Texans sign P Donnie Jones


HOUSTON – The Houston Texans have signed unrestricted free agent P Donnie Jones, it was announced today. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Jones ranks fourth all-time among NFL punters with a 45.3-yard gross average and a 38.8 net average in eight NFL seasons. The former LSU punter was selected by Seattle in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He played in seven games with the Seahawks in 2004 before serving as the Miami Dolphins’ punter from 2005-06. Jones spent the last five seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

Jones’ 50.0 gross average in 2008 led the NFL and was the highest gross average since 1940 at the time. He owns two of the top nine single-season net punting averages in NFL history, ranking fourth with a 41.7 average in 2009 and ninth with a 41.1 average in 2008. Jones earned second team All-Pro recognition in 2008 and 2009 and has placed 198 of his 648 career punts inside the 20-yard line.

Texans hope for 2nd-year surge from Dickerson, others

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak often says that players make their biggest improvements between their first and second NFL seasons.

It’s no surprise, then, that when asked about which players he’s most eager to see on the field this fall, Kubiak rattled off the names of three rookies from 2010.

“I would’ve loved to see have an offseason,” he said. “I would’ve loved to see (Trindon) Holliday have an offseason; he missed a whole year. (Ben) Tate, Tate really hasn’t played football in two years. Usually, players like that can make huge jumps from year one to two and help your team a great deal, and I think in a lot of ways we’re starting over a little bit. It’s not their fault, it’s not our fault. It’s just the way it’s worked out, so we’ll see how disciplined they’ve been.”

Tate and Holliday are coming off season-ending injuries, and Dickerson played sparingly as a rookie as he transitioned from tight end to wide receiver. Because of the lockout, the Texans weren’t able to monitor their progress at OTAs and mini-camp like they would in a typical offseason.

Dickerson is a hot topic among Texans fans because of his size (6-1, 220), speed (4.47 40-yard dash), athleticism (43.5-inch vertical) and potential that he flashed in the preseason (see: ). But the seventh-round draft pick from Pittsburgh remains a work in progress heading into his second season.

“He’s got to step to the table in a lot of areas, particularly in special teams,” Texans wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey said. “He’ll play in all aspects of special teams for us, and he’s got to try to get in to be that third or fourth receiver. At worst, can be the fourth receiver for us or fifth receiver, but he’s got to grow up now.

“He’s got size. He’s got playing strength. He’s got speed, and now he has to be a little bit more nifty and understand the things that we want him to do and be able to function in those areas and be productive. He has to be on point to help this football team in any way he can. (That) starts with special teams, and then in the three- and four-wide receiver sets, he’s got to be able to go in and play anywhere we ask him to play. When the coverage is away from him and on those other guys, he’s got to step up and make some plays for us.”

Dickerson spent much of his practice time on the scout team last season. Kirksey thinks it helped him “tremendously” to be able to watch and learn from perennial All-Pro .

“There were days where you thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s got it,’” Kirksey said. “At the same time, he wasn’t very consistent at times. He had a whole year to watch Andre; now, he’s got to put the time in. He’s got to put the film work in. The biggest thing with him because of his size, trying to learn that position – like I said, he’s got the speed. Now, he’s just got to get the finesse part of it down and understand getting in and out of his breaks.”

The Texans had high hopes for Tate last season as a second-round pick out of Auburn. He was expected to compete for immediate playing time at running back, but he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the first preseason game.

went on to lead the league in rushing, and averaged 6.3 yards per carry as Foster’s backup. Tate was medically cleared in February, but it’s unclear what his role will be in a backfield that also includes .

“I just hope that Ben can come out and compete with the three guys that we have,” running backs coach Chick Harris said. “Ben hasn’t been in a regular-season game yet. Ben kind of has a taste of what it’s like, but he hasn’t been in it yet. He is confident that he’s going to be ready and going to bring something to the table. I’ll be confident when I see it. I’m sure he’s going to do the right things to make it a good competition in the backfield.

