Could Houston Texans be Doomed to Another Season of Hurt Linebackers?

By Cooper Welch
Brian Cushing & Brooks Reed

In 2012, the Houston Texans‘ linebacker corps was decimated by injury. Hopefully, the Texans will be among the healthier corps in the NFLbut the injury bug has already bit two Texans’ linebackers — and we haven’t even made it out of the preseason yet.

Whitney Mercilus, who came up big for the Texans is in his 2012 rookie season, strained his hamstring about two weeks ago and has yet to play in a preseason game. He could be back by Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers as the typical recovery time for the worst hamstring sprain is about three to five weeks.

Sam Montgomery, a 2013 third-round pick out of LSU, came to camp out of shape and injured his ankle in the first practice. He’s being eased back into practices by performing individual drills with no contact, but Gary Kubiak is starting to become frustrated with Montgomery, saying to the Texans’ official site that “he’s just behind. It’s going to take some time, and we’re trying to work him through the soreness of his ankle sprain.”

Other than these injuries, hopes are high for the Texans linebackers heading into 2013. Let’s discuss this year’s starting linebackers, going from left to right.

Brooks Reed, a third-year OLB from Arizonahas really impressed linebackers coach Reggie Herring. “I’ll say this, his tenacity, his play speed, his play strength—he carries himself like a true pro.” He had 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble and three stuffs in 2012.

Cushing finally returned to the field in Saturday’s game against the Miami Dolphinsand it was like he never left. The two-time captain of the defense could be seen roving everywhere on the field, making sure everyone was in their spot and ready to take on their opponent. He had one tackle and almost sacked QB Ryan Tannehill, lunging at him and wrapping his arms around Tannehill’s waist before the quarterback managed to scramble away.

Here’s a quick comparison of the numbers that the Texans’ D put up with Cushing on the field and the numbers they put up post-injury to show you just how much he means to these guys: the Texans defense was ranked first in points (14.0) and yards (273.0) allowed through four games, when Cushing led the team with 25 tackles. They ranked 18th (22.9) and 13th (340.0) from Week 5 onward.

Sharpton dealt with injuries last year, but was extremely good when he was on the field with 39 tackles and one interception in seven games. Kubiak is a big fan of his work ethic and skill, and is saddened by how much injuries have robbed him of these past three seasons. “Every time he gets in his groove, he’s had an injury, so I’m just hoping and I’m going to keep praying for him that he stays healthy because he can really help this team.”

Wade Phillips is especially impressed with Mercilus, saying that “he’s a little different than Brooks Reed; he’s more used to using his hands, and he’s got a speed rush, he’s got a power rush, and he’s got a quick inside move. It’s something we can certainly develop further, but he has some natural moves.”

Due to Mercilus’ injury, rookies Trevardo Williams, Willie Jefferson and Justin Tuggle have seen a lot of action in his place. Tuggle and Jefferson are undrafted free agents that the Texans picked up, and have outplayed Williams (124th pick) so far. Tuggle has started in both preseason games, Jefferson recorded his first NFL sack against the Dolphins’ second team, and Williams had two sacks in the second half. Montgomery is also an option behind Mercilus, but he has yet to see action.

The backups for Sharpton, Reed and Cushing are all healthy, and include veterans DobbinsMike Mohamed, Cameron Collins and Bryan Braman. All have impressed in preseason play, and Kubiak is confident that this year’s corps will be stronger than last year’s.

“But we’re going to be very young,” Kubiak said.

Cooper Welch is a Houston Texans writer for Follow him on Twitter @cooperwelch1991, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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