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Tue, 07 Aug 2012 12:08 AM EDT

Brian Cushing has always tried to be a leader for the Texans.

That role is undisputed for the linebacker now that defensive stalwarts DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams are gone.

”There are lots more eyes looking at you now and that is fine,” Cushing said. ”I learned from some of the finest guys and they taught me a lot. It’s something I accept and going into this year I could say it was pushed on me, though it was also earned. So I feel great about it.” Odds

Cushing was drafted in the 1st round in 2009 and piled up 133 tackles to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Instead of building on the momentum gained from his brilliant 1st season, Cushing was suspended for the 1st 4 games of the 2010 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances and had 76 tackles.

Last year was a bounce-back campaign for him, and he led the team with 114 tackles and had 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and forced two fumbles. His statistical data far surpassed those of Ryans, a fellow linebacker who had 64 tackles, but the more veteran Ryans remained the most visible leader of the defense.

Cushing was unhappy that Ryans was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason, but spotted that the departure meant the team would need far more from him.

”There’s always room for improvement,” he announced. ”I believe you can never stop improving physically and mentally. So I am going to attempt to take it as far as I can and attempt to help this team win as best that I can.”

Cushing devoured the teachings of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who joined the team before last season, to help the group become one of the best in the NFL. The 285.7 yards a game the Texans allowed in 2011 were 2nd only to Pittsburgh and their tough defense helped impel the team to its 1st playoff berth and win regardless of wounds to several key pieces of the offense.

Cushing is excited to see what the unit can do in its 2nd season under Phillips.

”We can obviously get better,” he announced. ”We feel that. We are simply looking forward to it. And any time you have an opportunity like this to go into a season and improve upon what you probably did the year before, it may be entertaining.”

The coaching staff isn’t putting any additional pressure on Cushing this season because they know how much he expects from himself.

”He is kind of a lead by example player, obviously he is a fiery guy,” Coach Gary Kubiak declared. ”But Cush is going to play hard all of the time, and guys can count on him, I think he’s been a leader. I think he was last year and I think he’s potentially even more so (now).”

With Ryans gone, Houston (No. 6 in the AP Pro32) added depth at within linebacker with the addition of veteran Bradie James. James spent his whole nine-year career with the Cowboys and played for Phillips during his time there.

Cushing has moved to the feeble side this season and James will play the strong side. The Texans think the move will make Cushing even more effective.

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