, study our opponents, we go on the field and go through simulations of what they do and then when it comes to game time it's basically reaction.

"When they come out in formation you get a snapshot. Things come back in your mind of what to expect. Then, it's instinct."

The Texans expect to improve on last season's 28 sacks.

"The biggest thing we're trying to do is stick together," Weaver said. "The way we're working right now is the right way. We're not taking negatives back and we're not doing the wrong things.

"Guys are doing the right things to get to the quarterback. It's just a matter of time."

Weaver says there's more to being a defensive end than sacks.

"I've played some of my best games and not gotten a sack but considered it my best game where maybe I've graded out high," he said. "The problem is when you're thought of as a pass rusher and the sacks don't come, that's when the problems come.

"You just pray to God that they start coming."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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