The first appeared in the Texans Gameday magazine.*
The heat is back. Against Kansas City, Brian Cushing had a team-high 10 tackles to kick off his 2015 campaign. The Texans starting inside linebacker is bringing his brand of intensity with a renewed excitement for the game.
Cushing is running, moving, and playing with as much confidence as he's ever had. It's hard to believe it was ever gone after seeing the outspoken, entertaining, and tough-as-nails linebacker in action. (Cue the "Hard Knocks" footage of Cushing getting fired up about winning one-on-one battles in training camp or making fun of guys who prefer lattes.)
Coming off his first offseason with no major knee surgery since 2012 and into a system he's comfortable with, Cushing is clearly having fun again.
"I feel like I can run again," Cushing said in an interview with Texan's Radio. "Then also, I wasn't rushing back into a new playbook. I had a whole year under my belt of Romeo's scheme so I can anticipate a lot more things. Obviously, that breeds a lot more confidence."
He didn't completely lose his swagger, but Cushing admits it definitely waxed and waned at times. Following both of his knee surgeries in 2012 and 2013, Cushing was bed-ridden. He was dependent, learning to walk all over again as he rehabbed his way back to football shape.
"You're definitely unsure of yourself at times," Cushing said. "You question yourself a whole lot, especially when you're sitting out of an entire offseason. You wonder if you can come back. You want to know when you do come back if you'll be the same and if you're not, how long it will take. The hardest part about rehab and getting hurt is the mental. There's no question about it."
If self-doubt ever creeped into his thoughts, the veteran pushed them to the back of his mind. Cushing's mental toughness was put to the test, as was faith in himself. He knew he'd be back one day. He knew each day he worked was one day closer to returning to the football field.
It was his beacon of hope during the dog days of rehab.
"I just always thought I was one more day closer to running out of that tunnel," Cushing said. "That's what it's all about. It's about playing, being excited, having fun with your teammates, playing for your family, playing for the fans, going out there and playing the game that you love."
All the hard work paid off.
Cushing noticed a turnaround in OTAs during summer. In one press conference with the local media, he shed the tough exterior to revel in the satisfaction that he'd reached his goal. He was as close to 100 percent as he had been in really long time.
"If it's not 100 percent, maybe it's 98, 99, so I mean, I can say that up here and really mean it," Cushing admitted. "I've said it before and really haven't, so I'm telling you the truth right now. I feel great and just really excited to be back out there. Mentally the best I've been in a while because physically it's the best I've been in a long, long time."
This year, people are talking about Cushing. Now in his seventh season, he looks different.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel can also see it from when began coaching the veteran linebacker last year.
"In his movement skills," Crennel said. "Because he's coming off a couple of knees that he had back-to-back and that slowed him down, but he was moving very well this camp. I think that he is enjoying the fact that he can move the way he used to move. I think that gives him a lot of confidence in what he can do and how he plays the game."
Mentally, he's also grown because of it. Now an elder statesman for the linebackers' position group, Cushing has a vault of experiences he can draw upon whether it's in the meeting room, on the field, or in the locker room. This past year he was a confidante for Jadeveon Clowney after the overall No. 1 draft pick underwent microfracture surgery. Cushing's bond with his teammates has never been stronger. He loves football and coming into work each day.
"I really appreciate his leadership, his toughness," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I also really appreciate the fact that he's changed. He's changed the way he works out. He's changed his body a little bit. He's lost a little bit of weight. He's moving better. He's learned how to do things to really take care of his body. Hopefully, that continues. Sometimes health is a little bit of luck and he's had a really good camp. We expect him to have a good year."
ILB Brian Cushing shows up to Texans Training Camp sporting a different look. Check out the many styles of Cush over the last 5 years.