Rookie LB Cushing shines for Texans

October 1, 2009 4:18:52 PM PDT
Linebacker Brian Cushing has been one of the only bright spots on Houston's NFL-worst defense this season. The rookie is leading the team with 26 tackles despite missing the entire preseason with a knee injury. [SPORTS BLOG: Read the latest from the Eyewitness Sports team]

"He's been exceptional," coach Gary Kubiak said. "All of our linebackers have played well. He's been an impact player."

Cushing had eight tackles and knocked down two passes against the Jaguars. It was the third game that he has led or tied for the team lead in tackles this season.

Cushing, the 15th overall pick in the draft, was a four-year starter at Southern California last season. He led the nation's second-ranked defense with 10 1/2 tackles for losses.

As good as Cushing has been, Kubiak doesn't even think he's scratched the surface of his potential.

"To me he's not even close to what he's going to be before this season's over," Kubiak said. "We've got a good one for a long, long time."

That's good news to a team that's trying to build its defense around young players and already has a solid middle linebacker to play alongside Cushing in 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year DeMeco Ryans.

"I expected him to play well," Ryans said. "There was no reason why he wouldn't have performed the way he's been performing because he's a good player."

When asked what makes Cushing such a good player Kubiak repeated the word effort, not once, but four times.

"Most great players play with tremendous effort and he does that the whole game," Kubiak said.

Cushing said the most challenging part of this season was getting the first game out of the way. After that he was fine and adjusted well. Now that he has three games under his belt, Cushing thinks maybe missing the time was a blessing in disguise.

"If anything my body feels better, I'm fresher than a lot of these guys," he said.

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POLLARD'S PLACE: After just one week with the team, safety Bernard Pollard is expected to play on Sunday against the Raiders.

Kubiak said they mixed things up at practice on Wednesday to help Pollard adjust to the defense. Pollard started for Kansas City the past two seasons, but was released during the Chiefs' final cuts this year.

Pollard said Wednesday's practice helped him get comfortable with Houston's defense. He should also benefit from his experience in playing Oakland twice a year with the Chiefs.

The Texans haven't started the same combination of safeties once this season because of an injury to free safety Eugene Wilson and inconsistent play among their other members of the group.

"We've been rotating guys back there trying to find the right combination," Kubiak said. "Hopefully we'll settle down and someone will step to the forefront and want to be out there every week."

Pollard is hoping he can be that player.

"I love the intensity," Pollard said. "I love the contact. I want to be able to go out there and help this team in whatever way I can. I know my role and this is really a good team and there's no reason why we should be in a position like this for the rest of this year."

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LOOKING FOR A SPARK: Kubiak knows his defense is better than what it has shown through the first three games and is looking for someone to step up and get it turned around.

He pointed to defensive end Mario Williams and linebackers Ryans and Cushing as players he thinks could get it done.

"We need somebody to come up in one of those games that's special and lead the way," Kubiak said. "I think we're trying to do that. It hasn't happened and we've just got to keep battling, keep trying. If you keep working hard and you play hard sooner or later something good will happen to you."

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QUOTABLE: "This guy is as good as I've ever seen, just a tremendous player, very explosive, very unselfish, he's a worker. All those great players are usually great workers and he's no exception. He's been the heart and soul around here. He's been through some tough times with the young organization that's trying to get to a different level in this business. He's been a mainstay around here. It's been a joy for me to be around him every day. He's an exceptional young man." -- Kubiak on receiver Andre Johnson.

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EXTRA POINTS: CB Jacques Reeves, who has been practicing for several weeks but has yet to play after breaking his leg early in camp, injured his finger during warmups for practice Wednesday. Kubiak was hoping to give him more work in practice but couldn't because of the injury. He didn't provide any further details on the injury. ... After Sunday's game Houston will play four of its next five games on the road.

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