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The Texans have decided to part ways with two key players and locker room guys. The first, MLB DeMeco Ryans, was shipped off to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth-round pick.
The other guy is the focal point of these slides—Mario Williams.
Ignoring Williams' injury, he looked like a dominant 3-4 OLB and was very productive in the new scheme.
Over the five games he played in 2011, he had five sacks. I'm no mathematician, but even I can see that that is one sack per game. With that type of production missing, who will step up to replace him?
Look no further than the trio of Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed. Cushing will be the most vocal leader of the group. He studied under Ryans, who was an all-or-nothing player that left his heart on the field.
Cushing will step up for his former teammate and will lead by example. Anyone who has watched him play knows that he is a relentless, bloodthirsty linebacker that hunts down ball-carriers like a young Ray Lewis.
Cushing's tenacity is evidenced on every snap he plays. He will be the spark plug that rookies look to when they are tired and have to dig deep.
Watt is No. 2 on the list of new leaders.
He is a physical freak that doesn't take anything for granted. Whether he is playing against a stud left tackle like the Tennessee Titans' Michael Roos, or if it is some backup that has no business being on an NFL field, Watt is a technician.
He should have been the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller is definitely a fair recipient.
The last is Brooks Reed.
Though he faltered down the stretch, Reed looks like he could be an impact starter. He only tallied six sacks, but given a full offseason with starting reps, he will get better.
If Reed can improve his sack numbers this year, it will go a long way toward filling the production that Williams and Ryan accounted for when healthy.