Texans can only improve in secondary
Houston Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph offers words of encouragement after almost every practice snap, even if one of his players is beaten on a route.
Joseph may have the biggest challenge of any position coach on the staff - fixing a secondary that ranked as the league's worst in 2010.
''You've got to stay positive, because it's a hard assignment and bad things happen, even when you're playing good,'' Joseph said Sunday. ''Somebody's got to be there supporting them, and it's got to be me, as their coach.
''This is a young group, they want to do well, they want to be great,'' he said, ''so there's no reason not to be positive.''
The Texans allowed 267.5 yards passing per game and 33 touchdown passes last season. They drafted cornerbacks Brandon Harris (Miami) and Roc Carmichael (Virginia Tech), then picked up free agents Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to bring experience that the group lacked in 2010.
''They've been around good secondaries, they know how it should look,'' Vance Joseph said. ''They can push these guys, show them how to practice, show them how to prepare, how to think through it.
''We've also got two guys who are in the primes of their careers,'' he said. ''That's strange. Teams drafted these guys pretty high, and now we get them at only the second stage of their careers? All the bad things, the bad habits are behind them. All their good football is still ahead.''
One of Johnathan Joseph's first directives when he arrived was talking to cornerback Kareem Jackson, last year's first-round pick who often took the sharpest criticism for the secondary's problems.
Joseph, a first-round pick by Cincinnati in 2006, reassured Jackson that just about every NFL rookie struggles and that cornerback is one of the hardest positions for a young player to learn. Joseph did not intercept a pass in his first season, but has 14 picks in his four seasons since.
''We've all had those same growing pains,'' Johnathan Joseph said. ''I'm sure, from talking to him (Jackson),that it's behind him. He comes out here every day confident, and it doesn't bother him at all. In this league, you have to have a short memory, which he understands.''
Jackson doesn't want to forget 2010 entirely. If anything, he says remembering the backlash from fans and media provides perfect motivation.
''For having a year like that last year, no one wants to go through that,'' Jackson said, ''so everybody is committed to what we're doing. So we're just coming out and working hard every day just trying to get it done.''
Vance Joseph, hired in the offseason after six years in San Francisco, says the main issue for Jackson and Houston's other defensive backs last year was faulty technique. He's focused on footwork and fundamentals through the first few days of practice, and never misses a chance to point out improvement.
''Nice job, GQ, that was perfect,'' he said after third-year safety Glover Quin made a play during a practice last week.
''Nice, Brice, you were in great shape there,'' he told third-year cornerback Brice McCain after McCain broke up a pass.
The Texans' defensive backs also benefit from facing All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson and one of the league's top passing offenses every day in practice. Johnson was back at work on Sunday after missing four days with a dislocated left index finger.
Johnson leaped over McCain to catch a touchdown pass on Sunday, then made a one-handed grab on a deep sideline route with Jackson covering him.
While Vance Joseph wants his players to learn to shake off the sting of big plays, he wants them to learn something from each one.
''You can't totally forget, because bad things happen for a reason,'' Vance Joseph said. ''You've got to be coachable, you've got to listen and be ready to fix it. Your best defensive backs are consistent players. They're the same all the time. When you have young kids who are great players, but on four or five plays, they're not their best, bad things happen. Consistency is the key.''
Johnathan Joseph says he's already seen progress and likes the mentality of the group.
''We go into the film room, we correct things and then you see them come out here and translate that to the field,'' he said. ''I think that's the most important key thing, because those guys are listening. You want guys to listen at this level, because if you don't listen, and you don't bring it to the field, it won't do you any good at all.''