Christian Harris is the fastest linebacker on the Texans’ roster, and the rookie is starting to play up to his timed speed with more decisive actions and less hesitation.
Harris’ instincts have kicked in following a slow start after beginning the season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
In six games, Harris has recorded 30 tackles, one for a loss with one forced fumble and a pass defense.
His tackling has improved significantly since a rough start against the Las Vegas Raiders in his first NFL game.
“As we go forward, he’s making more and more of the plays that we expect him to make,” Texans linebackers coach Miles Smith said. “Occasionally, there are plays that he’s making that other linebackers probably wouldn’t be able to make, just based upon his elite athleticism. As we keep going, we expect him to make more and more of the plays, and truly show the level he can play at.
“Right now, he’s having some rookie pains occasionally, but that’s to be expected. As he continues with these reps and each practice, each game, I think he’s going to start making more and more of these plays.”
Harris has practiced all week after injuring his shoulder against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. He didn’t sustain any structural damage and the Texans are optimistic he’ll be available to play against the Cleveland Browns.
“Obviously, he’s in a yellow jersey right now, never good,” Smith said. “Avoiding contact a little bit. Unfortunately that he was missing that valuable game time in the last game. He’s progressing day by day. We’ll see how it goes this weekend if he’s going to be able to go, but I hope so.”
Signed to a four-year, $5.34 million contract that includes a $1.069 million signing bonus, Harris turned heads at training camp with his ability to run and diagnose plays. Harris has the speed to burn with a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash and is regarded as a versatile sideline-to-sideline defender.
He’s capable of chasing down backs and receivers, playing the game aggressively and instinctively.
That’s why the Texans drafted him in the third round out of Alabama where he excelled.
“Absolutely, at this point, he is a three-down linebacker in our scheme,” Smith said. “When we talk three-down linebackers, our Will and our Mike linebacker, they don’t come off the field unless something’s happened. Early on, we wanted to slowly, gradually get him involved. He played more of our Sam linebacker, which comes out for 11-personnel. At this point, he is in there every single play. We’re starting to design things that are based on his skill set. He’s fully integrated with our defense. We’re excited about the future.”
The Texans’ last-ranked run defense faces a difficult challenge Sunday against Browns star running back Nick Chubb.
Chubb ranks third in the league with 1,039 rushing yards. The Texans are surrendering 168.6 rushing yards per game.
“He’s a dynamic running back, everybody in the league knows it,” Smith said. “Very good, explosive, runs hard. I would say we need to have 11 guys on the ball every play. If it’s just a one-on-one battle every time, occasionally a guy is going to miss a tackle, but if we have two, three, four guys on each tackle, he’s not going to be able to break all of those. Going into this week, we need to be gang tackling, doing our job, and we’re going to be okay.”
The Texans have been more stout against the run in recent games, but are 1-9-1. They’ve lost six consecutive games.
“Ultimately, we’ve won one football game,” Smith said. “Whenever that’s the case, we have not done a good enough job defensively. There have been some glimmers of hope, though. We’re playing the run a lot better right now than we were earlier in the season, but ultimately we won one football game.
“When you win one football game, we’re not doing a good enough job, and that’s player-wise, that’s coaching-wise especially. It all starts with us. My job as a coach, I’m not doing my job well enough because the linebackers aren’t playing up to their potential, and that’s my job.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com