By Joshua Reese

Houston (CBS HOUSTON) – Houston Texans second-year linebacker Benardrick McKinney last season spent the year learning under veteran Brian Cushing. This year McKinney has ditched his training wheels and came into his own.

“He’s picked up the system,” defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said of McKinney. “I think he understands the fits better, what it takes and how he needs to play blocks and where he needs to fit, and as a result of it, he’s putting himself in a position to make plays, and he’s making a lot of plays.”

The plays he is making are all over the field, and he’s third in the NFL in total tackles, one tackle behind Carolina Panthers all-pro Luke Kuechly.

“He’s been healthy,” linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said when talking about McKinney’s growth. “He’s practicing. He’s seeing every rep and he’s taking the coaching. He’s done a really good job for us.”

On top of being the Texans leading tackler, he’s also been one of a few different players that has stepped up to fill the void left by J.J. Watt with 3 sacks and a forced fumble.

Vrabel has enjoyed seeing McKinney start to pair his physicality with savvy play.

“The thing that I love is when he takes on an (offensive) linemen and he shocks and he’s able to shed and stop those guards in their track or knock the s— out of one of those guys coming, I enjoy that,” Vrabel said. “Now we are going to try and get him to start slipping and avoiding some of those blocks.”

In only one season he went from just another rookie that showed flashes, to a big time playmaker on good defense. We just might be seeing McKinney scratch the surface of his potential.


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