Health concerns mount for first-place Texans

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012
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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans are hurting heading into the stretch run.

The Texans (10-1) are preparing for Sunday's game at Tennessee (4-7) with a handful of worrisome injuries, most of them in the linebacking corps.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that outside linebacker Brooks Reed is going to miss time with a "significant" groin injury suffered in the Texans' 34-31 overtime win in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Reed, a second-round pick in 2011, has 15 solo tackles and 2½ sacks this season.

Houston was already short-handed at linebacker after losing Brian Cushing for the season to a torn left knee ligament in the Oct. 8 win against the New York Jets. Tim Dobbins, who took Cushing's role, hurt his left shoulder against Chicago, though he was back on the field Monday.

Kubiak says linebacker Bradie James is day-to-day with a hamstring injury, and the depleted depth chart creates opportunities for rookie Whitney Mercilus and 2011 undrafted free agent Bryan Braman, who've both played mostly on special teams.

Mercilus, the 26th overall pick, led the nation in sacks last season at Illinois (16) and he's played well in the last four games, recording nine solo tackles and three sacks. He'll move into Connor Barwin's starting spot on the weak side, and Barwin will move into Reed's position on the strong side.

"I'm definitely ready for it, I've been coached up and all that," Mercilus said. "It's what I've been preparing for, what I've been training for, and the time has come now for me to step up and show the coaches that I've taken all the coaching and I'm ready to play."

Kubiak said Braman will see action at both outside positions on Sunday. Braman has a solo tackle in each of the last two games and had four in Houston's 38-14 win over Tennessee in Week 4. He feels a higher level of responsibility this week.

"Because I don't get a lot of playing time on defense in the first place, there are a lot of things fundamentally and mentally that I do need to go through, things I don't see as much as the other players do," Braman said. "It's definitely something I'm going to be working on a lot, making sure I'm fundamentally sound and knowing exactly what I'm supposed to do in every situation I'll face."

Lead cornerback Johnathan Joseph and backup running back Ben Tate worked out with trainers on Monday as they recover from hamstring injuries. Tate has missed the last four games, but is confident he'll be ready to play in Nashville.