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Thursday, February 17, 2011
Vance Joseph: CBs will challenge routes

By Paul Kuharsky

Vance Joseph
New Texans secondary coach Vance Joseph inherits the league's worst passing defense from 2010.
Good defensive backs should have short memories. Typically that cliched line is applied play-to-play or game-to-game. In the case of the Houston Texans, season-to-season would be good, too.

Houston had the worst pass defense in the NFL in 2010, yielding 267.5 yards a game. The Texans gave up single-game passing totals of 419, 403, 329, 305 and 301 yards.

Their plan to rely on young cornerbacks Kareem Jackson, Glover Quin and Brice McCain backfired.

“They are terrible,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said of Houston’s defensive backs. Veteran safeties Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard could both be replaced.

“In fact, they are right there with division-mate Jacksonville as the worst secondary in all of football. The Texans' safeties -- who are terrible in coverage -- deserve a lot of blame, as does a pass-rush that could use upgrading," Williamson said.

Steve Smith and Kareem Jackson
2010 first-rounder Kareem Jackson, right, struggled through his rookie season.
"But I blame the secondary much more than the pass-rush. As for the cornerbacks, it is way too early to write off Jackson. I did like him coming out of Alabama and he has to get better in Year 2. But wow, he was pretty terrible as a rookie.

“I would classify Brice McCain and Troy Nolan as ‘just a couple of guys’ and they need to be down-the-line contributors. Glover Quin is the best of the group right now, but in the end, I like him as a No. 3 corner with Jackson as one starter [possibly] and someone to be determined as the opposite starter. As for adding a veteran [Champ Bailey?], I am all for it. Not only does this secondary need veteran leadership, but so does the entire football team.”

Surely the Texans will be players in free agency -- if and when there is free agency. If they add a superstar corner like Nnamdi Asomugha or Bailey, shift each corner the Texans already have down a peg, find better safeties and get a better pass rush out of the 3-4 being installed by new coordinator Wade Phillips, things could be a lot better.

But Vance Joseph, who after five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers replaces David Gibbs as Texans secondary coach, can’t depend on that big addition. He’s got to focus on who he has right now.

Joseph has met and talked with his young guys about having clean slates and about how they can develop.

As is the nature of football in February, Joseph is relatively upbeat.

“I’m aware of what they did last year, I’ve watched the film and I’ll tell you, it’s not as bad as everyone thinks,” he said. “You’ve got to play better. And until those guys go out there and play better, that’s going to stick to them. We’ve got to do a good job of protecting those young corners.

“Obviously getting some pass rush helps, having some scheme things tweaked where they won’t be on their own a lot helps. But you regain confidence by playing well. So until they play better, that won’t be the case.”

When a new position coach joins a team to help fix a problem area, I want to know what he sees early on that he believes can be changed. Joseph said he often saw guys in position who couldn’t make the play.

Joseph said while secondary guys always need to be wary of getting beat for a big play over the top, fear of that can really cost a defense.

Expect the 2011 Texans to be closer to pass catchers on shorter stuff.

“That’s the part I’ve got to get right, finishing and making plays and giving them tools to make and finish plays,” Joseph said. “…On early downs, it’s back-pedaling, staying square and challenging routes. In the NFL, [receivers] are going to catch balls, but you want to make them bang-bang plays. When they catch the ball, I want them tackled.

“That’s something we can help them with, playing more square from the line of scrimmage and not bailing as much. When you’re bailing, you’re conceding most routes. You say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to get beat deep but I’m going to give you a 20-yard comeback.’ We’re going to play square and we’re going to challenge routes.”

While Joseph hopes his group will be able to play a wide variety of coverages, he also believes it’s important that in times of crisis they can fall back on something standard.

Last season, the defensive backs rarely seemed to have that reset mode. Going forward, Joseph’s hope is they always can return to something they know they are good at that can help them get through a tough day with a good result.

Phillips’ new defensive system won’t affect the secondary like it will the defensive line and linebackers. But there will be benefits out of a more unpredictable front for defensive backs.

“The beauty, I think, of playing defensive back in the 34 is the disguise mechanisms,” Joseph said. “You’re going to start in a basic two-shell, then move into your coverages. When you’re a 4-3 team, they know the four rushers, they’re down with their hands on the ground.

“Now, we can hold our coverage and the offense doesn’t know where that fourth rusher is coming from …. It kind of helps protect corners. Until a ball is snapped, that quarterback won’t know what we are in.”

Young guys, in disguise, able to fall back on something they know they are good at, eager to prove they are better than 32nd in the league. It’s like a lot of offseason recipes, filled with hope and promise.

Shooting for the stars is fine, but the Texans' secondary doesn’t have to be filled with stars to alter its reputation and play winning football.

“We don’t need guys who are going to Hawaii every year,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to stress here that we just need guys who fit what we do and are capable of doing the job within the system.”