Oct 30, 2011; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing (56) reacts against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jaguars 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Texans Spotlight: Brian Cushing

Good news: on Wednesday Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was cleared to participate when training camp starts next week. Therefore, Cushing is your spotlight for today, as we continue to take a look at some of the Texans’ most important individual playoffs leading up to preseason.

Earlier in the year, Cushing made a promise to everyone that he would be cleared by Dr. James Andrews by July 17. He attended OTA’s back in May but sat on the sideline as a spectator, and has been rehabbing his torn ACL hard after missing nearly three quarters of last season.

Now before we get into any kind of revenge talk about if/when the Texans might meet the Bears in the playoffs so Cushing can try and smack Matt Slauson, let’s first lower our expectations a little, and be fair about what we can actually expect from Cushing coming off such a brutal injury. (It is after all, the same one that Robert Griffin III could be in doubt over entering into Week 1).

Firstly, Cushing probably won’t rush into training camp like others will. It’s not the injury that will limit him early, it’s the surgery – much like Ed Reed’s fight back to play in Week 1 will concern.

Also, whether or not we see the same Cushing in training camp and the same old Cushing on the playing field is an entirely different scenario. Remember, Cushing missed nearly 13 weeks of football, and spent an entire offseason talking about whether he is healthy. He may not be rusty, but it’s common to see players shy away from really big hits after undergoing such a serious surgery.

But with all that said, once training camp is over, Cushing should be an easy starter for the Monday Night opener in San Diego. If training camp goes to plan and Cushing is 100% ready to go like he keeps saying he is, we’ll receive a lengthy glimpse at the Texans new and polished linebackers straight up – a unit that will feature two young guys in Darryl Sharpton and Whitney Mercilus which Cushing will likely mentor.

Speaking of that word “mentor”, this season may hold a whole new outlook for Cushing as he could be considered a veteran of the Texans defense now. It’s only his fifth year, sure. But the average age of the Texans’ linebackers is 24, and Cushing will turn 27 next January, and stands out as one of the top three most prolific players next to J.J. Watt and Ed Reed.

Of course, Cushing won’t be the poster boy on defense. That spot belongs to Watt, and for all excitement purposes, even a neutral NFL fan has to wonder what Cushing and Watt could concoct in terms of numbers this season.

(Somewhere between 30 and 35 sacks combined seems like a pretty realistic and achievable goal).

Cushing will be tested early this season if he does start. The Texans take on Baltimore, Seattle and San Francisco in weeks three, four and five, all of which have some of of the top offenses in the league. He now bears the responsibility of setting up a solid pass rush against quarterbacks that scramble, clogging up running lanes when the Texans meet teams like Tennessee and New England, and also bringing back that insane attitude and playmaking ability that Cushing has become known for.

It’s quite a heavy work load coming off a huge injury. Perhaps anything short of an Adrian Peterson kind of bounce back year may be viewed as a disappointment at this stage, but realistically though, if Cushing can come back and help set the edge, coax younger starters into pushing for more pressure and also maintain the Texans’ top ten rush defense, it should be viewed as a job well done.

And if Chicago just so happen to make the playoffs, Cushing’s year could continue to get even more interesting.

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Tags: AFC South Brian Cushing Darryl Sharpton Ed Reed J.J. Watt NFL Texans Whitney Mercilus

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