HOUSTON – No matter how all of this ends for Brandon Harris, whether he earns his keep as a rotation cornerback for the Texans or drifts into the abyss as an unfulfilled second-round pick from the 2011 draft, his maturity shown during occupational adversity can't be marginalized.
Professional football players oftentimes fly off the rails at the first signs of disrespect and disregard, and Harris certainly had just cause to rage against his oppressors when the Texans opted to place him on the inactive list for nine games during his rookie season. He was a decorated standout at Miami, Fla., even starting six contests as a true freshman in 2008, so the concept of waiting his turn could have subjugated his ego.
"It was a very unique situation with me being drafted here last year," Harris said. "It was unique in a way where they were able to go out and sign a high-quality free agent in Johnathan Joseph and they had a guy like Kareem (Jackson) who was a first-round pick the year before and came on and played very well last year.
"Jason Allen, who was an experienced veteran, also played well as well as Brice (McCain). It was an opportunity for me to just learn. I didn't really have to be in there. The defense played well; it was the No. 2 pass defense in the league, so looking at all those things together it really wasn't a disappointment at all. It was actually a benefit to my career."
Harris expressed these truths without any trace of hostility or resentment. Patience is a challenging virtue for young players anxious to make an impression, yet Harris' approach to his place on the depth chart as a rookie proves that 20-somethings are capable of perspective.
If the Texans' current depth chart can be used as a trustworthy guide, Harris has earned an opportunity to showcase his talent. With their preseason opener set for Saturday in Charlotte against the Panthers, the Texans have listed Harris as the backup to Jackson at left cornerback. With Jackson slowed by a balky hamstring during training camp, Harris will get ample reps to prove how much he developed while watching.
As with most youngsters, Harris' growth wasn't instantaneous. He wasn't necessarily ready to contribute as a rookie, and because the Texans featured sufficient enough depth to excel without him, Harris had no choice but to learn by observation. What he gleaned wasn't readily available during organized team activities earlier this summer, but Harris kept plugging away. His commitment hasn't gone unnoticed.
"Brandon's had a lot of great progress," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He struggled in OTAs, he struggled a little bit last year, then about the last four days of OTAs a light went on. He practiced better. He has been the same guy since he came back, so that's impressive.
"He's acting like a second-year guy, so we'll see how he does once we go for him."
It can be argued that Harris is a "second-year guy" in designation only. He participated in only seven games last year, primarily on special teams, and recorded just three tackles. The Texans attempted to offset the loss of Allen, who signed as a free agent with the Bengals, by signing veteran Alan Ball. The depth behind Joseph and Jackson, who has yet to establish himself as a credentialed corner, is relatively inexperienced.
McCain and Sherrick McManis are entering their fourth and third years in the NFL, respectively. Roc Carmichael, drafted two rounds after Harris, spent 2011 on injured reserve. Free safety Torri Williams was recently relocated to cornerback. There are bodies but reliability is suspect, especially from those who haven't manned NFL islands before.
At this stage all Harris has to rely on outside of a handful of standout camp efforts are the pointers he absorbed in film study. With his eyes and ears opened Harris labored hard to improve, and the time has come to put classroom lessons into action and to warrant Kubiak's praise.
"I'm definitely applying a lot of techniques that I've learned through my coaches and through my teammates also," Harris said. "In that room we help each other a lot. Those veterans, they don't mind giving you extra tips on what you need, and right now things are going well.
"It's only camp; I can't get satisfied. I have to continue to play well and play for the opportunity to play during the season."
That shot was unavailable last year, but now that it's at hand, Harris can reflect on where he was then and where he stands now. He needed wisdom to offset his competitive nature, with the chance to feed that nature only present because of the work Harris put in while waiting.
"As a football player you want to complete. You want to be out there doing everything it takes to help your team win," Harris said. "Being a rookie and seeing a lot of other rookies contribute right away and seeing that that wasn't my role, I had to be adult about the situation.
"I was in no room to complain. I was learning a lot. It was difficult but I understood it had to be done."