HOUSTON -- Linebacker Brian Cushing never had dealt with a major injury before and wasn't sure how he'd handle missing Houston's final 11 games after knee surgery last season.
Exactly a week later, he found motivation when his son, Cayden, was born. When his rehabilitation got tough, his first thought was the little boy who was born Oct. 15.
"I got a lot more to prove now," Cushing said. "I've got a little boy that's never seen me play football before. So, obviously, I want to play for a lot of years and show him who his dad is."
Cushing was back on the field for Houston's first day of training camp Friday and said he feels great. The Texans are taking it slow with Cushing, but they hope he returns as the player he was before the injury when he finished with 114 tackles and four sacks in 2011.
"I'm going to ease myself back into it and we've got a pretty good plan about how to go about this and to be smart," Cushing said. "It's a long camp and the most important thing is really just to be 100 percent when we come out of it."
The Texans started 5-0 last season behind a defense that was dominant with both Cushing and defensive player of the year J.J. Watt leading the way. Though Houston went on to finish 12-4 and win its second straight AFC South title, some thought the unit never played as well as it did with Cushing on the field.
"We missed him when he was out," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We did a satisfactory job without him, but anytime you lose a great player it's going to hurt you some. And we're glad to have him back."
Cushing wasn't sure if the defense suffered without him last season, but knows that his return will certainly be a boost. Beyond Cushing, the Texans don't have a ton of experience among their linebackers.
"I definitely think I can help the defense and I want to be back," Cushing said. "I think I add a lot to this team, personally. But, I'm not sure if it's a direct correlation, but all I know is I think we'll be a better team when I'm back. That's just the kind of confidence I have and I think that I can bring a lot to this team."
Coach Gary Kubiak broke into a huge grin on Friday when asked how nice it was to hear Cushing barking out commands to the rest of the defense again. Cushing, who was the defensive rookie of the year in 2009, has had more than 110 tackles in the two seasons where he played each game.
His other abbreviated season came when he was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances and finished with 76 tackles.
"He's the emotional leader of this team," Kubiak said. "What he went through last year and having to watch us play for the next three months was very difficult on him. He's got some ground to make up; he knows that. But I'm looking forward to watching him do it because I know he's on a mission."
He's eager to share his experience with Houston's young linebackers, especially rookie third-round pick Sam Montgomery, to help them navigate the often confusing world of the NFL.
"It's my fifth year and I've been through a good amount of football and I've seen a lot of things in the NFL, even off the field there's a lot of things I can help them with," Cushing said. "As a rookie, you really don't know much. You think you know everything but it's a crazy process, it's a crazy business. There are a lot of things you never would expect and they happen."