One NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in their linebacking corps wasn’t enough. In 2009, the Texans snagged another, drafting outside linebacker Brian Cushing out of USC to pair with 2007 DROY DeMeco Ryans. Cushing was named the top rookie of 2009 on Jan. 5.
For many fans who watched the pumped-up rookie make huge plays all year, though, the defensive crown doesn't cut it. Cushing helped energize a squad that improved both run and pass defense as well as points allowed over its 2008 numbers. He was a major force in leading the Texans to their first-ever winning record. Now until Feb. 2, fans can vote for Cushing online in the Pepsi Rookie of the Year race. The prize will be awarded in Tampa during the Super Bowl festivities. Here are five reasons why Cushing has my vote as the top overall rookie of 2009:
5. Cushing missed the preseason
Coming out of USC, the knock on Cushing was that he was injury prone. To the horror of Texans fans, those fears seemed to be confirmed right off the bat. The rookie suffered a sprained knee in practice, an injury that would keep him sidelined for the entirety of the NFL preseason. Cushing and team officials alike swore that he would be ready for the season opener, but doubts loomed. After all, this kid had never played a down in the NFL.
Cushing answered those doubts immediately by recording eight tackles in Houston’s 24-7 loss to the New York Jets in Week 1.
DeMeco Ryans said after the game, “I saw when he first stepped on the field that he could be a special player for us.” Ryans wasn’t alone.
4. Cushing is an all-around defender
Every candidate for 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year put up nice stats. Brian Cushing managed to put them up across the board. 134 tackles. Five sacks. Four interceptions. 14 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. The rookie impacted every facet of the Texans defense.
Cushing was part of 18.5 percent of his team’s defensive plays, good for second in the NFL behind Patrick Willis. Those numbers were remarkable enough to net him a Pro Bowl nod. But how big were the plays he made? Funny you should ask…
3. Cushing led the league in defeats
What are “defeats?” Well, they’re a relatively new defensive stat that adds a little context to the tackles. Defeats are defined as the total number of plays by a defensive player that prevent the offense from gaining first down yardage on third or fourth down, stop the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or result in a turnover. Defeats are big plays. Brian Cushing had more of them than anyone else in the NFL in 2009, racking up 38.
Cushing wasn’t just a play-maker in his rookie season. He was a game-breaker. Where did all those big plays come from?
2. Cushing made plays from the outside
38 defeats in a season is the most that any player has had since Ray Lewis racked up 39 in 2003. Like Lewis, Cushing is a passionate player with a high motor and zeal for the game. Also like Lewis, Cushing is prone to flying all over the field, wreaking havoc from sideline to sideline. Ray Lewis is pretty good company-- he’s won Super Bowls and MVPs, and he’s a future Hall of Famer at the middle linebacker position.
A major difference between the two players? Cushing is an outside linebacker. He’s chasing guys down from the strong side, and still managed to lead his team in tackles and rank 5th in the league. In his rookie season, folks.
1. Cushing is fun to watch
All of the players nominated for the 2009 Pepsi Rookie of the Year honors made big plays and fired up the home crowd. None played as consistently fired-up as Cushing. The rook from USC plays with an obvious love of the game that’s a pleasure to observe. His infectious, no-plays-off attitude is a major boon to the team’s defense, and Texans fans are going to enjoy watching this guy play for many years.
With enough votes, Texans fans can enjoy watching Cushing accept the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award in Tampa during Super Bowl Week. Vote as many times as you’d like at http://www.nfl.com/partner?partnerType=rookies