Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 3/21/12
Cushing
It was interesting to see Brian Cushing's reaction to yesterday's trade of fellow linebacker DeMeco Ryans, because he put that reaction on Twitter, which is different than answering a reporter's question. He heard the news, he felt something, and he expressed it. It was uninfluenced and unmediated. This is what he said: "I wouldn't be half the player or person I am today without @DRyans59 this one hurts. Philly got a unbelievable player and leader today. 59." Those words themselves are not much, obviously. There is nothing controversial there. They don't look like angry words, they aren't funny and aren't even surprising. But it is interesting that Cushing perceived Ryans as a leader, a mentor and (possibly) a superior player. Because I don't know about you, but to me Cushing looked an awful lot like the leader of the Texans' defense last season, and the best player on it. It was already Cushing's defense. The difference is, now it feels like it. Cushing led the team with 114 tackles in 2011, which came close to doubling Ryans' total. Establishing proof of someone's leadership ability is difficult to do, because it can't be measured. But I think it's fair to say anybody who watches the Texans knows nobody on the field plays harder or looks more intense than Brian Cushing, who seems like he could hard-boil an egg just by staring at it real hard. Does that make Cushing a leader? Hard to say. But he'd better be. The Texans this offseason have parted with offensive tackle Eric Winston and Ryans, two of the most respected players on the team. They were leaders. If you wanted to know what was going on with the defense, you went to Ryans. If you wanted to know about the offense, you went to Winston or Duane Brown. They were four parts player, two parts spokesman, one part teacher, dash of glue, served in red and blue. In the grand scheme, this is not a massive shakeup. It's just two players. Two good players, sure, but just two players. The Texans got a couple of draft picks in exchange for Ryans, and that will help. They got some cap room out of Winston, and that was necessary. I can't summon much passion against either move. But this moment shouldn't pass unnoticed. This is an important moment for the Texans. Ryans and Winston lived the struggle in the Texans franchise. Both 2006 draft picks, they knew the frustration the fans knew, and making the playoffs meant something different to them than it meant to Brooks Reed or J.J. Watt or T.J. Yates. The salt makes the sweet taste better. They weren't just cogs in the machine, they were Houston Texans. And that's a distinction that means something. That requires fermentation. It needs to be replaced. And, maybe you've noticed, but Cushing has fermented. He isn't the only one, but he's the most obvious. Ryans is gone. Mario Williams is gone. Reed and Watt are only entering their second years. Johnathan Joseph is a terrific player, but he's out on the island at cornerback. Yeah, this is Cushing's defense. He's the best player on it, and he plays down in the muck, where your hand gets crushed under a cleat and where you bleed from the bridge of your nose. But you beat the block and make the tackle in the backfield and chest-bump your teammates and stir the crowd, then you round up your boys and call out the signals and point them in the right direction, and you settle into your stance for the next big play. Yeah, Cushing is that guy. He's down there. Funny thing is, he's been there all along.
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