HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610) -- Texans veteran outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is missing his first game in three years after landing on the reserve-COVID-19 list this week.
Mercilus was deemed a high-risk close contact to fellow outside linebacker Jacob Martin, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Mercilus and Martin, along with inside linebacker Dylan Cole, who was also ruled to be a high-risk close contact, have been played on the reserve-COVID-19 list and will not be able to play in Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The last time Mercilus missed a game was following his season-ending torn pectoral in October 2017. Mercilus returned to play in every game in 2018 and 2019.
Despite a slow start to this season, Mercilus is tied with J.J. Watt as the team leaders in sacks with three apiece.
Mercilus has the third-most quarterback hits (behind Watt and Charles Omenihu) with four.
But his struggles early in the season were alarming.
Even recently, the Texans have played Watt more at outside linebacker just to insert a bigger body and set a harder edge.
Chris Rumph is in his first season as the Texans’ outside linebackers coach after they fired John Pagano.
Rumph during the bye week said Mercilus did not look like the player he’d seen on film previously. Mercilus, now 30, has less of a margin for error.
“At the beginning I think he had those COVID legs,” Rumph said. “I think he was struggling a little bit, trying to get in shape the first probably two games. He wasn't the guy that I saw on film. At that point I was like, Whoa, what's going on? Just talking to some people, talking to the strength staff, ‘Just, give him some time.’ He is starting to heat up here during the last few games. He is starting to make some plays and starting to look like his old self. I think a guy, you got to know who you are. You got to know what you have, what you possess, what you can do. If you have a donkey, you're not going to put him in a Kentucky 500. You're going to put him in some type of power race. You have to know who you are. I'm not calling him a donkey or anything like that.
“As you get older, and stuff like that you have to rely on other things. He has to be perfect on techniques. Maybe before I was able to round this thing a little bit more because I had the ability and quickness to really recover. Now I got to almost be perfect on some of my steps and my hand placement. I got to really be sharp on my game, on my study to really know.”
With Mercilus and Martin out Sunday, expect to see more of rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Greenard, who led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss last season.