In a typical offseason, Vance Joseph would be getting to know his players the old-fashioned way – mini-camps and OTAs, meetings and practices.
Instead, the Texans' new defensive backs coach is familiarizing himself with them the only way he can: Film study. Lots of it.
"I've watched every game they played last year probably five times, and I've watched every practice," Joseph said on Tuesday. "I don't have my guys here, so I'm watching as much film as I can so I know what I'm dealing with when they walk in the door. I'm trying to figure out what kind of player they are, how they respond to adversity -- when good or bad stuff happens, how they respond."
The Texans had the worst pass defense in the league last season, but Joseph has seen encouraging signs on tape. In 2010 first-round pick Kareem Jackson, for example, he sees a "really, really good zone player."
"He's physical," Joseph said. "His eye placement is correct. His biggest issue is man-to-man technique, which for most young corners, that's the problem. In this league, if you're playing man-to-man and you lose that battle, it's probably going to be a 30-yard, 40-yard gain. If you're in zone and you don't do the right thing, it may not be a huge gain. So we've got to fix his man-to-man technique, but he's a very good zone player and he's a physical tackler."
Glover Quin, who likely will be moving from cornerback to safety, is another player who has caught Joseph's eye.
"He's a good football player," Joseph said. "He does a lot of things correctly. He's a coach's dream because he's going to do it right all the time. A bunch of the guys (are like that). Even watching (safety) Troy Nolan a little bit this week, he's a guy who's capable of doing it right. That's important."
Cornerback Jason Allen, a six-year veteran, is the Texans' most experienced defensive back. He had six interceptions last season, including three with the Texans after he was released by the Dolphins.
"He made some plays last year," Joseph said. "That guy does some things that make you really, really excited. I'm looking forward to him playing corner for an entire training camp. Because his entire career, he's been in between safety and corner, safety and corner. I want to see him play corner and see how good he can be. He was a first-round pick out of college, so somebody saw something in the guy. He can play. He just needs more corner reps. He's got long arms, he's tall, he can run. So we'll see."
Brice McCain, a sixth-round pick in 2009, and Sherrick McManis, a fifth-rounder in 2010, spent most of last season in reserve roles behind Quin, Jackson and Allen.
"I like Brice," Joseph said. "I watched every practice from last year, camp and the fall, and watching the one-on-one stuff, Brice was one of our better one-on-one players from playing press and playing off-man. He's got a unique skill which is speed that we can always use. And McManis is a tough guy. That's his unique quality, and toughness wins games. Speed wins games. So those qualities are definitely going to be used. I like both of those guys."
Cornerback Antwaun Molden, a third-round pick from Eastern Kentucky in 2008, has played sparingly since breaking an ankle late in his rookie season.
"Physically, he's got it," Joseph said. "It's no question. Sometimes for a guy, he can get caught in a rut a little bit with the same system, same coach. Sometimes a new system and new coach, hearing it different hits his brain different, and you hope he reacts different to my coaching than he has in the past. But he's a gifted enough guy, and I'm hoping the light comes on."
The Texans also have three incoming rookies, cornerbacks Brandon Harris and Roc Carmichael and safety Shiloh Keo. Joseph and Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expect immediate contributions from all of them. Joseph said that the more he watches and reads about them, the more excited he gets.
"Keo, I'm assuming after we get him here, you're going to want two or three more like him," Joseph said. "Brandon Harris is going to be a pro from day one. And I think Roc's going to be fine. He's a competitive little guy. He wants to be great. He's been a worker his whole life, and that's important. It's three confident guys. They believe they can, and that's half the battle playing DB in the NFL. You've got to believe you can."
A former NFL cornerback himself, the 38-year-old Joseph is eager to get to work with the players he has gotten to know mostly by their play on tape.
"Watching their season last year, I'm encouraged because they play so hard and they're young, so most of them are blank pages," he said. "So whatever I teach them, they're going to hopefully retain. And they don't have a bunch of bad habits because they're young guys. But hopefully we can get it done quick, and camp's going to be interesting. Wade's system is so simple that we're going to spend time on fundamentals, and that's going to be the key."