With more confidence, Harris ready for Welker

With more confidence, Harris ready for Welker
January 10, 2013, 3:30 pm
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Brandon Harris lost his man for a second. Well, a split second.

It was 3rd-and-11 deep in Bengals’ territory and J.J. Watt flushed Andy Dalton out of the pocket. As Dalton passed the right hash mark, he saw Harris’ man, Andrew Hawkins, seemingly wide open.

So Dalton, cocked back and threw a laser in Hawkins’ direction. It would have been a first down. It might have changed the game. But the pass was never completed.

Instead, Harris, the second-year nickel cornerback, recovered and dove, going completely horizontal, to break up the pass. It was the turning point of the game. On the next possession, the Texans drove down the field to score the game’s only touchdown and advanced to the divisional round.

“I made a break on it,” Harris said. “I wish I would have been able to pick it though.”

But Harris agreed it was the biggest play of his young career.

Harris, in his second year out of Miami, has filled in for Brice McCain as the slot corner since McCain was placed on the IR with designation to return on Dec. 3. McCain, by all accounts, was having a really good season complimenting Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph in the nickel package.

But Harris is a nickel corner too. He was McCain’s backup all season, even though he was inactive for eight games earlier in the 2012 season. He went from being inactive eight times early in the season to playing 80 percent of the defensive snaps in the team’s first playoff game.

It wasn’t that Harris was lacking confidence. He had plenty. It’s just that after making a huge play in a playoff game, he has a little bit more.

“Just playing in the playoffs, being able to go out there and compete with the guys and make a couple plays, it really felt good,” Harris said. “It was a confidence booster. It’s the NFL. It’s the playoffs. And you want to be successful. Those are the types of plays I’ll have to make this Sunday.”

And how much of that confidence will he need this Sunday in Foxboro against the Patriots?

“I think you’re gonna need it all,” Harris said. “Every game from this point on gets bigger and bigger. I have to step my game up.”

This Sunday, Harris will be charged with the task of covering All Pro receiver Wes Welker, one of the best slot receivers in the game. Harris compared Hawkins, who was the intended target of that Dalton pass, to Welker this week in the locker room.

But Welker is in a class of his own. The five-time Pro Bowler caught 118 passes in the regular season. It was his fifth 100-catch season. But against the Texans in Week 14, Welker was held in check. He had just three catches for 51 yards and never really made a huge impact.
 
“It’s a huge group effort,” Harris said about that game against Welker. “We want to make sure we keep him in control and get him uncalm. Just use our technique to just try to limit him as much as possible.”

Before that game, Harris said he wasn’t intimidated to face Welker, in fact, he said it was a challenge he relished, getting to go up against one of the best counterparts in the sport at his position.

When asked about the job the Texans did against Welker in the first matchup, Patriots’ future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady said the Texans’ secondary is one of the best units in football. He mentioned the four starters: Joseph, Jackson and safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quinn. But he didn’t mention Harris, which is peculiar, seeing as how Harris was and will be the one most responsible for Welker.

While Harris did an OK job on Welker, it didn’t really matter. He was beaten a few other times – once notably by Donte Stallworth for a touchdown – and the Texans were beaten badly as a whole.

“I thought I had a lot to improve on,” he said. “I thought I did a pretty good job. A lot of plays I left out there on the field.”

If nothing else, Harris said that first game against New England was a learning experience. He thinks he’s a much better player now than he was then. After all, that was his first game filling in for McCain in the nickel.
 
“That was a game that I stepped back and said ‘OK. If I’m going to play in this league these are the type of challenges we’re going to have,’” he said. “We have to compete with those teams on a consistent basis. That’s what it is, that’s what it takes. I took a lot from that game from that standpoint. Knowing it’s not going to get any easier, just have to keep working and keep moving forward.”

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