Mercilus ready to start in second season

Mercilus ready to start in second season
May 21, 2013, 9:00 am
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Whitney Mercilus was the 26th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

(USA Today Images)

It’s not that Whitney Mercilus doesn’t like Connor Barwin.

In fact, the second-year linebacker out of Illinois likes Barwin a lot, enough to call him a “great guy” on Monday. And he said he learned plenty from the former Texans’ starting outside linebacker too.

But when Barwin signed a six-year deal to join the Philadelphia Eagles, Mercilus was actually excited.

See, Barwin’s leaving means Mercilus will be a starter for his second season in the NFL.

“I’m sad that he’s gone and all that. Great guy,” Mercilus said. “I learned a lot from him too. It’s part of business. It’s how it goes. A lot of guys, they get bigger offers, whether they stay or go, you have to be ready to step up to the challenge.

“When he left, I was excited. I was definitely excited to be one of the guys in a starting role and one of the leaders on this defense.”

While starting just four games last season, Mercilus played in all 16. The first-round pick (26th overall) set a team rookie record with six sacks. He had two games with multiple sacks.

All that led to this: Mercilus will be a starter this season.

“They said they drafted me for a reason,” Mercilus said. “They say, you get drafted in the first round and eventually you come up to the level of being a starter. Definitely it’s a lot more responsibility on my head. I’m supposed to go in, act like a leader, get the young guys up, show them a good example. Also show the coaches what I can do.”

While Mercilus should be the starter on the weakside, it’s not clear who will be the starter on the strongside. Brooks Reed returns this season but lined up inside during the first day of OTAs. The Texans drafted Sam Montgomery and Trevardo in the third and fourth rounds. Both of those guys will get reps on the strongside. How well they do will determine where Reed plays.

“They’re working him right now (in the middle),” Mercilus said. “We’ll see how he does. We’ll go ahead and see in the summer. If he’s comfortable, then shoot, it may look like it.”
Mercilus said this season is a lot different than last year for him. Last year, he was a wide-eyed rookie linebacker from Illinois. This year, he’s a starting outside linebacker and considers himself a leader of the defense.

So he can’t help but chuckle when he hears linebackers coach Reggie Herring yelling at the rookie linebackers.

“I understand what Reggie is looking for,” he said. “I got the same dose of that medicine last year.”