Texans move Lonnie Johnson Jr. back to corner, Eric Murray starting

Safety hasn't been a natural fit for former Texans second-round draft pick Lonnie Johnson Jr.

That's why the 6-foot-2, 213-pound former Kentucky standout won't line up there going forward.

Johnson, replaced in the starting lineup by Eric Murray due to lapses in coverage despite leading the Texans with three interceptions, is moving back to cornerback on a full-time basis.

Texans coach David Culley didn't indicate whether Johnson will get a lot of playing time at corner, though, immediately as Desmond King and Terrance Mitchell are the starting outside corners and Tavierre Thomas is the primary nickel back.

"We moved him back to corner, which is basically his natural position," Culley said Wednesday. "So, he's basically having to relearn that again and getting acclimated to being a corner. We feel good about Lonnie being there. As he starts to get more comfortable there, if we felt like we needed to play Lonnie with that group, we'd put Lonnie out there.

"He was more comfortable there. He wasn't as comfortable playing safety. That wasn't natural for him. So, he had been a corner before. They moved him to safety. We tried him back there in our scheme. It just didn't fit what he was athletically. We talked about it and decided the best thing for him was to move him back to corner. Now that we've got him back there, I think he's comfortable there and will remain there."

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Johnson has imposing size and speed with 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash, Johnson has 41 tackles, but has made some mistakes in coverage and missed tackles in the open field, yielding two touchdowns and an opposing 101.7 passer rating.

Veteran safety Justin Reid's advice to Johnson, who was moved full-time to safety last year:

“You’ve just got to stick down a path.," Reid said. "He’s played football for a long time. He’s not a rookie or anything like that. He knows football, he knows how to play ball. That just comes with experience. So, those reps were invaluable for him. He’s going to continue to develop, and he’s going to be a good player. He just has to keep sticking to it.”

For Johnson, it's another reset and it's unclear when or if he'll regain his starting job.

“It’s not easy, him being rotated from corner to safety, safety back to corner," Reid said. "He’s still trying to find his footing on what his best position is. He’s versatile, he has athleticism, he has the length, he has the want-to and the will. It’s just got to come together for him, and it will. 

"It’s just tough, though. Every year he’s been something different. His first year, he’s a corner. Second year, he’s a safety. Next year, he learns a completely new defensive system. So, there needs to be some consistency for him, too, to see that growth.” 

Despite all of the changes, Murray expressed confidence in the situation.

"In spite of adversity you've just got to keep playing and striving for perfection," Murray said. "And I think regardless of who's in there, people have done a good job of just stepping up and doing their job when their name is called."

Murray intercepted a desperate heave from Miami Dolphins backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett before the bye week.

For the veteran safety, the Texans' 17-9 loss represented his top game of a season during which he's been in and out of the lineup.

After being on the bench for the previous five games after starting the first three games of the season, Murray replacedJohnson in the starting lineup and recorded eight tackles and one of the Texans' five turnovers as he played 96 percent of the defensive snaps against Miami.

"It was an electric feeling," Murray said. "Just to be back out there play defense again, felt really good and I think we had a great outing."

The constant at safety has been Reid, who's now lined up opposite Murray, Johnson and Terrence Brooks this season.

Signed to a three-year, $18 million contract that includes $10.75 million guaranteed, Murray has 29 tackles and played 49 percent of the defensive snaps. A year ago, Murray had 71 tackles in 14 starts while allowing six touchdown passes and an opposing passer rating of 134.5

“I’m real comfortable," Reid said. "I like E. Murray a lot. He’s a very smart player. Our communication is really good on the disguises and everything like that. I was very comfortable in order to do those disguises, mix up the views for Brissett a little bit and cause some confusion. Really good player and I’m happy he’s back in the lineup.”

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