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Texans aiming to move on from distraction of Cushing's suspension

HOUSTON -- Brian Cushing was a rising star for the Texans, a key component in their improvement last season and expected to do even more in 2010.

Instead, the linebacker will miss the first four games of the season because of a drug suspension, and his team will have to figure out how to move on from the distraction. The first step comes Monday when Houston starts offseason team practices.

Cushing can participate in all offseason practices and activities before his suspension begins and is expected to be on the field Monday.

"It's hard to quantify distractions," Texans general manager Rick Smith said this week. "In this league, you've got to learn how to deal with situations and things that come up that are unexpected, and to the degree that your team understands how to do that and learns how to handle those kinds of things, you're going to find a way to work through them. And that's what we've got to do as a team and as an organization."

The Texans finished 9-7 for their first winning record in 2009. Next season could be the most important for a franchise that has yet to make the playoffs entering its ninth year. Now Houston will be at a disadvantage without one of its best defensive players in games against Indianapolis, Washington, Dallas and Oakland.

"It affects the football team a great deal," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's a huge piece of the puzzle. We're sitting here all offseason getting ready to go, and now we've got to do some adjusting. So I'm very disappointed ... but we've got to move forward, and we will."

Cushing said Thursday that he tested positive for HCG, a fertility drug that is on the league's banned substance list. He denied ever using any banned substances despite the positive test. The Texans have said they'll have no other comment on his suspension or the circumstances surrounding it as they try to move beyond this scandal and focus on football.

Cushing, the 15th overall pick in last year's draft out of USC, had 133 tackles in 2009. He won The Associated Press Rookie of the Year award for that performance and retained the honor despite a revote prompted by his drug suspension.

Fellow linebacker and defensive captain DeMeco Ryans, who is close to Cushing, isn't looking forward to playing without him, but he knows the team will have to figure out a way make up for his absence.

"It's definitely going to be tough for us, missing a great player for four games," Ryans said. "He brought a lot to our defense ... so guys have to step up. It's just like if anyone got injured on this team, the next man, his number's called, he has to step up and come in and play well for us."

The Texans have some depth at linebacker, and Xavier Adibi or Kevin Bentley could fill in while Cushing is serving his suspension. The team could also receive some help from veteran Danny Clark, who was signed this week after spending the last two seasons with the New York Giants.

Quarterback Matt Schaub said the players are "behind Brian" and that the Texans have to work as a team to make up for the loss. Despite the questions surrounding Cushing's suspension, people within the organization expect him to be the same player he was last year when he returns in Week 5.

"One thing about the guy is he works extremely hard at everything he does," Smith said. "I don't see any reason why that will change, and I think he'll be better for it."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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