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The Rundown: The Offseason Look at the Houston Texans Inside Linebackers

A closer look at the Houston Texans inside linebackers heading into the 2016 season.

Inside Linebackers

Under Contract

Name Notes
Reshard Cliett A torn ACL during training camp derailed Cliett's rookie season. Gifted from a skill standpoint, Cliett could be a key player to watch during the 2016 training camp. 
Akeem Dent Starting 2 games this past season, Dent had 10 total tackles on defense. He also chipped in 8 on special teams, Dent is a low cost veteran that brings consistency to the field and locker room. 
Max Bullough Used mainly on special teams, Bullough was second on the team with 14 special teams tackles. Add in he can spot fill on the inside, Bullough is filling into his own with the Texans. 
Benardrick McKinney The top rookie of the 2015 draft class. McKinney had 58 total tackles and 7 tackles for loss. McKinney is beyon his years in his feel for the game and understanding what offenses are trying to do. 
Brian Cushing 110 tackles and starting all 17 games this season. It was Cushing's first full season with no injury issues since 2011. His presence was much needed and he was the calming factor in the middle of an attacking defense. 

One thing is for sure, Reshard Cliett brings the speed that the Texans wanted to add to the team. Cliett came into rookie mini-camp nursing a lower leg injury then sat out OTAs, but arrived to training camp in great shape. He turned heads at training camp and what Cliett brought to the team at the inside linebacker spot ignited some hope. He was injured during a non-contact special teams kick-off drill in coverage which resulted in a torn ACL. He had that repaired and a shoulder issue, too, over the course of the season. Cliett was at the facility running on the treadmill by the end of the season with little issue. He is expected to be ready by the time the off season arrives and he will be looked at as one to watch when the next off season arrives. 

Akeem Dent was re-signed during the Texans offseason. The move was regarded as an insurance policy until the young, recently drafted linebacker, Benardrick McKinney, was ready to take over. Dent is a good spot filler at linebacker, a solid two-down plugger however limited when he has to get sideline to sideline, but he also helps on special teams. What the future holds for Dent is yet to be seen but with a low cap hit and overall low 2016 salary, Dent could be here or not. 

Max Bullough shined on special teams and was a key part of all the coverage units. Twice in the past two seasons, he did not make the initial 53-man roster out of camp but ended up on the 53 man roster before season’s end. There is a consensus that Bullough could be the smartest linebacker of the group when it comes to understanding the game and what other teams are trying to do to the defense. Bullough has always been limited speed wise, making him a two-down base linebacker but there is a natural feel with him on the field playing the game. He might be the cheaper option for the Texans to trust moving forward having been in the system for two years making positive contributions. 

After Benardrick McKinney overcame his knee injury and an additional concussion issue, he was easily the top rookie out of the 2015 draft class. He meshed well with Brian Cushing and his football I.Q. on the field was not discussed enough. McKinney was a one-man wrecking crew against the screen game of opposing offenses and was a sure tackler inside the box. Add in some athleticism for his size and frame, McKinney was everything the Texans hoped for and more. As McKinney became more comfortable with the game, he started to play with confidence and became a key piece of the defense. His second year, more will be expected and an even bigger season could loom on the horizon for McKinney. 

Brian Cushing finally had an off-season that was not devoted to rehabbing an injury, which it paid off in 2015. It was his first 100+ tackle season since 2011 and he helped as the calming factor in the middle of an attacking Romeo Crennel defense. Paired well with McKinney, the two brought back the days of when Cushing was an upstart young player next to the veteran DeMeco Ryans. The roles are reversed now with Cushing being the key veteran of the defense and he was a solid player throughout the season. There is reason to believe that there will be another season of Cushing in 2016 and, with the way he looked this past season, another off-season in which Cushing is devoted to football will be good for the Texans defense. 

Free Agents

Names Notes
Justin Tuggle (RFA) Started 2 games at ILB, Tuggle has been a spot starter for the past two seasons for the Texans. Also another special teams contributor, Tuggle is an athletic player that operates well in space. Still developing as a player, he can give help on defense or special teams. In 2016 Tuggle had 13 total tackles with 5 on special teams. 

Tuggle was a spot starter over the past two seasons and was also a key special teams contributor. However, late in the season, the Texans opted to activate Max Bullough over Tuggle. Tuggle has the athleticism that the NFL looks for but he is more suited to be a nickel and dime linebacker who can operate in space. He has only been playing defense for four seasons, so there is some learning still happening for the veteran. The Texans opting for other options during game days does not bode well for the future of Tuggle in Houston, who is coming up on free agency. 

Offseason Overview 

Brian Cushing and Benardrick Mckinney should be the penciled in as starters for 2016, which is a good thing. Reshard Cliett should be able to make the roster if he can make it to the season healthy. The Texans have a decision to make with Max Bullough and Akeem Dent, who can essentially do the same thing when it comes to play on the field: both are two-down linebackers who contribute on special teams. The way the season shaped up for Justin Tuggle, his time in Houston may be coming to an end. 

The Texans want to get more athletic and if the team wants to find more youth and athleticism at the position, they could be in the market via the draft to add another piece. One of the three between Dent, Bullough, or Tuggle will be in Houston, but there will be competition brought in to try to infuse youth into the position. 

If anything, the Texans need to be working to groom a starter next to McKinney for when Cushing’s time is up with the Texans. Forward thinking is a necessity and with the two incumbent starters in place, it maybe the time to find one late in the draft, and at a lower rate to become that player.

 


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