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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 12-12-2007, 12:04 PM Thread Starter
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other Venom great sports opinions...

Was he one of the few saying the Texans were moron's for taking Williams over Bush/Young etc?

Vindication should be Charley Casserly's. It's still early, and we can't judge the top of the 2006 draft after 1 3/4 seasons, but the last major decision Casserly made before being nudged into the CBS NFL Today studio show (where, by the way, he's doing a thorough, cool and insightful job) has turned out to be brilliant.

The Texans had many needs before the 2006 draft, and they had the first-overall pick. Who to choose? Houston quarterback David Carr was failing, and hometown kid Vince Young was available. The Texans had no gamebreaker in the backfield, and electric Heisman winner Reggie Bush was sitting there. They had no franchise tackle, and a bright and quick D'Brickashaw Ferguson could be had. They had no great pass-rusher, and 20-year-old raw prospect Mario Williams was available. Who to choose?

Casserly, eight days before the draft, told me something owner Bob McNair echoed: The Texans loved all those other players, but what they were thinking about most was the ability to impact the defensive side of the ball. They wanted someone to put pressure on the Colts' Peyton Manning, who they'd have to face twice a year for the next decade. I didn't know if they were trying to sell me a bill of goods (you never know before the draft who's trying to send you on a misleading trail to create leverage), but they were telling me the absolute truth. They wanted Williams, and they took him.

Now we're near the end of year two. Still too early, particularly with a quarterback, to say one team team screwed up and one was brilliant, but Casserly clearly made the right call. Williams, still just 22, is one of the best right defensive ends in the game right now. He is second in the AFC among defensive ends with 9.5 sacks, and he has 5.5 sacks and 23 tackles in his last four games.

Contrast Williams' numbers to his competition. Bush, picked second by New Orleans, is likely out for the last month of the season with a strained knee ligament, but his production has been mildly disappointing: 82 yards per game in his first 28 games, and only 3.7 yards per rush in 312 carries. The breakaway plays from scrimmage have been nonexistent, other than his remarkable catch-and-run touchdown in the NFC championship loss at Chicago. He hasn't had a 25-yard rush in his first two seasons. Young has looked indecisive and inaccurate (56.5 completion percentage), and has 10 more interceptions than touchdowns. To be fair, a quarterback adjusting to a new offense in the NFL, which Young is doing, is much tougher than the adjustment of any player at any other position. But he's been a C-minus player so far, even for a young player. Ferguson, picked fourth by the Jets, has been an average left tackle, and not as good at his position as later pick Nick Mangold has been at center for the Jets.

"I don't worry about things like [vindication],'' Casserly said today. "I'm happy for Mario that he's playing so well. You're always happy when you're associated with guys who end up playing well in the NFL. But even though we live in a society of now, I never really worried about the pick and how he would be compared to other guys. When we brought all those guys in for interviews before the draft, Mario was the most impressive. He was smart, he had a good work ethic, and he was going to do what it took to get better at this level. As we've gone along, I think what he's gone through is tougher than what any first-round pick has gone through, with all the attention paid to the top of that draft. And he's handled it magnificently.''

On Monday, I gave Williams three chances to talk about whether he feels like his play has justified the Texans' faith in him on draft day, particularly since the other top guys have not been great yet. Each time, he answered with some variation of "I don't worry about things like that. I just play football.''

"He's always going to have pressure on him,'' said his position coach, Jethro Franklin. "That comes with where he was picked in the draft, and the other guys in the draft, obviously. He's handled it well. I really don't think he pays much attention to it.''

Last year, Williams' development was hurt by how much he moved around the line, and that he played much of the season with a sprained foot. In the first quarter of the season, Houston used him at either of the two defensive tackle spots in their 4-3 front. Then he moved outside for much of the last half of the season. Still learning and struggling with his mobility, he played stiff and not instinctively for much of November and December. "Last year, I was an experiment all season. I just never felt like me,'' Williams said. "For a player, you have to see things and just make plays. Last year, I was a rookie, I had the foot problem, and I was moving all over the line.''

This year, the Texans have played him for about 80 percent of the defensive snaps at right end, opposite (theoretically) the best offensive lineman on each opponent, the left tackle. He's also played a few snaps per game on the other side, depending on the matchups. "I think it's helped that he's practicing with more intensity,'' Franklin said. "You play like you practice, and he's come out and played hard in both practice and in games. I can tell you this: There's no ego-tripping with him. He's a hard-worker in practice and in meetings. I can get on him the same way I get on any other player on our line, and he takes it well.''

I always wonder how a kid handed $28 million at age 21 can come to work every day and retain the motivation you have to have to play football successfully -- especially in the trenches. Deep down, Williams has to know he's financially set for the rest of his life. But watching him several Sundays this fall, I see a player with a good motor, good hands to bat away the massive forearms of left tackles trying to get a grip on him and push him wide, and good-enough speed at 293 pounds to pressure quarterbacks for four quarters. He hasn't been dominant yet, but he might be. "Money never really enters into it for me,'' he said. "The reason I play football is I love it, and I don't see that changing.''
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 12-12-2007, 12:40 PM
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