Texan General Manager Rick Smith was a cornerback in college at Purdue, so it’s not surprising that so many of the Texan corners are first round draft picks. The Texans have no less than three first rounds picks in corners Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson. The group has played well, although Johnson is out for the season with a foot injury. However, the biggest contributor so far this season has been the play of undrafted cornerback AJ Bouye.
Bouye, in his fourth season as an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida has emerged as a playmaker in the secondary, despite not being a starter. With so many offenses incorporating three receiver packages, Bouye has proven himself as a big league player.
According to Pro Football Focus, through the first seven weeks of the season, Bouye was rated the league’s #1 cornerback. His 92.8 rating was two points higher than 2nd place Aqib Talib and eight points higher than any other Texan corner.
For AJ, the improvement in his play starts from the neck up.
“It’s a mentality, going out there competing every day like the coaches say,” Bouye explained. “A different approach in practice on and off the field with preparation and just working hard. That’s what it really come down to, focusing and working hard.
“When I first came in I had nothing to lose being undrafted, that’s how I looked at it,” AJ continued. “After your first year you hear a lot with social media and what people think of you tend to take it personal. That’s a difference in my approach this year. I don’t care what people think of me. At the end of the day I know who I’m doing this for, my teammates and my family. I’m just going to compete, work hard and make them proud of me. That’s what I’ve been trying to do every week.”
Bouye believes as a group, the Texan cornerbacks don’t get the credit they deserve.
“As a group I think we’re underrated (DB’s). We don’t have all the big named guys. We do have a lot of veterans,” AJ shared. “People come in and think they’re going to disrespect us. We’re ready to go. At the end of the day that makes me angry and I’m ready to hit them in the mouth. That’s the approach that all of us (DB’s) have.”
At six feet, AJ is a bigger cornerback and has established a repetition as a complete player, able to not only be active in the passing game, but a physical presence against the run as well. Bottom line, Bouye believes in dropping the hammer every chance he gets.
“It’s fun to hit. Our whole secondary has that mentality. At the end of the day you might as well take a shot, you got everybody around swarming. I played safety in college, so I always have liked to hit. That’s another way of establishing respect.”
With the Texans sitting atop the AFC South, AJ thinks the defense has a chance to lead the Texans into the playoffs.
“We’re getting better every week. We’re working hard, paying attention to detail and taking the coaching,” Bouye observed. “That’s the thing I like about our defense. All our guys are coachable guys, from rookies, to veterans. From an individual standpoint that was one of the things that I wasn’t doing early in my career. I wasn’t really locked in and focused on the coaching. I was more worried about other things.”
They say timing is everything. AJ is having his best year as a pro and will be a free agent at the end of the year. Quality cornerbacks make big money in the pass-happy NFL and if his play continues at its present level he will get a huge contract. Will it come from the Texans?
“I’m being patient, at the end of the day it’s more than the money to me,” AJ reasoned. “It’s about respect. That’s one thing that I’ve taken the approach of, even if I was to get money in the future. In my mind I want to be the best. I’m doing whatever I can to be that. At the same time I want to be the best teammate and help my team win. I try not to focus on it too much, but I would love to stay.”
It’s Thanksgiving weekend and AJ knows he’s got a lot to be thankful for.
“First I’m thankful for my failures, they made me a better person. Even through injuries and stuff it could have always been worse, but God took care of me. I’m thankful for my Dad who works hard. He goes the extra mile just to make sure I’m good. I’m thankful for my daughter. She’s everything to me. She motivates me, just to see her smile. I’m also thankful for her mother for always being there and for her support taking care of her. I’m thankful for my teammates cause at the end of the day we’re all in this together and they never gave up on me.”