With Ryans out for season, Texans move LB Cushing to middle

HOUSTON -- The Texans are turning to Brian Cushing to solve their crisis at middle linebacker.

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 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 17. Cushing has started at outside linebacker since the Texans drafted him last year.

"We thought that was the best thing for our team," Kubiak said of moving Cushing to the middle. "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 has played in two Pro Bowls. Kubiak felt most confident moving Cushing to the middle, even though he has started in just 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 AFC South rival 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 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after making 133 tackles, including four sacks, and intercepting four passes. He was a first-round draft pick out of USC, where he played mostly outside linebacker, but he practiced at the middle spot behind starter Rey Maualuga, who's now a Cincinnati Bengal.

"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 backed up Ryans for three years and was surprised by Kubiak's decision. Bentley still will have a starting role, taking over Cushing's position and backing him up 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."

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Ryans underwent surgery Friday, and Cushing said he has talked to his injured teammate about the specifics of playing middle linebacker. 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 believes 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 Texans' 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 University of Texas NT Frank Okam. ... Adibi sat out Monday's workout. Kubiak hopes Adibi will return to practice Thursday.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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