“I just can’t wait because we know he’s a tough guy. We know he has speed. We know he had talent before we drafted him. We’re expecting him to go out and compete for a position and show what he has and how he fits. That’s what you have to do: see how you fit and what you can get as far as playing time and then make it happen.”

Holliday, a sixth-round pick from LSU, was drafted as a potential game-changer at kick returner. He showed flashes of his blazing speed in training camp before a hand injury ended his rookie season in August.

“If I lived in a perfect world, hopefully he’d be our kickoff returner and would be our punt returner, and/or one of ‘em being both or Trindon doing both,” special teams coordinator Joe Marciano recently told SportsRadio 610. “But, you know, we may not have that luxury. And the depth chart is a long list. It’s open competition.”

When that competition starts remains to be seen. But Texans coaches certainly expect Dickerson, Tate and Holliday to be in the thick of it at their respective positions.

Cushing primed for playmaking role at inside linebacker

For all the talk about this offseason, another key Texans defensive player who’s switching positions seems to be getting overlooked.

His name is .

The 2009 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year will be the Mike linebacker, inside on the strongside, in the Texans’ 3-4. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring said he thinks that Cushing (6-3, 263) has an “unlimited” ceiling at the position.

“I’ve always dreamed of a Mike linebacker with his stature, his physical stature,” Herring said. “His demeanor is second to none as far as the way he plays on film. He tries to hurt people when he tackles. He’s relentless in his effort. He’s a big, physical guy. He’s going to line up to the tight end side and alls he’s got to come do is run inside-out to the football and control that inside hard-nose run game, and I think he’s a physical matchup for any guard or fullback leading on him.

“If you have instincts and you’re a football player, you can play inside linebacker in our scheme. And that’s what he has. He has instincts, he has size, he can run and hit. And we hopefully now instead of having him outside, we’ll have him inside where he can be in position to make more plays.”

Cushing was a 4-3 outside linebacker in his first two NFL seasons. Playing on the strongside, he led the Texans with 133 tackles as a rookie along with four interceptions and four sacks. He had 76 tackles last season after missing the first four games due to suspension.

The Texans think he’ll be just as productive, if not more, from inside in the 3-4.

“That’s part of putting him in the middle is so he can make a lot of plays,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “You’ve got a chance to make over 100 tackles from the inside, and with his abilities, we think he can be able to make that. When you put a guy on the side, one side or the other, then they can run away from him. If he’s in the middle, can’t run away from him.”

Phillips likes Cushing’s aggressive demeanor, and he isn’t concerned about a perceived drop-off in Cushing’s play last season.

“I saw the same things in him last year that I saw in his rookie year, which were he is talented, he can run, he’s tough, very physical, he’s athletic,” Phillips said. “All the things you want.”

Cushing will line up next to , who’s moving from the Mike position in the 4-3 to the Mo weak inside position in the 3-4. Ryans and Cushing thrived off one another’s play in 2009, when both made the Pro Bowl and finished as the Texans’ two leading tacklers. They played together for only one-and-a-half games in 2010 before Ryans suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 6.

“The unique part about a 3-4 is you’ve got two guys inside that can make a lot of plays, so it gives you a chance to get a playmaker in a spot where he can make plays,” Phillips said.

Herring is quick to point out that Bradie James led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles in each of the last four seasons from Cushing’s Mike position, and that he led all NFL inside linebackers with eight sacks in 2008.

“We’re going to be bringing him up a lot inside on blitzes,” Herring said of Cushing. “DeMeco as well. Both of them ought to be battling for the leading tackler on the team and the league, and that’s going to be our mentality.

“We feel like (Cushing) rushes the passer actually more effectively, better, up inside with his power and burst and explosion. (He) can present more problems with pass rushing inside.”

Phillips said that Cushing will be doing plenty of that from his new position.

“Oh, yeah,” Phillips said. “(Herring) probably told you, Bradie James had eight sacks one year from the inside. But I just think he’s going to be able to make so many more plays and interceptions and things like that. Putting him in the middle is a key place for him.”