The Houston Texans' young cornerbacks better learn quickly at training camp.
Rookie Kareem Jackson and second-year pro Glover Quin are the front-runners to start, ahead of more experienced veterans on the depth chart. If they secure their jobs, they'll face difficult tests immediately — Houston plays Indianapolis and Dallas, two high-powered passing offenses, in two of the first three weeks of the season.
Quin started 12 games as a rookie in 2009, and led the team with 11 passes defended. Jackson, a star at Alabama, was Houston's first-round draft pick and is expected to take over the role vacated when veteran Dunta Robinson signed with Atlanta in the offseason.
Quin said the duo needs to consider their inexperience more motivating than intimidating.
"I don't try to look so much into we're so young, this and that," Quin said. "But I do feel that, being that we are young, we need to study more, we need to watch more film and try to speed up the learning curve."
The 5-foot-10 Jackson said his transition to the pros has been eased because of the Texans' defensive scheme resembles what the Crimson Tide run under Nick Saban, a former NFL coach. Now, Jackson needs to adjust to the increased speed of the pro game and learn the complexities of NFL offenses.
"I don't really feel any pressure," he said. "If I come out and do what I'm capable of doing, learn the defense and learn the different things I have to do on the different plays, then I think I'll be successful."
Quin has tried to help Jackson make the transition from college, but Quin hardly sees himself as a seasoned veteran who's seen it all.
"I don't ever look past the fact that I'm just a second-year player myself," Quin said. "I tell him and teach him the things that I've experienced. At the same time, I'm still looking to veterans for things to help me out. There's a whole lot of stuff that I need to learn."
Quin and Jackson entered training camp with the edge for the top spots over veterans Jacques Reeves, Fred Bennett and Antwaun Molden and another youngster, second-year player Brice McCain. Defensive backs coach David Gibbs said Quin and Jackson separated themselves during summer workouts with their physical approaches to the position.
"They like the contact, they like to tackle, they both do all the things that you need to do to be successful in this league," Gibbs said. "You can't give up big plays in this league. The key to not giving up big plays is, whether you're in run or pass defense, the guys in your secondary have to tackle. As long as they tackle, you'll be successful."
The duo is absorbing some hard lessons in practice against one of the NFL's most prolific aerial attacks.
All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson blew past Jackson on a deep route in Sunday's workout, and coach Gary Kubiak snapped at Quin for missing an assignment on another play.
Johnson led the league in receiving yards last season (1,569) and the Texans led the NFL in pass offense (291 yards per game). Gibbs said Quin and Jackson will only benefit from lining up every day against Johnson and such a potent passing offense.
"The thing about the way our offense runs is that they test you in every coverage," said Gibbs, the son of former Texans offensive assistant Alex Gibbs. "They run certain routes against certain coverages, so you're always put in a difficult situation. The more you can see — what routes the coverages take away and what routes they don't take away — the more you learn how to play the game."
The Texans ranked 18th in pass defense (218 yards per game) and 20th in interceptions (14) in 2009. They allowed 19 passing touchdowns, tied for 10th lowest.
Gibbs said the coaches won't judge the progress of Quin and Jackson by how many interceptions they make or how many TD catches they allow in practice.
"You gauge them off the 45 or 50 plays they get," Gibbs said. "If you think they're getting better in their fundamentals, and they're competing as hard as they can 1-on-1, that's how you evaluate corners. And the truth is, you won't know if they're ready until game day anyway. But you get a good feel just by watching them."
Notes: DE Mario Williams sat out Sunday's practices with a swollen hip. Kubiak said Williams might need "a couple of days" to recover. ... Kubiak said kickers Kris Brown and Neil Rackers will join full team practices on Tuesday. The two have been working on separate fields away from the team since training camp began.