HOUSTON – Christian Harris’ final college football game at Alabama displayed his athleticism and instincts.
He recorded three sacks, four tackles for losses and a forced fumble in a loss to Georgia in the national championship game.
Designated for return from injured reserve after straining his hamstring in training camp, the Texans’ speedy rookie linebacker is a candidate to be activated in advance of Sunday’s road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Signed to a four-year, $5.34 million contract that includes a $1.069 million signing bonus, the third-round draft pick turned heads at training camp with his ability to run and diagnose plays.
Harris has speed to burn with a 4.44 time the 40-yard dash and is regarded as a versatile sideline-to-sideline defender.
And the Texans are hoping to get Harris ready as soon as possible.
“It’s been good to get him back out there,” Texans linebackers coach Miles Smith said. “Obviously, it’s a process. Being a rookie, he hasn’t played a whole lot of professional football yet at this point. Got hurt so early in training camp, it’s been exciting to see him out there. I mean the guy can move.”
“Pure athleticism,” Smith added. “I don’t think anybody in the NFL questions the type of athlete that Christian is. As he becomes more and more familiar with our defense and gets a little more experience under his belt, he has a lot of potential. Obviously, it’s still potential at this point because he actually hasn’t gotten on the field, but we’ll see how that goes going forward.”
Harris worked with the first-team defense during organized team activities before getting hurt the first week of August. He appeared in no preseason games and missed the first four games of the regular season.
“We’ve put in a decent amount of defense since he was off the field, since his injury, but he was picking up the defense,” Smith said. “He’s a smart kid. Every coach that’s been with him will tell you that. He’s obviously athletic. So, he was coming along pretty well before he got hurt. Again, he’s missed the last two months, so that’s going to have a detrimental effect on him.”
The Texans rank 29th in total defense and 31st in rushing defense, allowing 412.25 yards of total offense per game and 172 rushing yards per game.
Harris could provide an upgrade for a linebacker corps that is struggling. The primary starters are Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill, who have missed multiple tackles along with this season. Their third starting linebacker, Blake Cashman, is sidelined with a concussion.
“I think that we’re just not playing good ball right now,” Grugier-Hill said. “I think there’s a lot of growth that needs to be done. We’re not at our potential, which we could be.
“It’s one of those things where it’s not looking pretty right now, but there’s a lot of football left. We’ve seen it every year. Teams turn around and can make big changes. I think it’s easy. I think it just comes down to us putting our head down and going to work.”
If Harris plays Sunday, he’s expected to work in as the third linebacker along with second-year linebacker Garret Wallow.
If the Texans hold Harris out, he could be activated following a bye for a road game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
“He’s come a long way,” Smith said. “He’s come pretty far. He’s able to see the different things that NFL teams could do. Obviously, the NFL game is a lot different than college football. He has come a long way, but again there’s no substitute for actually being on the field and actually seeing that with a helmet on from a linebacker’s point of view. As we keep going with things, he’ll have more and more experience with that and start to feel more comfortable.”
“He was coming along. He was starting to get the defense. We’ve put in a decent amount of defense since he was off the field since his injury. He was picking up the defense. He’s a smart kid. I think every coach that’s been with him will tell you that. He’s obviously athletic. He was coming along pretty well before he got hurt but again he’s missed the last two months so that’s going to have a detrimental effect on him.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.