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Houston LB Cushing is AP top defensive rookie

 FILE - This is a Jan. 3, 2010, file photo showing Houston Texans' Brian Cushing (56) pressuring New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, du...

Defensive Rookie Football

FILE - This is a Jan. 3, 2010, file photo showing Houston Texans' Brian Cushing (56) pressuring New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, du...

Houston Texans tackling machine Brian Cushing was named The Associated Press 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year on Tuesday.
Cushing was an easy winner in balloting by a U.S. nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. Cushing received 39 votes, easily beating Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who had six, and became the second Texans linebacker in four seasons to win the award, after DeMeco Ryans in 2006.
"I'm just a much smarter football player," Cushing said. "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."
This season, Cushing had 133 tackles, according to the Texans, who went 9-7, their first winning record.
Overall, he had five sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles, numbers that normally belong to a seasoned veteran.
Which is exactly how the 22-year-old Cushing played.
"He brought another element to our football team: His love for the game, his passion, his play, playing beat up, all these things," coach Gary Kubiak said. "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."
Cushing was taken 15th overall in the NFL draft last April, out of the University of Southern California.