Cushing can lean on Ryans

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They think he can handle it. If he has any problems with the transition, he can consult DeMeco Ryans, a fellow linebacker who was in the same situation his rookie year.

Ryans was the first pick in the second round in 2006 and has started every game since. The middle linebacker was a success from the start, accumulating 155 tackles and earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in his first season.

Now Cushing hopes to follow in his footsteps.

"It's been a privilege already to play next to him," Cushing said Monday, the first day of Houston's organized training sessions. "He's just an unbelievable talent. So I'm just going to try to get everything I can from him."

Ryans is more than a willing teacher, noting that Cushing will receive only support from him and he won't subject him to any rookie hazing.

"I let him know if he has any questions or anything he can ask me," Ryans said. "I'm open to just trying to make our defense the best that we can be. A lot of guys try to bring the rookies down, kind of put them down. But to me it's all about helping those guys because he's definitely a big part of us winning games this year."

Cushing, the 15th pick in this year's draft, is expected to start at strongside linebacker. He joined the Texans after starting for four years at Southern California, where he had 74 tackles and three sacks as a senior.

The Texans are hoping the addition will help improve a defense that allowed more than 336 yards a game last season. There's no doubt that his talent is an upgrade over the low drafted strongside linebackers Houston started last season.

"That's a lot of pressure, but that's what we brought him here for," coach Gary Kubiak said. "So DeMeco can help him with those expectations and that workload. I think he'll be a big help."

For now Cushing is trying to master Houston's base defense. He knows many hours of studying the playbook are ahead of him.

"The biggest thing right now is understanding what I have to do," he said. "I can't be coming in here screwing up every single play. There's a lot expected out of me. I understand that. I have to know the defense inside and out."

Ryans thought Cushing did a good job in his first practice with the team, but the 22-year-old's size impressed him before the rookie even took the field.

"He's a very big guy," Ryans said of the 6-foot-2, 243-pound Cushing. "He's a guy that we need at (strongside). He's a true (strongside) linebacker. He's just a very athletic guy who can drop into coverage and he covers well."

Though Ryans will likely be the biggest help to Cushing, he got plenty of support from throughout the team on Monday.

"All of them," Cushing said when asked which veterans helped him in his first practice. "Especially the linebackers just helping me out with every little thing, wanting me to get better. You could tell it's a tight unit and everybody wants the best for each other."

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