HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – With training camp starting July 26, the Texans’ linebacking corps still has some holes and question marks.
Thin At Inside Linebacker
With Brian Cushing and Darryl Sharpton returning from injuries, the inside linebacker position will be at full strength once again. Sharpton, who injured his hip in Week 17 at Indianapolis, returned for OTAs. Cushing’s return is slated for the first day of Texans training camp after being cleared by surgeon Dr. James Andrews on July 17, as per HoustonTexans.com.
“Brian Cushing is a player you love having out there because he flies around, he makes plays. He’s got a lot of energy and he’s a great football player and any time he’s on the field with you, you’re confident. I’m excited to get him back and we can’t wait to have him out here at practice,” said head coach Gary Kubiak after OTA practice in May.
Should Cushing or Sharpton be less than 100%, the Texans are thin at inside linebacker, with just Tim Dobbins healthy. The Texans did sign two undrafted free agents in May, Ja’Gared Davis (SMU) and Evan Frierson (Illinois State), but news on the two rookies has been relatively sparse.
Options At Outside Linebacker
During OTAs Brooks Reed was moved to the inside while Cushing rehabbed his ACL. However, Kubiak plans to have Reed return to the strong-side. Whitney Mercilus, entering his second season, is expected to step into Connor Barwin’s role and have a breakout year according to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Texans also drafted outside linebackers with consecutive third and fourth-round picks, Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams.
“Well, you see the ability. Obviously, getting the two guys in the draft in Montgomery and Trevardo, they bring a lot of rushing-the-passer experience with them. The key is, can we get them in the right place and do the right things with them? So if anything, the fact that we are so young, these OTAs have been very, very important to those guys and moving Brooks (Reed) has let them work with the first and second group. How far they come will be crucial to our success,” said Kubiak.
One would be remiss to not mention Bryan Braman, who is also functioning as a starter at OLB, according to Kubiak.
“I mean, Bryan’s basically working as a starter. He’s a different guy than he was last year for us. The young kid (OLB) Willie Jefferson that we’ve got out here, reminds me of Bryan a lot that we had last year. They’re going to be called on to play and play big for us. So you need to have a great—not only these days, but summer as well.”
Signed in May, Willie Jefferson is a undrafted free agent out of Stephen F. Austin.
Steep Learning Curve Ahead
Heading into camp, Kubiak remains optimistic about the Texans’ linebackers.
“Very talented and very young, that’s the biggest thing. You’ve got young players. You talk about (OLB Bryan) Braman operating as a starter right now, Cush (ILB Brian Cushing) is healthy, (OLB) Brooks (Reed) going back to SAM (strong-side linebacker) and what happens there, those type of things. You’re looking at (OLB Sam) Montgomery. You’re look at (OLB) Willie (Jefferson). You’re looking at some very, very talented players, but boy they’ve never stepped on a NFL field. It’s exciting for us as coaches looking at the ability, but at the same time it better happen fast.”