Too much has been made, I believe, of what the Texans lost in the leadership department on defense when they dealt inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia.
While Ryans was an excellent leader for the group in his six seasons, the Texans move forward with a defensive roster loaded with productive players: J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith on the line; Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed at linebacker; Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning and Glover Quin in the secondary.
There is a lot of positional leadership on that list, and enough of it will emerge as overall leaders to offset Ryans.
After the trade, when Ryans spent some time training in Nashville, he told me Cushing is the guy who should, and will, take on more of a leadership mantle now.
“He’s the guy in the middle, he’s the guy flying all around making plays, and in my opinion he’s the best middle linebacker in the game,” he said.
Cushing’s not going to change his football personality. But he said, discussing the Texans without Ryans, that he does expect to take on more of a leadership role.
“I think so,” he said. “And that’s completely fine with me. I really did learn under DeMeco. I played without him when he had the torn Achilles, and last year I was out there on third down and he was first- and second-down linebacker. A lot of times I was out there alone with just the guys.
“I feel that last year really prepped me for a leadership role. Leaning from a guy like him for three years, he kind of just groomed me. It wasn’t so much intentional. It’s just the kind of player he is, he gives you a leadership sense, he has a certain character about him. He got me ready.”
If there is an issue with the Texans' defense this season, I don’t expect it’s going to be leadership.