*At the conclusion of June's minicamp, HoustonTexans.com huddled with the team's position coaches to get their respective thoughts on the projected starters. This is the eighth 'Coaches Commentary' in a series of articles that will go through the roster, position by position.
The projected 2013 starting linebackers for the Houston Texans' defense will see the return of 2011 Team MVP Brian Cushing. Darryl Sharpton is slated to start next to Cushing on the inside. At outside linebacker, 2012 starter Brooks Reed returns, and Whitney Mercilus will likely start at the weakside spot vacated by Connor Barwin. What follows are various coaches' thoughts on that foursome.
ILB Brian CushingMissed final 11 games of 2012 with knee injuryTeam captain in 2011 and 2012
"Obviously, Cush is a great player. An outstanding player. Anytime you lose a great player like we did in the middle of last season, it's hard to replace 'em. We had some guys that filled in and did a good job last year and won some games, but it's still a star player.
It's great to have him back. I think he's progressing well. He's going to be ready. He's been outstanding off the field by getting himself ready to play.
He's a great leader, too. He leads by example. We said when we first got here (in 2011), 'Hey, if you guys will play as hard as Cushing does, we'll win.' He was our example of how hard you play, what it takes to play at a high level and tremendous effort. And a lot of guys did copy him, and it helped us." –Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips
ILB Darryl Sharpton39 tackles, 1 INT in 7 games last seasonEntering 4th year with Texans
"Sharpton's good. He was back to work at OTAs this spring, which is very encouraging. We kind of were a little protective with him this spring, keeping him out of some special teams drills and stuff, but he's back to work.
I'm always looking forward to seeing Sharpton. I don't know if people really give him credit for it, to me he is an aggressive, electrifying type of player.
Every time he gets in his groove, he's had an injury, so I'm just hoping and I'm going to keep praying for him that he stays healthy because he can really help this team." –Head coach Gary Kubiak
OLB Brooks Reed5 career sacks in 4 playoff games42 tackles in 12 games during 2012
"What Brooks does is gives us somebody that has exceptional play strength, exceptional play speed. He's a mature, physical player. He's got a great body, he's got instincts. He plays with his hair on fire. He can shock block.
They tried to run lead plays on him, he sheds the guy in the hole and makes plays just like a great linebacker should. He has incredible get off, incredible twitch and burst.
Once again, I'll say this, his tenacity, his play speed, his play strength—he carries himself like a true pro. Unlimited possibilities with Brooks." -Linebackers coach Reggie Herring
OLB Whitney Mercilus6 sacks as a rookie in 201216 sacks at Illinois in 2011
"Whitney's a smart player. He's athletic. He's tough, physical, but he's a self-starter, high-motor guy that plays with ability. You want those high-motor guys, but you want them to have that kind of ability.
He can rush the passer – can get in the three-point stance and rush the passer and also be in the two-point and play the run and the pass from there. I think he's a really strong pass rusher. I think he fits in real well for us there; he's a natural.
He's got the skills that you look for in that area. He's a little different than Brooks Reed; he's more used to using his hands, and he's got a speed rush, he's got a power rush, and he's got a quick inside move. It's something we can certainly develop further, but he has some natural moves." –Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips