HOUSTON – Brian Cushing insists he hasn't lost a step. The Texans will find out soon enough.
The Houston linebacker returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since his four-game drug suspension, saying he's eager to play again after feeling "helpless" at times watching his teammates on the field.
Coach Gary Kubiak said Cushing will play for the Texans (3-1) against the New York Giants (2-2) on Sunday.
Cushing said he'll use the rest of the week to sharpen his football techniques and relearn Houston's defensive calls and schemes.
"I'm back," Cushing said. "It's going to be the same old (No.) 56 running around. It's what I do. I take a lot of pride in playing football, and I want to be the best at it. Hopefully, I cannot skip a beat, come in Week 5, and be the player I'd be in Week 1."
Kubiak said he's concerned that Cushing is about 250 real-game snaps behind the other defensive starters. But Cushing has proven before that he can catch up in a hurry after missing practice time. He sat out every preseason game last year, then led the team in tackles in its first four regular-season games.
"He's always handled himself well with the team, he's always been very accountable in his preparation and his work," Kubiak said. "It's not like you have a player who we're fighting to get in here and work and take care of his business. This guy is working all the time, so that's not a problem."
Cushing wasn't shy about sharing what he did in his month away from the team.
Videos posted on YouTube in recent weeks show Cushing working out in a New Jersey gym, with hard-rock music playing in the background. Cushing turns over a giant tire, bench-presses a 347-pound barbell, dead-lifts weights attached to heavy chains and pushes a weighted sled.
Cushing said he worked out about 3-4 hours a day during his suspension, including physical therapy and studying film of Texans' games. He took Sundays off, and decided not to watch the live broadcasts of Houston's games after the opening win over Indianapolis.
"I couldn't really watch the games anymore, just from the fact of not being able to be out there and not being able to help the team," he said. "It's kind of a helpless feeling. I played golf, and tried to get my mind off it. But I was on my cell phone every single second, checking the score updates."
Cushing was suspended in May after testing positive for HCG, a drug on the league's list of banned substance. Cushing says he never took the drug, which can be used to restart testosterone production after a steroid cycle, and has no idea how it got into his body.
He said during training camp that he has a unique medical condition — "overtrained athlete syndrome" — that led to the positive test. Cushing said the syndrome can trigger hormonal spikes after breaks in training. The NFL denied on appeal based on the argument.
Cushing would not address questions about his medical condition on Wednesday, other than to say he was relieved to finally have the suspension behind him.
"It's peace of mind," Cushing said. "The last two weeks, it was getting to me a little bit. I was a little on edge. Now, I'm back to doing what I do, and it's a really mind-clearing kind of feeling. Now, I'm home."
Cushing said he's talked to Texans left tackle Duane Brown, who was suspended for four games on Sept. 21 for also violating the NFL's banned substance policy. Brown is eligible to return for the Texans' Nov. 1 game at Indianapolis.
"I just reached out to him and said if he had any questions, let me know," Cushing said. "I know what he's going through. I gave him some positive encouragement, told him to keep his head up and time will pass, and he'll be back on the field again."
Cushing was Houston's first-round draft pick in 2009. He had 133 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions last season to win The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He retained the honor after a revote following his suspension.
He's motivated now to show skeptics that his performance level hasn't tailed off.
"I feel like I have something to prove every time I step on the field," he said. "I'm sure some people will be looking for drop-offs and stuff like that, but nothing like that is going to happen. Come Sunday, I'll be right back out there again, and I'm looking forward to it."
The Texans need Cushing to return to form as soon as possible. They rank last in total defense (408 yards per game) and have given up several big pass plays. Houston has also lacked a consistent pass rusher other than defensive end Mario Williams, who has five of the team's nine sacks.
"Any time you have a Pro Bowl player come back and play for your team, it helps out a lot," defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said. "We're looking forward to him getting out on the field and showing us all the things he did last year, and even more. I know he has a lot more in the tank."