Let me start by stating that I am not an extremely superstitious person, except for when it comes to sports. I grew up playing baseball, and in 14 years I know for a fact that I have never stepped on a base path walking on or off the field between innings. There was an entire Astros playoff series in 2005 that I refused to watch on TV because it seemed to cause problems so I listened to it in its entirety on the radio (it worked by the way--the 'Stros beat the Cardinals four games to two). I could go on, but I’ll stop now while I still might have some credibility.
The point of this self-deprecating rant was to say that I’m nervous about this post because somewhere in my twisted little brain writing it means it will happen, sort of like a Field of Dreams thing. In the interest of full disclosure to the site though, I’m setting aside my neurosis briefly and letting you know the identity of the guy I’m most opposed to. This is hard for me, so forgive me if I’m a little overly cryptic. Here it goes… his name starts with a “B”, and ends with rianCushing.
If you peruse mock drafts around the internet, at least a quarter of them have Houston slated to take a LB from the University of Southern California, which in itself isn’t necessarily terrible. What is bad, in my opinion, is that LB is Brian Cushing. I’d like to think that Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith feel the same way, but since there has been little to NO coverage of which players the franchise has gone to the trouble of scouting, we just can’t be sure. Why don’t I like Cushing? I’m glad you asked.
On the surface, Cushing is an ideal fit for the Texans, which is why so many prognosticators have predicted his selection by the team. Cushing was a recruiting coup for USC, where he's started since halfway through his freshman year. He could have left after his junior year and would have been all but guaranteed at least a third round draft selection, but came back for his senior year instead. Over his career at USC, Cushing garnered an impressive 177 total tackles.
Luckily, draft decisions aren’t made by simply looking on the surface of things. They’re made by hours and hours of an in-depth decision making process. That process consists of watching hours of film, interviewing former coaches, and watching the player during workouts such as the Senior Bowl and the Combine. I believe that such an in-depth process would expose flaws in Cushing that should exclude him from consideration.
While his résumé seems impressive, I think that some of his stats are lacking. First of all, Cushing has only 8 career sacks. Defenders of Cushing would cite that he wasn’t asked to rush the passer frequently as a SLB, but the games that he played in 2007 were all as the “Elephant”, or DE/OLB hybrid player whose primary responsibility is rushing the QB, the same position in which Clay Matthews recorded 4 sacks in one year. The other stat that worries me is 2 forced fumbles. Draftniks frequently site Cushing’s fierce hitting ability, but if he’s so fierce why hasn’t he been able to knock the ball loose more?
Another problem is Cushing’s coverage ability. Some analysts believe that he is so lacking in coverage that he may not be able to play on 3rd downs. One of the things the Texans need most from a SLB is intermittent pass rushing ability. Forgive my obviousness, but pass rush is most crucial in evident passing situations; namely, 3rd downs. Anyone else see a problem?
Pardon the pun, but it seems that Cushing’s main Achilles heel is durability. In 2005, Cushing didn’t play in five games because of a dislocated shoulder. In 2007, Cushing sprained an ankle before the season, which kept him out of two games. When he returned in the third game, he aggravated the injury, which caused him to leave the game and miss the next three. So what would lead anyone to believe that Cushing could consistently stay healthy in the NFL throughout 16 games (hopefully more in the case of the Texans) when he couldn’t do it for a 13 game season against lesser competition?
One of the main reasons I wanted to write this post now is because of the off chance that the Texans do in fact draft Cushing. I made a commitment that as soon as the Texans made their pick I would try my best to avoid criticism until I had actual NFL play to cite my criticism upon. If Cushing is taken, I can’t guarantee my first reaction will be to spout positive words, but I can assure you that you won’t see an article criticizing Smithiak’s decision. The reason is simple: I trust them. Just know that I won’t be thrilled.