The linebackers in a Romeo Crennel defense are supposed to make most of the noise. Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest in New England, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston in Kansas City and even Kamerion Wimbley in Cleveland benefited from this philosophy.
This position group in Houston is ready to shine, particularly after its dingy season in 2013.
Jadeveon Clowney is ready to become the 21st century version of Lawrence Taylor. Brian Cushing is ready to start earning his six-year, $55.6 million contract extension. Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus are ready to climb out of the bottom of the Pro Football Focus rankings (subscription required) for 3-4 outside linebackers.
Reed may not get that chance if the shift over to inside linebackers becomes a reality. The switch has been taken as a given, with an article on the Houston Texans website by Deepi Sidhu describing the move.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel refuses to give the move his unwavering support. In a June 30 press conference, Crennel was asked by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, “Is Brooks an inside linebacker now?” Crennel answered:
Well, not totally. We’re giving him a look on the inside and I think what that does is increase our flexibility that if he can go inside and get it done inside, then he can go outside. He played all outside last year, so now I feel like I can put him at either spot depending on what the needs are, and he’s a value to us.
This coaching staff is big on adaptability and flexibility. Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston covered the Bill O’Brien press conference after the close of the mandatory minicamp on June 29. In his “10 observations,” Zangaro listed one as “Versatility is key.” Quoting O’Brien:
I think every position, with the exception of quarterback, punter, place kicker, long snapper are fluid. They have to be able to play multiple roles. This is way in the future here, but when you can only have 46 guys on a game-day roster, the phrase ‘the more you can do’ is a really important phrase.
That is another way of telling opponents, “You won’t be sure where we’re coming from or what we will do.”
Mercilus flipping over to the strong side has escaped the notice of most Texans watchers. This switch was as inevitable with Reed sliding over to the inside. “More drops into coverage instead of solely rushing, rushing, rushing,” Mercilus said of his added duties on June 18 .
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller rated all the linebacker corps in the league and put the Texans at No. 3.
You see, the Texans already had a very good linebacker group before they drafted Jadeveon Clowney and moved Brooks Reed to inside 'backer.
Clowney and Mercilus coming off the edge gives Houston two freakishly long athletes with the talent to beat blockers in multiple ways. Stack them off of Reed and All-Pro-caliber Brian Cushing and you have four linebackers who are very difficult to scheme against.
Reed will be moving inside, at least some of the time. Mercilus will be moving to the closed side of the formation and covering the tight end more often. Clowney will be moving to outside linebacker, standing up instead of coming out of a three-point stance. Maybe Cushing will move to the outside under certain conditions, returning to the position where he started his NFL career.
A lot of moving parts to sync up and not much time to do it. The total complexity of this defense will not be unveiled until the regular season in order to keep the opposition in the dark. Should it work out as planned, it could be something to behold.