With a number of offseason image problems plaguing the NFL from the Ben Roethlisberger scandal to the collective bargaining agreement being in limbo, the last thing that the league wanted was one its young up-and-coming stars to test positive for a banned substance. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened when Houston Texans linebacker and 2009 Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing was officially suspended for the first four games in the 2010 season after testing positive for a non-steroidal banned substance. It was revealed that Cushing appealed the failed test in February, but the NFL found that the test was legit and went ahead with the announcement to suspend Cushing.
Many critics out there may be wagging their fingers saying ‘I told you so’ as the rumors about performance enhancing drugs were quite abundant when Cushing was preparing for the 2009 NFL Draft. Even back to his high school days many had questioned how the youngster got so big, so fast, and so strong as Peter King points out in his weekly column at Sport Illustrated in this link. King’s feelings are quite strong on the matter feeling that since the positive test clearly took place during his season that earned his Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Cushing should be stripped of that title. There is precedence for this as far as the league is concerned when Jason Taylor won the Defensive Player of the Year award over Shawne Merriman who had been suspended for four games during the season for a positive test of his own.
As for the Texans, they will have the most trouble dealing with this blow to their defense with some early schedule difficulty on tap for the team. Houston faces the Indianapolis Colts in the first game of the season followed by tilts with the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, and Oakland Raiders. After such a promising 2009 when the Texans finally eclipsed the .500 mark with a 9-7 record for the first time in franchise history, the team has high hopes for 2010. Cushing will be tough to replace in that linebacking corps where his backup Kevin Bentley will take over the starting role during the suspension.
With a stellar young defensive core in Houston, the Texans appeared poised to make some noise in the AFC South in 2010 with Mario Williams pressuring the quarterback and linebackers Cushing and DeMeco Ryans roaming sideline to sideline to make tackles. Unfortunately that potential run may be a bit more difficult thanks to this speed bump for the team in the early weeks of the season. Don’t look for the Texans to wallow in self pity however as they have one of the most exciting offenses in the league to help pick up the slack in the early going if necessary.