In his short career with the Texans, Tim Dobbins has been a difference-maker. Now, he can make a difference in a different way.
The inside linebacker will see his reps increase on defense with the loss of Brian Cushing to injury. Dobbins has had backup duty on defense since joining the Texans before the 2011 season, contributing primarily on special teams. He has been so vital in that capacity that his teammates elected him special teams captain before this season, and he led the NFL in special teams tackles heading into Monday's victory at New York.
Taking over for Cushing as the starting Mo linebacker is a new challenge altogether.
"I'm not him, of course, but I will try to do my best to fill in his shoes," Dobbins said on Wednesday. "It's a great system that we have here. I've been running it for years, and I know a little bit about the ins and outs of our system."
Dobbins signed with Houston after spending the first five years of his career with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was Dobbins' first defensive coordinator in the NFL, when he was drafted by San Diego out of Iowa State in 2006.
"He's been in this league awhile," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's very much on top of what Wade wants to do. He can make all the calls for us if we want him to do that. He's capable of doing that."
The elevation of Dobbins was no surprise to his defensive teammates, who immediately saw a difference in his demeanor in the Wednesday linebackers meeting.
"I got Dobbins sitting next to me, and I was trying to fool around with Dobbins but he wouldn't look at me," outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "He was locked in and taking notes, so it's a little different already. Obviously, we all have to move forward and step up (without Cushing). I think we'll be fine."
When Dobbins hit the field with the "Bulls on Parade" last season, his most memorable play was a stonewalling of Ravens running back Ray Rice on fourth-and-goal in the playoff loss at Baltimore. Dobbins popped Rice high with some help from outside linebacker Brooks Reed coming from below. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring said Dobbins "possesses a knockout punch," and that's a part of his game in which Dobbins takes great pride.
"It's definitely something good to have," Dobbins said. "Obviously, if you get the opportunity to hit a running back or receiver, you don't want them to fall forward. You want them to fall backwards, because it comes down to the inches."
On Thursday, Kubiak said Dobbins' role on special teams might change depending on how much he'll play on defense. Either way, Kubiak is confident in the seven-year pro.
"The fact that our team named him the special teams captain this year would tell you how much the team thinks of him," Kubiak said. "It's an opportunity in his career, and he's worked hard for it. I know he's looking forward to it."
Dobbins plans on sticking to the basics, keeping it simple and getting ready the same way he always does.
"Every week, I prepare that I'm going to start," Dobbins said. "You never know if one of the guys will go down, so I practice both positions so I'm ready to play either one of them."