The Texans are planning for life without Brian Cushing, the once-and-for-all defensive rookie of the year last season.
Cushing, suspended for four games for testing positive for a banned substance, has denied taking human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, while offering no clear explanation for why it was found in his system in a league test in September. The controversial fertility drug can boost testosterone levels and, some believe, slow aging and boost weight loss. He appealed, losing the decision last week, when the NFL announced the decision.
"The question of how it got into my body is still unclear," he said Thursday in his first public comments on the suspension.
Some medical conditions can cause the level of hCG to increase in amounts that are detectable. The most controversial use of hCG is a masking agent for steroids. It jumpstarts testosterone in the body during or after a cycle of steroid use.
HCG also can be produced in the pituitary gland in men and women.
While the Texans knew of what management called "an issue," the team wasn't aware of Cushing's exact violation and therefore hadn't planned for life without him at outside linebacker for one-fourth of the season. They scrambled to bring back veteran Danny Clark, an unrestricted free agent who started 11 games for the Giants in 2009, as a means of filling the void at the position.
Behind Mario Williams at defensive end and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, Cushing was arguably the biggest impact player on the Texans' defense in 2009. Whether he'll be on that same level in the 12 regular-season games for which he's eligible to participate this season is likely to help decide if the Texans finally fit into the AFC playoff picture.
Cushing said Thursday that once he returns, he'll be the same player and that the positive test will "not change our goal. That's not going to change our achievements. We're going full speed ahead toward a championship."
Xavier Adibi, a third-year weak-side 'backer, is moving to the strong side and will compete with Clark to see who will fill Cushing's spot. Between now and then, many other questions are likely to go unanswered.