Texans linebacker Brian Cushing expects to be back from a torn ACL for the start of the 2013 season and possibly the first day of training camp.
Count defensive end Antonio Smith among those who can't wait to see him on the field.
"Brian Cushing's gonna come back and be…" Smith said Thursday, pausing for a second to sort through his thoughts. "He was already 'Super Cush'; I can't call him 'Mega Cush' because of J.J. (Watt). 'Ultimate Cush.' Like the Ultimate Warrior.
"Have you been seeing him over there working out? I've never seen him move like that before, all trimmed and cut up. Looks like a julienne salad."
While the Texans have been practicing for two weeks of OTAs, Cushing has been rehabbing. For the first part of every practice, he does a rigorous workout with Texans athletic trainers and other injured players on a side field. He watches the remainder of practice with his jersey on, talking with teammates and coaches or standing by himself about 10 yards from team drills.
The Texans' defense had a sharp drop-off in 2012 after Cushing suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. The 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year led the Texans with 30 tackles through five games last season after earning team MVP honors in 2011 as the captain of the league's second-ranked defense.
"In my book, I told everybody when I first got here and got to see him, he's gonna be one of the great ones," said Smith, who signed with the Texans from the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. "He's gonna be one of them Hall of Fame linebackers if he stays healthy. Offensive linemen throughout the league fear him. Running backs surely fear him. He's just one of those players that's relentless, and he hits with bad intentions."
Watt, the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, said Cushing's return to the defense in 2013 will be "huge."
"Brian Cushing is a player you love having out there because he flies around, he makes plays," Watt said. "He's got a lot of energy and he's a great football player, and any time he's on the field with you, you're confident. I'm excited to get him back, and we can't wait to have him out here at practice."