Through a month of the season, weakside linebacker Zac Diles is the Texans' second-leading tackler.
Through no fault of his own, his opportunities are about to shrink.
DilesMinus the suspended Brian Cushing for the team’s first four games, Houston used Diles as an every-down player. But now he’ll rank behind DeMeco Ryans and Cushing in passing situations, meaning he will leave the field when Brice McCain comes on as the extra defensive back in the nickel package.
“As a competitor it will be tough not to be able to go out there and play all the time now, but it’s a team game, you just have to know your role on the team and go out there and keep playing,” Diles said. “I won’t be playing 70 snaps, who knows how many I will be playing now.”
Soon after news of Cushing’s suspension broke, Gary Kubiak said Diles had become such a solid player on the weakside that the team wouldn’t ask him to flip to strongside, where he played before, to replace Cushing.
The team nearly had to go that route because of preseason injuries, but stuck to the plan. It was a compliment to Diles, who ranks as an established starter alongside to Pro Bowl caliber guys.
“Last year was my first year playing Will and I was definitely comfortable playing it,” Diles said. “I really grew into it, I liked it a lot. I could understand why they’d discuss moving me to Sam, but I think Will is better suited to me and my stature because I’m not the biggest linebacker in our scheme. It was a big boost he was able to leave me there and had the confidence in me to get the job done.”
Xavier Adibi filled in for Cushing and will now go to the bench.
Meanwhile Diles got good experience as a pass defender while working in the nickel with Ryans. Diles said in man coverage he couldn’t remember a tight end making a catch against him, at least not one for more than a short gain right in front of him.
“I believe I did pretty well when I was out there in that role,” he said. “I played that position [in the nickel] two years ago before I broke my leg.”