Stronger Brice McCain plans to be physical

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
12:48
PM ET
It wasn’t a popular decision. It wasn’t ideal, either. But the Houston Texans like their three young corners and decided their up-and-comers can handle two games a year against Peyton Manning as their franchise tries to keep up with the Colts.

[+] EnlargeBrice McCain
AP Photo/David J. PhillipCornerback Brice McCain will play in the nickel package for Houston.
So first-round pick Kareem Jackson and second-year man Glover Quin will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. In the nickel package, Brice McCain will take Glover’s spot outside as Glover shifts to the slot.

This piece on the "Kiddie Corners" from Dale Robertson suggests they have the right bravado for the job. Quin told his wife he’d like his first pick to come against Manning, and that if it did he’d try to get the quarterback to sign the ball for him.

McCain already picked off Manning, in a 2-minute situation last year in one of the Texans' two losses to Indianapolis.

I talked to McCain this week, and he said the trio isn’t looking for a game to ease into things. They like going against a top-flight passing offense immediately.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, you’ve got to go in with the same mindset that you’re a veteran corner,” he said. “As a whole group we have to come in and try to be consistent. No matter if it’s Peyton in front of you, no matter what receivers are in front of you.”

“… We’re just three young corners trying to make a mark. … We’d get a lot of respect from a lot of teams if we came out and played well against Peyton. But one game isn’t enough. We need to do it game-in, game-out. We’re trying to be respected around the league -- that’s one of our goals.”

While he wasn’t always involved, McCain estimated the Texans played 80 percent nickel in their two games against the Colts in 2009. Minus suspended outside linebacker Brian Cushing, the Texans could be even quicker to turn to it if they prefer having McCain on the field to Cushing’s replacement, Xavier Adibi.

Reggie Wayne tends to stay on the left for the Colts, though they sometimes put him in the slot. Otherwise, McCain said the defensive backs expect a mix of Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie along with Dallas Clark.

The Colts have offensive line issues, and pressure from Houston’s front that makes Manning work faster than he would like is something those corners will need to hold up.

“That’s every game,” McCain said. “If you want to be a great defense, a great secondary, it starts with the front.”

It’s a trial-by-fire scenario, though Quin got excellent experience in his rookie season and McCain got some. The Texans have talked up how NFL-ready Jackson is as a result of playing for Nick Saban at Alabama.

It’s not like the Texans have veteran insurance behind them. The oft-injured Antwaun Molden, who's been out this week with an ankle issue, is in his third season and two other rookies are backups -- Jamar Wall and Sherrick McManis. Gone are veterans Dunta Robinson, Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves. It’s hard to blame the Texans for giving up on any of them, as Robinson’s price was too high and Bennett and Reeves were too inconsistent.

But the Texans’ season could well hinge on the secondary, and Manning’s not the only top quarterback Houston faces.

Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers are on the docket in the first half of the season. Things ease up from there.

McCain will play against their receivers more physically than he did last year. He’s up only five pounds but is stronger and has adjusted his attitude.

“Last year I started to carry the reputation of being a cover corner, but I wanted to change that perception,” he said. “I think I am a much better player by being more physical now. I gained weight, I’m stronger than I was last year and I am a better tackler.”

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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