Christian Harris' speed is a big factor in the promising Texans rookie linebacker's game, and on his ability to make an impact as a rookie.
Signed to a four-year, $5.34 million contract that includes a $1.069 million contract, the third-round draft pick from Alabama has turned heads at training camp with his ability to run and diagnose plays. T
The former blue-chip recruit from Baton Rouge, La. is competing for playing time after concluding his college career with three sacks, four tackles for losses and a forced fumble in a loss to Georgia in the national championship game.
With a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash, Harris has speed to burn as a versatile sideline-to-sideline defender. The converted safety is off to a fast start with the Texans.
“I think he probably is the fastest linebacker in the room," Texans veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "This kid can fly. He's smart. He's bright. He's super athletic. When we're in the weight room, I think that he's like in every competition, whether it's the vertical, speed, he's at least top-5. This kid is super talented, young, fresh and he's ready to learn. When you have a guy of that caliber, he’s going to go a long way. He’s going to have a great career in the league.”
Harris, who aced the NFL scouting combine with a 9.05 Relative Athletic score, had 80 tackles last season, 12 1/2 for losses and 5 1/2 sacks. The former freshman All-American and freshman All-Southeastern Conference selection had two forced fumbles and was a semifinalist for the Butkus and Lombardi awards.
"I would say first and foremost he is an elite athlete," Texans linebackers coach Miles Smith said. "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.
"We always say the best attribute for a player in our defense is speed. So, just bringing that element, 4.4 speed every down I think is going to show dividends when we get to the season. 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 isn't the only linebacker that's been a topic of conversation at training camp.
Garret Wallow, a fifth-round draft pick from TCU last year, had 23 tackles, two for losses and one sack in 17 games and two starts. He had 15 solo tackles. Now, the former All-Big 12 selection is competing for a starting job. His versatility has set him apart during camp as he's capable of lining up at all three linebacker positions in Smith's traditional 4-3 defense.
“I love everything he did last year," Smith said. "He was a lower round draft pick that was able to play all three positions. Just, you know, normal second-year growth. We have a few players, every time we've opened up the building, they have been in it, and Garret is one of those players. He'll have a role for us, and we’re excited about his progress. And I'm going to say the linebacker position, there's a lot of good depth there with quite a few of the guys.”
Wallow is instinctive and adept in pass coverage and as a run-stopper.
“That's my guy," Kirksey said. "He has a high motor and he's smart. He can play any of the three linebacker positions and he just have the high motor where he's going to go make a play and he can do it all day. So, you could see the leap from Year One to Year Two in his confidence level. Also, you could see what he's been doing in the weight room and on the field and how his body has been transitioning. He's put in a lot of work in the off season, so I am excited to see him this year."
Wallow notched his first career sack, bringing down Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick of the draft. And Wallow had a -high and career-high 11 tackles in his first career start against Jacksonville.
"There’s been a lot of growth, a lot of good things that came out of the year, a lot of growth on the field, off the field as well," Wallow said at the end of the season. "Go into this offseason and just sharpen up the things on the field, just become more of a student of the game, of course. Just changing my body around, just getting physically prepared to take on the next season and just take it on the best way I can.
“I’ve grown tremendously, there’s no doubt about it. Now that I look back, just the growth that I’ve seen in myself has been tremendous, but not only that, the growth just overall as a player has been amazing to witness, amazing to watch. It’s definitely not going to stop here. It’s going to just keep growing and keep elevating and be exciting to see where that ends up at.”
Wallow has also made a strong impression on special teams.
"He’s done a great job," Texans special teams coordinator Frank Ross said. "Guys like him have taken the reins as far as special teams, heavy core-four roles. He’s done a great job with that and excited to see where he comes into camp in shape, and gets ready to roll for his second full year.”