- Associated Press - Thursday, August 26, 2010

HOUSTON (AP) - It’s become a running joke at Houston Texans’ training camp: Who will be the next linebacker to go down with an injury?

With the start of the regular season less than three weeks away, coach Gary Kubiak isn’t doing much laughing.

The Texans need to find a replacement for Brian Cushing, who’s suspended for the first four games for testing positive for a banned substance. The two players pegged as front-runners to take his spot _ Xavier Adibi and Danny Clark _ have been hurt during training camp, and Kubiak has given no timetable for their returns.

Adibi (groin) and Clark (knee) ran conditioning drills on Wednesday.

Rookie Darryl Sharpton, another possibility to fill in for Cushing, sprained his knee in Saturday’s 38-20 loss to New Orleans and was limited in Wednesday’s practice.

Kevin Bentley, who’s played mostly special teams in two seasons in Houston, played Cushing’s position in practice on Wednesday. He turned his ankle in the New Orleans game.

“We all joke about it now, ‘cause we’re all in the training room together,” said All-Pro middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who’s stayed healthy during camp.

Kubiak said another option _ and one he’d rather avoid _ is moving 2009 starter Zac Diles from the weak-side position to Cushing’s spot, and moving Bentley or Sharpton into Diles’ role.

Kubiak doesn’t anticipate the Texans signing a free agent to fix the problem, at least for now. Houston plays Dallas on Saturday, and Kubiak plans to play his starters for three quarters.

“We’re at a point right now where it’s tough to bring somebody off the street and throw them in a game,” he said. “We’ve just got to work through the problem. It may be a thought when we go into next week, but the way we’re approaching this game is basically with our starters. We’ve just got to push through and make it work.”

Sharpton seems to be up to the task. The 5-foot-11 Sharpton was Houston’s fourth-round draft pick out of Miami, and he’s impressed both teammates and coaches.

“He’s in the mix right now,” Kubiak said. “He’s made statements since he’s been out here in camp.”

Sharpton started 30 games at Miami _ 18 at middle linebacker, nine at strong side and three at weak side. With Ryans‘ mentoring, Sharpton has tried to learn how to play all three spots at the pro level.

“You never know what’s going to happen, where they might need to plug you in,” Sharpton said. “When they do, when your number is called, there can’t be any drop-off.”

Despite the alarming number of injuries, Ryans thinks the Texans have more depth in the linebacking group than they’ve had in his four seasons. Diles started 14 games last season and Bentley started the last seven games in 2008 after Diles broke his leg.

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