Brian Cushing, who was tied for fifth in the league with 134 tackles (with Ray Lewis), won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award earlier today in a landslide over safety Jairus Byrd of the Bills.
The 15th overall selection out of USC received 39 of the 50 votes sent in by a panel of sports reporters and broadcasters. Cushing (pictured chasing down Tom Brady on Sunday) is the second Texans linebacker to win the award — DeMeco Ryans earned it in '06.
"I'm just a much smarter football player," Cushing told the Associated Press. "I'm much more advanced than I was this time last year and it was just a good way to start out a career. I'm happy about how everything turned out this year. Of course the playoffs would have been nice, but now we know what we have to do for next season."
Cushing, who played his high school ball at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, also recorded five sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in helping the Texans (9-7) to their first winning season in their eight-year existence. He had an INT, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed in a 28-17 win at Cincinnati in Week 6.
Said Texans coach Gary Kubiak: "He brought another element to our football team: his love for the game, his passion, his play, playing beat up, all these things. He played like a 10-year vet from the day he stepped on the field. Our players respect what he does with the game and how he goes about his business. We're very fortunate to have him and we're going to have him here for a long, long time. What a year. He was exceptional."
Added Ryans: "Brian is a special player. I saw when he first stepped on the field that he could be a special player for us. Just to watch him grow week in and week out, I'm just so proud of him. He's like my little brother out there. I'm always out there talking to him about how we can be great as a unit. I say it to him every week, 'Let's go out and be great and be the best linebackers in the league' and that's our motto and that's our goal."
Indeed, Cushing and Ryans are the only set of linebacker teammates who were selected to the Pro Bowl (albeit as backups).
Cushing is the seventh straight linebacker to win the award and the ninth in 10 years (with the lone exception being Julius Peppers in 2002).
Clay Matthews, Cushing's USC teammate who was drafted 11 spots behind him by the Packers and recorded 10 sacks this season, earned three votes to finish third. Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo of the Redskins (11 sacks) finished fourth with two votes.