WILL GRUBB, CBS HoustonBy Will Grubb

Update: Cushing has been cleared for training camp by Dr. James Andrews

Houston (CBS Houston)- Brian Cushing’s importance to the Texans defense is impossible to miss. Through the first four weeks of last season with Cushing, the Texans defense ranked first in points and yards allowed per game.

After Cushing went down with a season ending ACL tear, they dropped to 18th and 13th in those same categories. The drastic drop off can not be entirely tied to Cushing’s absence but his presence was severely missed down the stretch and perhaps most obviously in the 41-28 playoff defeat at the hands of the Patriots.

The biggest question heading into camp is Cushing’s health. Despite spending all of OTA’s working out on the side he seemed optimistic.

“I can definitely tell you that I will be ready for the first game of the season and I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready for the first practice come training camp.” said Cushing.

With  knee injuries the physical healing is half the battle. Learning to trust the knee when making cuts is just as important. The NFL has seen some miraculous ACL recoveries in the past year. Adrian Peterson showed super-human ability returning from his tear to rush for 2,097 yards last season. In Washington, Robert Griffin III is reportedly on track to start week 1 after tearing his ACL in the playoffs. The good news for Texans fans, Cushing had more time to recover than both those guys.

“I’m starting to feel like me again and that’s a hell of a feeling.” said Cushing during OTA’s. “It’s in the past and it’s full-throttle now until I’m back.”

It’s better for Cushing and the Texans to be cautious rather than over aggressive but training camp reps could go along way toward helping the mental aspect of Cushing’s recovery.

The game of musical chairs at linebacker makes his health even more important. Brooks Reed will most likely be playing inside and Whitney Mercilus will become a full-time starter outside.

A healthy Cushing paired with Reed on the inside would be one of the better pairings in the league. But if injuries strike like last year, it could keep the bulls from going on parade.