Tremon Smith sniffed out the waggle pass, adeptly reading the eyes of Green Bay Packers quarterback Kurt Benkert.
The Texans corner jumped into the passing lane and intercepted Benkert near the sideline, tapping his toes like a wide receiver to complete the turnover inbounds.
Smith delivered some significant big plays in his preseason debut with the Texans, including a 20-yard punt return during which he nearly broke into the clear for a potential touchdown.
“That first game was real fun,” Smith said. “That's what we've been waiting all camp to do is go out and compete against everybody else. Didn't get tired of lining up against our receivers, but it was fun seeing somebody else. On that interception, I felt the routes.
“Was getting digs and overs the whole game and I kept that in the back of my mind and seen him take off and beat him to the spot. .. I felt like I should have got that punt return to the house. I'm going to get it this week, though.”
A former Kansas City Chiefs sixth-round draft pick from Central Arkansas who has also played for the Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, Smith, 25, also had a 23-yard kickoff return against his former teammates.
Smith was also flagged for defensive pass interference, which veteran safety Justin Reid called a bad call.
“Oh, man, I wish he took that one to the crib, he was one player away from taking that to the house,” veteran safety Justin Reid said. “I thought his interception was excellent. The PI call that he had on him I didn't think was a PI. Maybe I'm biased but I thought it was great coverage. He's doing a great job. His man coverage is really good.”
Smith concurred about the penalty, albeit after watching it multiple times.
“Now watching it for like the fourth or fifth time, I give it to him, it's whatever,” Smith said. “Refs aren't going to argue with me on the field because it was so bang-bang but it was a good call at the end of the day.”
So far, it looks like Texans general manager Nick Caserio made a good call by signing Smith to a one-year contractwith a maximum value of $1.13 million. That includes an $80,000 signing bonus, a $920,000 ($200,000 of it guaranteed) base salary, a $20,000 workout bonus, and up to $80,000 in per-game active roster bonus.
“I feel good,” said Smith, who trained with Reid and Lonnie Johnson Jr. during the offseason. “Once we in here, we bond together real quick and it wasn’t bad at all.”
A third-team All-American in college who intercepted 15 passes in four seasons, Smith averaged 26.8 yards on kickoff returns for Kansas City and was named an all-rookie selection. He was even briefly moved to running back before being shifted back to his natural cornerback position.
Last season, Smith played for the Indianapolis Colts where he worked under new Texans special teams coordinator Frank Ross before reuniting in Houston.
“He's a guy you love to play for,” Smith said. “I couldn’t not come play for him and it's a great choice by him obviously to come coach for the Texans.”
Smith also played for cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso with the Eagles.
“Just coming from that and just knowing his background, how hard he worked on his way up to get to this coaching job,” Smith said, “and just how hard I worked to get in this position, it was a good connection.”
Smith averaged 22.5 yards per kickoff return last season for Indianapolis. He has 54 career returns for 1,369 yards and a 25.4 return average.
The Texans felt comfortable trading backup corner and special-teams contributor Keion Crossen to the New York Giants in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round draft pick because of their depth at corner, including Smith.
“I think it was more so, it was a good situation for our football team, that Nick felt like getting some draft picks,” Texans coach David Culley said. “And a situation where we do have depth there. And it was a situation where we felt like our football team got better by being in that situation and doing what we did.”
The Texans went 4-12 last season, but have significantly overhauled the roster with 53 new players.
“We got a lot to prove,” Smith said. “ It's all new guys pretty much on a one-year deal, two-year deal, I feel like we're here to prove ourselves and put the league on notice.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.