Oct 8, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing (56) and linebacker Bradie James (53) tackle New York Jets running back Shonn Greene (23) during the first half at MetLIfe Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Texans Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

Dec 23, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Brooks Reed (58) runs on the field against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The linebackers for the Houston Texans will no doubt cause some damage in 2013, as they were a part (at times) of a Top 10 defense one season ago, and with a quality defensive line in front of them, plus a solid defensive back behind them, the potential for even more production for this group could exceed last season.

One obstacle the Texans must overcome is their overall health, as three main LBs were on the injury list in ’12.

The main four linebackers in the 3-4 Wade Phillips defense are Brooks Reed (left outside linebacker), Brian Cushing (left inside linebacker), Darryl Sharpton (right inside linebacker) and Whitney Mercilus (right outside linebacker), with Cushing, Sharpton and Reed all coming off injuries in ’12.

Those four are the projected starters headed into camp, and for good reason, though Cushing is coming off a knee injury, missing the final 11 games of the ’12 season. Cushing, the team MVP in ’11, has been a captain the past two seasons.

“Obviously, Cush is a great player. An outstanding player. Anytime you lose a great player like we did in the middle of last season, it’s hard to replace ‘em,” a Texans defensive coach said to houstontexans.com. “We had some guys that filled in and did a good job last year and won some games, but it’s still a star player.”

Sharpton is entering his fourth year with the Texans, finishing ’12 with 39 tackles (16 solo) with one interception in seven games played last season.

“Sharpton’s good. He was back to work at OTAs this spring, which is very encouraging,” said a Texans coach to houstontexans.com. “We kind of were a little protective with him this spring, keeping him out of some special teams drills and stuff, but he’s back to work.”

Mercilus, a rookie in ’12, had 20 solo tackles with six sacks and two forced fumbles in 16 games played.

“Whitney’s a smart player. He’s athletic,” members of the Texans coaching staff told their official website. “He’s tough, physical, but he’s a self-starter, high-motor guy that plays with ability. You want those high-motor guys, but you want them to have that kind of ability.

“He can rush the passer – can get in the three-point stance and rush the passer and also be in the two-point and play the run and the pass from there.”

Reed played in 12 games one year ago with 19 solo tackles with 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble.

A defensive coach told the Texans’ official team site, “What Brooks does is gives us somebody that has exceptional play strength, exceptional play speed. He’s a mature, physical player. He’s got a great body, he’s got instincts. He plays with his hair on fire. He can shock block.”

With the injuries last season the Texans looked at veterans Bradie James, a free agent, and Connor Barwin (signed with the Philadelphia Eagles for six years) to fill in key roles, which they did. James had 46 solo tackles in 15 games, while Barwin, who played four seasons in Houston, totaled 35 solo tackles with three sacks in 16 games.

Also on the roster headed into camp are linebackers who the Texans need in case of an injury and to fill in a various times this season with the departure of James and Barwin.

Those linebackers include Bryan Braman, who is the main backup for Reed at LOLB, and Mike Mohamed and Cameron Collins at LILB. Tim Dobbins is listed as a reserve RILB for Sharpton on the depth chart, and at ROLB, Trevardo Williams (a rookie), Sam Montgomery (a rookie) and Delano Johnson will be vying for a spot.

Others listed on the Texans roster at LB are Cameron Collins, Ja’Gared Davis, Willie Jefferson, and Justin Tuggle, who are all rookies.

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Tags: Brian Cushing Brooks Reed Darryl Sharpton Texans Whitney Mercilus

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