There are many traits that make 2009 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing a successful football player. His toughness -- both physical and mental -- ranks at or near the top of the list.
Cushing missed the entire preseason with a knee injury, not getting a single exhibition-game rep before the Texans' regular-season opener against the Jets. He played through foot, rib, shoulder and hand injuries during the regular season. Beginning in Week 4 against Oakland, Cushing's name was on the injury report every week.
But despite practicing sparingly over the second half of the season, Cushing didn't miss a single game. In fact, he hardly even missed a snap after Week 1.
Now that the season is done, Cushing still won't say that the injuries affected him much during the season.
"It's just football," he said at today's press conference at Reliant Stadium. "I'm alright; I really am. Nothing serious. Nothing that requires surgery. Just some minor stuff. That's why you play the game, that's why every single Sunday, it's going to be rough. On every Monday, it's going to be worse waking up that next day. It's all about love. That's why I do it. There is no question I was banged up, but so was the whole team. It's just one of those things you have to fight through."
General manager Rick Smith, seated next to Cushing at the press conference, said that Cushing's ability to produce at such a high level without the practice reps was the most surprising thing about his rookie season.
"That's just impressive -- you just don't see a rookie come into this league (doing that)," Smith said. "That was probably the most impressive thing other than the physical battles that he battled. The average person has no idea what he put his body through to sacrifice and play every week. Other than that, I think the most impressive thing is the fact that he was able to mentally be able to play at the level where he was able to do it."
Back in April, many draft pundits floated around durability questions about Cushing. Consider those questions answered.
"I think the people that really mattered knew how durable I was," Cushing said. "It doesn't really mean anything now, besides the fact that I was able to give it up for the team every single week. I am here now and played all 16. I had two injuries in college, and I don't know anyone that hasn't. It's just one of those things that is pre-draft talk. The biggest thing is that I finished the year and it was a successful year."