HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans cut return specialist Trindon Holliday and signed linebacker Barrett Rudd on Wednesday in the wake of Brian Cushing's season-ending injury.
Cushing tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Monday night's 23-17 win over the New York Jets. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Ruud was a second-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2005. He was cut by New Orleans on Monday.
The Texans (5-0) play Green Bay (2-3) on Sunday night.
The 5-foot-5 Holliday won a roster spot after returning three kicks (two punts and a kickoff) for touchdowns in the preseason. That didn't translate to the regular season: Houston ranks last in kickoff return average (17.6 yards) and 16th in punt return average (9.2 yards.
Coach Gary Kubiak didn't blame Holliday for the return issues. The Texans were also penalized on three kick returns on Monday night.
"By no means is it a statement or anything about what we thought of Trindon," Kubiak said. "We have not been playing up to par on special teams, giving returners the opportunity. That had nothing to do with it. You never know, our paths may cross again. But we wish him the best. He did a good job, he earned his way onto this team, but we had to make a tough decision."
Kubiak said fourth-round draft pick Keshawn Martin will take over punt and kickoff return duties, an area where he excelled at Michigan State. The 5-11, 190-pound Martin ranks second in school history in punt return yards (659), eighth in kickoff return yards (1,100) and 10th in all-purpose yards (4,013).
Martin has been working "heavily" on returning kicks for the past month, Kubiak said, and now he can make that his sole focus, with receiver Lestar Jean healthy again. Jean has missed the last two games following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last month.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," Kubiak said of Martin. "In college, he was excellent at doing it. But we were working with four receivers for a period of time, with Lestar being out. So I was concerned, putting too much on his plate.
"If I'd thrown that (handling returns) on him, I just felt like I was doing too much to him too early," Kubiak said. "He's made a lot of progress, but the fact that Lestar's back and will be back, now we have five healthy receivers. So I feel like we can give Keshawn a little bit more."
Kubiak will also consider backup running back Justin Forsett and starting safety Danieal Manning, who also have experience returning kicks.
The more immediate concern is filling Cushing's role. The 2009 first-round draft pick was not only the team's leading tackler this season (43), he was also one of the emotional leaders and most respected players in the locker room.
Tim Dobbins replaced Cushing on Monday night, and Kubiak reiterated on Wednesday that Dobbins is the best option to step into Cushing's spot. Dobbins played his first four NFL seasons with San Diego, including one season under Wade Phillips, now the Texans' defensive coordinator.
"It's a challenge for our team, that's what this is," Kubiak said. "We know Dobbins is going to go in there and play well, and every player in our locker room is going to take on a little bit more responsibility. So we're going to spread that responsibility around, everybody's going to take a little bit bigger piece of it, and we've got to respond."
Ruud started 68 games for Tampa Bay between 2005-10. He started nine games for Tennessee last season, making 57 tackles and deflecting three passes. He played in three games for the Saints before he was released on Monday.
Kubiak expects Ruud to learn Phillips' defense quickly.
"He's a veteran who's been in some systems somewhat similar to what we do," Kubiak said. "It gives us a little bit of flexibility going into game day."
Notes: Kubiak said RB Ben Tate (toe) practiced on Wednesday and is expected to play on Sunday. Tate sat out Monday night's game. ... S Quintin Demps (left forearm fracture) sat out Wednesday's workout. ... The Texans also signed G Cody White off the practice squad. The 603, 301-pound White is an undrafted rookie out of Illinois State.