HOUSTON -- Rookies typically aren't handed a starting job in the NFL without the proper amount of reps in practice. By the time Week 1 rolls around, perhaps a first-year player has worked his way up the ladder.
Houston Texans linebacker Christian Harris is one of those prospects teetering the line of full-time starter and top-tier backup. So far through OTAs and mandatory minicamp, the third-rounder has seen his fair share of reps with the first-team defense at both outside linebacker spots.
"First and foremost he is an elite athlete," Texans linebacker coach Miles Smith said of Harris. "Obviously we all know that. We saw the combine. We saw what he’s able to do. I’ve been most impressed with his ability to grasp the defense and learn the mental aspects of the game. He’s attacked it every day with good work ethic and couldn’t be more impressed.”
Harris, the No. 75 in April's draft, comes to Houston still learning the ins and outs of being a linebacker. A highly-touted safety prospect from Baton Rouge, La., it wasn't until he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Ala. that linebacker would even be considered a possibility.
A three-year starter, Harris finished the 2020 season second on the team in tackles with 79. A year later, he'd played the "Robin" role to Tennessee transfer Henry To’o To’o's "Batman", finishing once again second among his position in tackles the same stats as the year prior.
Linebacker has always been a priority role for Texans' coach Lovie Smith's defense. During his time with the Chicago Bears, he worked with Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and Pro Bowler Lance Briggs. In Tampa, Lavonte David would make his debut and soon become the team's top tackler.
Harris is expected to make the same type of impact in due time with the Texans. Houston general manager Nick Caserio said in April the team had a second-round grade on him and wasn't willing to wait for him to fall to the No. 80 pick, thus leading to a trade up with the Denver Broncos.
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"Just bringing that element, 4.4 speed every down I think is going to show dividends when we get to the season," Miles Smith said. "He’s able to make some plays that others aren’t just because of his raw athletic ability. Now, it’s our job just to teach him the defense and allow him to play fast.”
Harris and second-year linebacker Garret Wallow are two players that have caught the eye of the coaching staff this summer. Both worked in with veteran Christian Kirksey against the projected first-team offense in seven-on-seven drills and team. Unlike in years past, the two are playing against matchups instead of set positions.
Wallow, a fifth-round pick out of TCU, worked both the strong and weakside spots during minicamp. Harris often saw action with the starters as the team's WILL backer, but also worked SAM as a member of the second-team unit.
Linebacker is one of the Texans' deepest positions entering 2022. Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill have starting experience in Lovie Smith's formation. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a free agent addition from the Detroit Lions, also has taken reps in a similar formation as well during his time in the Motor City.
Miles Smith said that training camp will be an exceptional test for Harris and others to earn reps with the starting defense. In time, Harris should be viewed as one of the team's top defenders.
It's more of a when rather than if for Harris in terms of being a full-time starter.
"We have 10 linebackers right now and I think all of them can play," Miles Smith said. "So, whenever we get helmets on, we’ll see who is the best."