The All-Pro middle linebacker struggled early in 2014 after two consecutive years of season-ending injuries to the same knee, but he flashed signs of his former ability over the last couple of games of last season.
Bill O'Brien is optimistic about Brian Cushing in 2015.
"I think that the guy feels better this offseason than he did last offseason," the head coach said last week at the NFL Annual Meetings. "We're looking forward to him having a really good year."
For the first offseason since 2012, the inside linebacker isn't rehabbing a major knee injury. Five games into the Texans' 12-win campaign, Cushing's season was wrecked when a Jets' offensive lineman dove into his left knee.
He came back from that, started the first seven games of 2013, only to have the same knee injured in a contest at Kansas City. The winter, spring and summer of 2014 saw Cushing have to rehab when his teammates were on the field learning a new defensive scheme.
"Early in our year, it took him awhile to come back from the lower extremity injuries that he had," O'Briein said. "As the year went on, he got a couple treatments. Things that made him feel better. And he really took off at the end of the year."
In late February at a community event, Cushing answered questions about his health and echoed the optimism of O'Brien's.
"I’m just focused on getting back," Cushing said. "You know, this is the healthiest offseason I had in a long time so I’m pretty glad about that."
When it comes to Cushing's impact both on and off the field, O'Brien agreed his precense was vital to the organization. "He's one of the leaders of our team," O'Briein said. "I'm always remiss if I don't mention him as one of the leaders of our team."
The Houston Texans have significantly bolstered the middle of the defense in recent weeks. The defensive line will now feature the dominant veteran presence of Vince Wilfork, while the defensive secondary will feature a ball-hawking Rahim Moore at free safety. If Brian Cushing returns to his former self, it could be the perfect storm to fuel Houston to the top of the NFL defensive rankings in 2015.
If Jadeveon Clowney emerges at full potential with Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, and J.J. Watt playing at high levels, along with contributions from Whitney Mercilus and Jared Crick, I can't even imagine how frustrating it will be for opponents to compete against this Houston defense.
Vote on your projected ranking for this unit based on this optimism and share your thoughts.