HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Texans coach Gary Kubiak has some tough decisions to make in several key areas as the preseason winds down and the regular season looms in two weeks.
But nowhere will those decisions be tougher than in the secondary where the competition has been outstanding throughout training camp, but space on the 53-man roster is limited. Who to keep, who let go for some other team to swoop will an unenviable decisions defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and Kubiak will have to make.
“Let’s hope those cuts are real, real tough,” Kubiak said. “Let’s hope that everyone stays healthy for the next two weeks.
“Yeah, we’ve got a surplus of players at a few positions. That’s going to make it very, very difficult. Like I said, let’s hope that we have those problems here in a week.”
Chances are they will. But chances are also good that after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees gets done dicing them up during Saturday’s third preseason game things will be a little more clearer.
So far, however, the competition for the backup roles in the secondary has been too close to call.
What we know for sure is that four of the secondary spots are locked up with returning starters in All-Pro cornerback Johnathan Joseph, third-year corner Kareem Jackson, free safety Glover Quin and strong safety Danieal Manning.
But behind them is where the competition is fierce and it is likely the Texans will be parting ways with some quality players. Last year’s second round draft pick Brandon Harris, nickel back Brice McCain and Sherrick McMannis seem safe as back up corners. That leaves veteran cornerback Alan Ball and promising second-year corner Roc Carmichael to compete for a possible sixth spot.
Who stays will come down to who is most valuable on special teams. McMannis, Ball and Carmichael are all special teams contributors. Ball knows the defense best having played for Phillips in Dallas which would seem to give him an edge.
The opportunities are just as tight at the safeties spots where strong safety Quintin Demps and free safety Troy Nolan look to reprise their roles as reserves, while fan favorite Shiloh Keo will have to make it has hard with continued standout play on special teams.
From practice to practice and in both of the first two preseason games all have done some good things, which has fueled the competition and perhaps elevated the play of the entire secondary. So much so it is hard to believe this is the same secondary that two years ago was the league’s worst.
Now this unit could be the NFL’s best secondary unit this season after moving up among the top three last season.
Much of that growth has to do with the competition that has been evident since OTAs in May.
“Pushing each other every day, that’s one thing that we do,” said Quin. “We don’t take any slack off any of our players. We push guys to be the best, to work hard every day in practice. We just go at it and we go against a great offense every day.
“The guys challenge us and we step up to the challenge and we try to make plays. Right now, we play with a lot of confidence and I think that’s the way you have to be.”
With Joseph holding down one side of the field for the second year in a row, most of the eyes have been at the opposite cornerback spot where players like Harris, McMannis and Ball have pushed Jackson throughout camp.
It hasn’t helped Jackson that he has missed some time with a hamstring problem, which has allowed Harris more opportunities to come into his own in his second year.
“He’s been patient and throughout his process, his play has taken off. It has skyrocketed the last three or four weeks of camp and OTAs,” Joseph said of Harris. “As a player, you see the confidence in him. He’s just waiting patiently for his chance to get out on the field and that’s all you can ask for as a player. He’s handling himself well on and off the field and in the classroom preparing himself for his moment.”
But most likely Jackson will get the chance to continue to grow into his starting role. He made a major leap last season after a tumultuous rookie campaign in 2010.
But his missed time means that Saturday will be major for him with it likely being his last preseason action before the regular season. All the same, these next two preseason game will be even more critical for the competition behind Jackson as the coaching staff decides who to keep and who to let go.
“I’d sit here and tell you today we’re trying to settle on our fourth, fifth corner, sixth guy if we keep a sixth,” Kubiak said. “So that is a big battle going on if between Ball, you look at Harris, the player he’s become, Sherrick McManis has been doing a great job and he’s an excellent special teams player, and then you’ve got Roc, who’s a guy we’re counting on taking a big step this year. So, there’s some dynamics there, and they will be tested this week. It will be a difficult decision.
“Safety as well. Got a lot of guys that can play in this league and we’re all healthy so those will be some tough cuts.”