Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 5/25/12
HOUSTON There was no time for rookie coddling, hand holding or intensive individual instruction. Post-lockout haste negated all of that. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brooks Reed were forced to swim after being tossed in the deep end of the pool as rookies out of sheer necessity last season, and each showcased an inspiring amount of adaptability by contributing to a unit that ranked second in the league. Cornerbacks Roc Carmichael and Brandon Harris weren't afforded the same sink-or-swim luxury; the Texans' depth at cornerback prevented the team from requiring rookies to man the secondary last season. What Carmichael and Harris did not experience qualifies as both a blessing and a curse. Both have been around long enough to grasp the system, yet haven't had the opportunity to apply that knowledge on the field. "I think they're rookies still," Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph said. "Until you play in this league it's hard to say if you're ready to play. So until they play in an actual game they're going to be rookies. And they're still learning." The loss of veteran free agent Jason Allen, who paced Texans cornerbacks in tackles (45) and interceptions (four) last season, has created an interesting void in their secondary. Johnathan Joseph remains a fixture following his fabulous debut season with the franchise while besieged third-year corner Kareem Jackson appears set to graduate from the platoon status he shared with Allen last season. Carmichael and Harris are among the myriad options available to provide depth behind the presumed starters. What makes that duo intriguing is the gray area they occupy as second-year players with potential who lack the experience to inspire or generate fan excitement. While Carmichael, a fourth-round selection out of Virginia Tech, missed most of his rookie season after being placed on injured reserve last September (shoulder), Harris, a second-round pick from Miami, garnered spot duty and accumulated three tackles in seven games. While outsiders bemoan the Texans' supposed lack of cornerback depth, Carmichael and Harris have zeroed in on the opportunity at hand. "It's definitely going to be a very critical time in our careers," Harris said. "This is the first time we really have for our coaches to take it slow, to make sure we're gaining the concepts. Last year coming in off the lockout, for us it was our first time getting right to it. From a coaching standpoint we understand they had to prepare for a season. They didn't have the time to really slow it down as much as they want to like they get to do now. "That's why (organized team activities) are good for them and for us so we get to learn the concepts and get more reps in the offseason that we didn't have last offseason." Should Carmichael and Harris advance accordingly in their first full offseason with the Texans, their additions will be akin to small-scale free-agent acquisitions. While it's true that neither has logged the number of game reps worthy of being distinguished as a veteran, it's not like Carmichael and Harris will enter their second training camp blind. They understand what defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wants. They know the responsibilities inherent to their position, and have established bonds with the more experienced members of the secondary. Should they see the field this season, Carmichael and Harris will represent second-year players with rookie-level enthusiasm. They'll serve as an asset so long as they absorb the available teaching these next two weeks. "Last year after the lockout it was time to play football," Vance Joseph said. "We installed very fast. We had the defense installed in four days. "Having an offseason now and OTAs, it's been wonderful for the young kids and the veterans. They hear the concepts again and hear why we do certain things. For most players, if they understand why we do it they have a better understanding and importance of doing their job the right way. If you don't know why the system requires you doing it a certain way, you don't have the same urgency to do it right." There has been no confusion over what this moment demands from Carmichael and Harris. They have been immersed in their playbooks and reliant upon the veterans that surround them. As products of Atlantic Coast Conference programs, they use their rivalry to spark their competition. When so much whirled about so quickly during training camp last year, Carmichael and Harris did the best they could to hold on. Things are moving much slower now. Everyone stands to benefit from these moments where time isn't as essential as reinforcing knowledge. "That's what you need on the defensive side of the ball," Carmichael said. "But I think it helped us grow, too, because we had to come in and get into it very quick. We had to jump right into it. It helped us out coming into these OTAs. We know what we're doing a little bit from being able to get a glimpse of it last year. It was tough, but it helped." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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