HOUSTON (AP) — Mario Williams and Reggie Bush have been inextricably linked since Houston’s stunning decision to pick the defensive end over the Heisman Trophy winner with the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft.
After a year and a half of constant debate and discussion about the pair, they’ll meet for the first time on Sunday when the Texans (4-5) host the Saints (4-5).
The two approached the hype of their first matchup very differently. Bush, who was drafted second, thinks they’ll always be linked by the draft and doesn’t mind that.
“That’s fine,” the running back said. “I feel like it’s more of a negative thing for him and not for me.”
While Bush was initially stung by the Texans’ draft snub, it was Williams who had to endure boos on draft day and constant criticism throughout last year as he and Houston struggled while the Saints made the NFC championship.
“People are always comparing, people are always saying how Houston made a mistake,” Bush said. “But … I’m not worried about it. I’m sure he’s not worried about it.”
Williams was as deft at avoiding discussion of that draft as Bush can be in evading an open-field tackle.
When asked if Sunday’s game was about him going against Bush, Williams simply said, “No.” Asked if he’d like to elaborate, reporters got the same one-word answer.
When prodded about why he was downplaying the situation, Williams finally answered with more than a word.
“I’m not playing Reggie, I’m playing the Saints,” Williams said. “He’s part of the team and we have to control the whole game, not just him. Especially with Drew (Brees) back there; when he’s hot, he’s hot. I know we have things we have to worry about. It’s not a one-man team.”
Bush said he isn’t out to prove the Texans erred in not picking him, and he’s happy to be with the Saints. However, if he were in charge of the draft, he’d certainly have been the No. 1 pick.
“Of course,” he said with a chuckle. “What kind of question is that? Who wouldn’t pick themselves first if they had the opportunity?”
Both players have been solid in their second season. Bush has 120 carries for 451 yards and 55 receptions for 304 yards. Williams has 23 tackles, four sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Bush has had several games where his rushing and receiving totals combined to eclipse 100 yards, but just one 100-yard rushing game in his career. When asked why he hasn’t had a breakout rushing game, the formerly chatty running back clammed up.
“I’d rather skip that question,” Bush said. “I don’t want to answer that question.”
The Texans are likely more concerned about him as a receiver anyway after having to shuffle virtually their entire secondary to deal with the loss of cornerback Dunta Robinson.
“He’s getting his touches as a runner,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “He gets his touches as a receiver. When he’s not, they’re using him to fake reverses and stuff, which helps the game plan and everything else they do. So, he’s scary. He’s a threat to go the distance every snap.”
Houston moved starting free safety Von Hutchins to cornerback and will start Will Demps in his spot.
Brees, whose 12 interceptions lead the league, thinks the Texans’ revamped secondary will be tough even without Robinson.
“Hutchins … he is a natural corner, so I don’t buy into any of that stuff,” he said. “We are going to throw and we are going to run and just keep them off-balance and by no means just go in trying to say they have a lot of injuries, and they have a lack of playing time. They are on the field for a reason and we need to be at our best to be successful.”
Overshadowed by Bush and Williams is that Houston’s offense is likely to be at full strength Sunday for the first time since Week 2.
Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson should return after missing seven games with a knee sprain. The Texans will also welcome back Matt Schaub, who missed the last game with a concussion, and Ahman Green, who hasn’t played an entire game since Sept. 16.
Schaub has thrown just two touchdowns since Johnson’s injury, with the last coming in September. With Johnson and Green back, he could regain his early-season form playing against a defense giving up the fourth-most yards passing in the league.
“It’s going to be great to get those guys back and be at full strength,” Schaub said. “It will give us some more playmakers to have out on the field, and guys that can excite our team and the crowd and make big plays for us.”