Cushing moves to middle LB for Texans
Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that Cushing will take over the position for DeMeco Ryans, who's out for the season after rupturing his left Achilles tendon in the Texans' 35-31 win over Kansas City on Oct. 17. Cushing has been starting at outside linebacker since the Texans drafted him in 2009.
''We thought that was the best thing for our team,'' Kubiak said. ''We want him to lead the defense, take over the defense. That's where we're going.''
The Texans had a bye last week, giving Kubiak time to consider options for replacing Ryans, who's played in two Pro Bowls. Kubiak felt most confident moving Cushing to the middle, even though he's started only two games this season after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on banned substances.
The Texans (4-2) play at Indianapolis (4-2) on Monday night.
''I'm just doing what they want me to do,'' Cushing said. ''I'm excited about the new opportunity. With DeMeco down, somebody had to step up. Coach asked me, and I'm more than willing to do it.''
Cushing was the Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after making 133 tackles, including four sacks, and intercepting four passes. He was a first-round pick out of Southern Cal, where he played mostly outside linebacker, but practiced at the middle spot behind starter Rey Maualuga.
''I've just got to lock in a little bit more,'' Cushing said. ''I'm going to have to be the quarterback of the defense, and I'm fine doing that.''
When Ryans was hurt against the Chiefs, Zac Diles moved from the weak side to play the middle, and second-year pro David Nixon was pressed into action to fill Diles' spot. The Texans waived Nixon last week, and Kubiak said Monday that he wasn't comfortable with Diles playing in the middle.
Three other linebackers - Kevin Bentley, Xavier Adibi and Darryl Sharpton - were inactive for the Chiefs' game with injuries. Bentley (knee) and Sharpton (ankle) were two candidates to replace Ryans, and both practiced Monday.
Bentley has been backing up Ryans for three years, and was surprised by Kubiak's decision. Bentley will still get a starting role, taking over Cushing's position and backing up Cushing at middle linebacker.
''I feel like I'm a leader, and I can lead from anywhere on the field,'' Bentley said. ''I'm not worried about being disappointed. What I am worried about is how I'm going to step up and play and make sure I do my job to the best of my ability.''
Ryans underwent surgery on Friday, and Cushing said he's talked to his injured teammate about the specifics of playing the mike. Cushing said there's not much difference between the middle spot and the outside position, but Bentley laughed at that notion.
''There's a lot more thinking, when now you're the guy getting everybody lined up,'' Bentley said. ''You're responsible for all 11, not just yourself. You've got 10 other guys - you've got to make sure they're lined up, you're lined up and then make plays.''
Cushing thinks he's ready. He put himself through rigorous physical training during his four-game suspension to keep himself in football shape, then used the bye week to brush up on the playbook.
''I think he can jump right in and get it done,'' defensive end Antonio Smith said. ''I've got confidence that he can handle it. You see what he can do on the field, and the mike linebacker, for his type of motor and energy and (ability) running sideline-to-sideline, it's kind of like the best position for him to play.''
Notes: The Texans signed free-agent LB Stanford Keglar and DT Damione Lewis. Houston also moved rookie DT Malcolm Sheppard from the practice squad to the regular roster, and signed DE Tim Jamison to the practice squad. The Texans waived former Texas NT Frank Okam. ... Adibi sat out Monday's workout. Kubiak is hoping Adibi will return to practice on Thursday.