Because of injuries to Johnathan Joseph and Alan Ball, cornerbacks Brice McCain and Brandon Harris are likely to play prominent roles on Sunday in Nashville.
Joseph is out with a hamstring injury. Ball is questionable with a foot injury and will be a game-time decision for the Texans' game at Tennessee. If Ball joins Joseph on the inactives list, McCain would start opposite Kareem Jackson. Harris would play nickel corner, while Roc Carmichael also would be in the mix for playing time.
"Our two young guys are going to have to play a bunch," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Friday. "You've got Brandon and you've got Roc, who are going to be a big part of what's going on. Brice will step in and resume a starter role. We're very challenged right now."
Cornerback isn't the Texans' only position decimated by injuries. Inside linebacker Bradie James (hamstring) and outside linebacker Brooks Reed (groin) also will be inactive against the Titans. Inside linebacker Tim Dobbins (shoulder) is battling through an injury but will be active. The Texans will likely use three- or four-player rotations at inside and outside linebacker.
This will be the Texans' second consecutive game without Joseph, a 2011 Pro Bowler who shadows the opposing team's top receiver. Ball started for Joseph last Thursday at Detroit. McCain (5-9, 185) has been the Texans' nickel corner since last season. He has started five games in his four-year career.
"Brice has become a much better player over the course of the last two years," Kubiak said. "First off, I bring up the word confidence. I think (defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips) and (defensive backs coach Vance Joseph) have instilled a confidence in him that maybe he didn't have early in his career. He's playing a lot of plays, plays inside, plays outside, plays special teams. He's developed… It's time for him to start to have these opportunities like he's fixing to have this Sunday, and he has responded to that for us."
Harris and Carmichael have both played sparingly since being drafted in 2011. Harris, a second-round pick out of Miami (Fla.), played in seven games as a rookie and has been active for three games this season. Carmichael, a fourth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, missed last season with a shoulder injury and made his NFL debut last Thursday.
"They've done really good," Kubiak said. "They're very young players. That's what they were brought here for. It's funny how you go from full at a spot to very thin at a spot real quick in this business, then when you get thin, it's time for guys like that to act like they are second-year pros. They both suited up last week and contributed in the win in Detroit. They will have a chance to do even more this week. We're excited for their opportunity, and it's important that they step up."
The Texans can feel better about their secondary because safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quin are having outstanding seasons. Still, the pressure will be on their young corners on Sunday.
Harris said he's been "waiting for this opportunity for a while." Many fans have been eager to see him contribute, too, after the Texans traded up into the second round last year to draft him 60th overall.
"Brandon's practiced very well," Kubiak said. "He's kind of been the guy every week when you get to the 46 (active) guys, is Brandon up; is he down? I can remember a couple weeks ago I sat him down on Sunday morning and he was so dang mad. I loved it, because I know he's arriving because it's that important to him.
"He's really practiced well, and we're counting on him, but we like what we see on the practice field. We like what we see in special teams, so here's a great opportunity for him to prove he can do it consistently."