Third downs could mean the game for Texans
When Brandon Harris steps on the field on Monday night and looks across the line of scrimmage, he’ll see the NFL’s reception leader.
That would probably intimidate most young defensive backs.
“Not intimidated at all,” the second-year corner said. “As a ballplayer in this league, you have to embrace challenges. This is my first major challenge and I know I’m not doing it by myself. I have 10 other guys on defense focused on the same task I am.”
And it’s a pretty monumental task. Welker leads the NFL in receptions with 92. He led the league last season with 122. He owns two of the top four seasons in terms of receptions.
He’s gonna get the ball early and often on Monday and Harris, a second-rounder in 2011, will have to try to stop him. Or at least slow him down.
“Welker has 92 catches and I don’t think Brandon has 29 plays,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “It’s a challenge, certainly. We expect him to step up and play, we’re going to try to help him in certain areas. But it’s going to be one-on-one some. It’s going to be one-on-one pass rush with our guys to put pressure on the guy and it’s going to be one-on-one for our guys to cover them sometimes, that’s just how it is.”
Harris had been the backup to McCain at the nickel corner position all season and leaned on McCain to teach him the position in the Texans’ defense.
McCain was placed in the Injured Reserve, designated to return, after having surgery to insert a screw into his foot. There’s a chance he could be back for the Super Bowl, but until then, the job belongs to Harris.
“It’s definitely a huge opportunity,” Harris said. “But it was tough to watch him go down, knowing how hard he works and how dedicated he is. Seeing him go down is tough. It’s almost like an opportunity I have to embrace, not only for myself, but for him. Brice helps me out a lot. I’ve backed him up at nickel all season and he’s been helping me out. It’s almost a chance to go out and make him proud as well.”
Against the Titans, Harris actually got a chance to play in the slot because McCain was needed to line up outside with the absence of Johnathan Joseph. This week, it appears Joseph is on track to return and will line up on the other side of Kareem Jackson, which leaves Harris to play in the slot.
The nickel corner’s job differs from that of outside corners. The job is a unique one that requires a special set of skills. The Texans say Harris possesses those skills. See, a slot corner doesn’t have the luxury of using the sideline; they must be able to cover the entire middle of the field.
“It’s something I’ve grown to like and embrace,” said Harris, who also played in the nickel at the University of Miami. “I enjoy it a lot. It’s a challenge but it’s enjoyable.”
While he’s played the nickel corner spot before, he hasn’t played a guy like Welker. No receiver in football is better in the slot than Welker.
That’s why this week he’s been leaning on veteran teammates corner Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. It’s not that he hasn’t been before this week, but now with his expanded role coming in the biggest game of the season, he admits he can use all the help he can get.
Joseph said the entire group of defensive backs is close. They talk on and off the field about football and off-the-field things. According to Joseph, Harris comes to him and Manning quite often to ask for advice and help.
“Brandon has been playing well all season, he just hasn’t had a chance to play because of Brice,” Joseph said. “This will be his biggest test. For us, it’s just about staying together as a group. It’s not one guy vs. the Patriots. We all have each other’s backs back there, so he’ll do fine Monday.”