2010 Position Preview: Linebacker

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DeMeco Ryans is the leader of the defense, and he spearheads a linebacker corps that is one of the best in the league.

The following article contains excerpts from the 2010 Houston Texans Yearbook, the Texans' official season preview magazine, that goes on sale July 30 at Texans Training Camp, presented by Comcast, and the Go Texan Store at Reliant Stadium.**

LINEBACKER Who's here: DeMeco Ryans (projected starter), Brian Cushing (projected starter), Zac Diles (projected starter), Xavier Adibi, Kevin Bentley, Danny Clark, Darryl Sharpton, Darnell Bing, Isaiah Greenhouse,

Who's new: Clark (free agent signing), Sharpton (rookie draft pick), Greenhouse (rookie free agent)

Who's gone: Chaun Thompson (free agent), Khary Campbell (free agent)

Led by Pro Bowlers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, the linebackers were the strength of the Texans' defense last season. That should be the case again in 2010, although Cushing will miss the first four games of the season because of a league-imposed suspension.

Ryans, Cushing, starting weakside linebacker Zac Diles and backup Xavier Adibi are all 26 or younger. Kevin Bentley, an eight-year veteran, is a versatile backup with starting experience. Ten-year veteran Danny Clark, who played for the Texans in 2007, was signed as a free agent this offseason from the New York Giants.

Ryans re-signed with the Texans in March as a restricted free agent, ensuring that the Texans' defensive captain will be in Houston for years to come. He's coming off what several coaches feel was his best season as a pro, when he had 123 tackles and led a defense that gave up the fewest points (333) and yards (5,198) in team history.

Cushing, like Ryans in 2006, was named the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The first-round draft pick out of USC edged Ryans for the team lead with 133 tackles and had four interceptions, four sacks and a safety. Cushing and Ryans both finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles, making them the only pair of teammates in the NFL to do so.

"He helped me elevate my game and made me better," Ryans said of Cushing after the season. "That competition between me and him, just trying to be the best, that's what took our games to the next level. Me and Brian, we always talk about being the best—being the best one-two punch out there and just leading the defense."

Diles started 12 games in 2009, his third NFL season. He had 61 tackles and led the team with 7.5 tackles for loss after recovering from a season-ending leg injury suffered in 2008. Kubiak said numerous times this offseason that he thinks Diles is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowler.

The Texans spent a fourth-round draft pick on linebacker Darryl Sharpton from Miami (Fla.). Sharpton (5-11, 244) won his team's Hardest Hitter Award in 2009 and is expected to make an immediate impact on special teams.

Spotlight on: Zac Diles Coaches' commentary"Before Zac broke his leg in '08, he was playing at a high level. Coming off a severe leg break was a setback, but I thought he progressed last year and got better and better as the year went along. The way Zac has been moving around this offseason, I'm very excited to see his improvement physically and mentally on the field. Zac brings a great spark to our linebacking corps as far as his physical ability and his quickness. He definitely has some talent to take it to another level."
- Linebackers coach Johnny Holland

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