Two of the Texans' most frequently asked-about players by fans are cornerbacks Brandon Harris and Roc Carmichael, a pair of 2011 draft picks who are largely unknown commodities heading into their second NFL seasons.
Harris was a second-round pick out of Miami (Fla.) last year. The Texans liked him so much that they traded up into the end of the second round to get him. But he played in only nine games as a rookie, mostly on special teams and rarely on defense as the Texans improved from 32nd to second against the pass and 30th to second overall.
"That's not his fault," Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph said. "Because sometimes, when you draft guys and you just put 'em out there because you drafted 'em, that can hurt guys' growth. We had guys last year who were playing well for us to win. So, I wasn't down on Harris for not being ready to play last year. And that's the thing about me. If a guy's ready to play, I'm gonna play him. If he's not ready, I'm not gonna play him. It doesn't matter where he's drafted, because you can really lose a good corner by playing him too soon, and now he can't play. So I'd rather sit a guy and when he's ready to play, play him. That way, he can flourish in his career."
Joseph was very impressed with Harris (5-10, 195) during the Texans' three-day mini-camp from June 14-16. Cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Brice McCain all sat out of the practices along with other established veterans, giving more reps to Harris and his young cohorts.
"Brandon Harris had an excellent three days," Joseph said. "Brandon Harris is what we thought he was gonna be. Sometimes, when guys don't have a chance to take consistent reps, they can't show what they can do. But the mini-camp allowed those guys with Kareem and Brice and J-Jo not being there, it gave 'em a chance to play at long stretch. And Harris really flourished.
"He's a smart player. He's got great feet. He's got great ball skills. He needs to play. The mini-camp really proved that if he has a chance to play, he can play well."
Carmichael (5-10, 184) was a fourth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, the Texans' next pick after Harris in the 2011 draft. He suffered a shoulder injury in the first week of last year's training camp and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
"With Roc, what I've seen is a guy who's missed football," Joseph said. "He's missed a year of football, but you can see the physical tools. He's got great explosion, great burst. He's got great quickness, great feet. He's got great ball skills, but he hasn't played, so he's playing a little slow right now. But I'm expecting Roc to play better in camp. This is his first year. It's his first time out. Harris played a little bit last year. He practiced every day, so the speed of the game doesn't bothter him. But Roc has to play and get himself back into football form, and he's going to be fine. He has great physical tools."
The Texans currently have nine cornerbacks on the roster in Johnathan Joseph, Jackson, McCain, Alan Ball, Sherrick McManis, Harris, Carmichael, converted safety Torri Williams and undrafted rookie Desmond Marrow. They had seven on the roster in Week 1 of last season.
It's probably not a given that Harris and Carmichael make the final roster, but the two talented second-year corners will have a chance to show what they can do in training camp come late July.