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On Clowney's pitch count, OLB rotation and replacing Cushing

HOUSTON -- In his first game back since tearing his meniscus, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was kept on a pitch count.

Clowney played 32 snaps, or 52 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

What Texans coach Bill O'Brien saw in those 32 snaps was a player who gave a lot of effort, who had what O'Brien called a "decent" game and who is still working on improving his conditioning to get back into football shape.

"He got off on the ball well," O'Brien said. "He had good explosion off the ball. He had good assignments, he was good on his assignments. I think it’s going to be a work in progress as far as him getting back into shape. There’s a difference between running around the track on field one out there and having to play in a football game, so he’ll continue to work on that after practice, in the mornings, trying to get his conditioning level back to where it needs to be."

O'Brien said Clowney's snaps should increase, but he's not yet at the point where he'll play 80 snaps in a game.

There was a lot of linebacker talk Monday because of Clowney's return and inside linebacker Brian Cushing missing Sunday's game in Tennessee. A few notes from Monday:

  • O'Brien was pleased with the play of his inside linebackers in Cushing's absence. In particular, his absence increased the playing time of Akeem Dent and Mike Mohamed. "I thought those guys stepped up and played well," O'Brien said. "I think Akeem Dent played a good football game. Mike Mohamed played a good football game. Tug (Justin Tuggle) played a good football game. Mohamed was the one who tracked down that one punt return and then Dent made a few plays on the kickoff."

  • Whitney Mercilus had more snaps than any other linebacker with 46. That accounted for 75 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. As outside linebackers alone went, Clowney had 32 and Brooks Reed had only 20. Reed is dealing with a groin injury he suffered during the Texans' Thursday night game against the Indianapolis Colts.

  • O'Brien's thoughts on the OLB rotation: "I think you do it by package. We have four or five different defensive packages, a couple of base defense packages, a couple of nickel packages, a dime package, so that way you can kind of plug them in and understand how they’re going to be used throughout the game. ... The thing that’s been good about the linebacker play is when guys have been injured that the next guys have stepped up and played pretty decent. So hopefully that continues."

  • Cushing said he thought he could have played Sunday. Later in his interview he said the training staff thought it was best for him to rest. "I want to play and it hurts every time I don’t," he said. "But you get a little bit older and you have to be a little bit more patient, you have to be a little bit smarter about how you approach the game and what level you’re playing the level at. You want to be as close to 100 percent as you can." He added that the last time he's been 100 percent was probably before he started playing in the NFL.