The way that Texans cornerback Desmond King sees the game is simplistic: Find the football, and take it away from the offense.
The veteran nickel and former All-Pro defensive back and returner uses his instincts to carry out what defensive coordinator Lovie Smith wants: create lots of turnovers.
“Absolutely, coach Lovie, he's a turnover mindset guy, takeaway mindset guy,” King said. “His defense is built on having eyes on the quarterback, having those zone instincts. So, what we want to do is be able to play fast out there on the field and get the ball.
“Just the takeaways. He wants his players to go out there and be comfortable playing. That's what we're doing. He wants us to play fast, play smart, and play physical. That's how we're going to play.”
King has built a reputation for his opportunistic style.
King anticipates throws adeptly, jumping into passing lanes for interceptions.
In 2018 with the Los Angeles Chargers, King had a career-high three interceptions.
King is also an explosive returner who had a 43-yard punt return and a 29-yard kickoff return during the preseason in relief of Pro Bowl return specialist Andre Roberts.
“Well he’s had a productive career, he’s been a Pro Bowl player in the past,” Texans coach David Culley said. “At our nickel position, he’s the kind of guy that Lovie feels comfortable there. I thought early in the training camp that things were a little slow for him but now he’s kind of got the hang of what we are trying to do right now and the last two games he’s really played well.
“An additional thing with him, that guy is an excellent returner and helps us in our return game also. Obviously, we have Andre back there and he did a phenomenal job for us in the preseason with Andre not being back here returning and we are not surprised by that.”
King won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back at Iowa with 14 career interceptions and three returned for touchdowns.
And that’s how King set a Michigan high school record with 29 career interceptions at East English Village Preparatory Academy and rushed for 2,360 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior.
The Detroit native, signed by the Texans to a one-year, $3.5 million contract that includes $1 million guaranteed with a $500,000 signing bonus and a $500,000 base salary guarantee, didn’t intercept a pass the past seasons with the Chargers and the Tennessee Titans, who acquired him in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick at the NFL trade deadline.
“I mean, the value, the value of a player, the more you can do, the better it is for you, yourself, and the team,” King said. “As long as I can contribute to the team's success, I'm down for it.”
The Texans and King are hoping he recaptures his playmaking form, which includes past interception returns for touchdowns off Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and upgrades their secondary as a ballhawking nickel back.
“Again, he’s a guy that’s put himself around the football a lot in his career,” Texans cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso said of King, who had a combined 54 tackles, two passes defensed, two sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown last season with Los Angeles and Tennessee. “I think he has to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. He’s been around the football the past two years. I think early in his career he was taking advantage of those opportunities. We have to get back to that. Again, he’s a guy that has a knack for the football and he finds his way to get around the football.”
A state champion wrestler at 150 pounds in high school, King is known for his feisty approach to the game.
He had Pro Football Focus grades of 85.0 during his first two NFL seasons, dropping to 70.9 and 67.0 over the past two seasons.
The Texans plan to do everything they can to get King around the football and capitalize on turnover opportunities.
“Just putting him in those situations and creating those competitive environments within practice,” Vasso said. “Obviously, that’s something that we hang our hat on, is creating a competitive culture within practice every day. Obviously he’s someone who’s taken advantage of those plays early in his career and he did it a little bit last year as well. Something that he can do and we’re confident he’s going to do in the future.”
King has 244 career tackles, four interceptions, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 8 ½ sacks, 16 tackles for losses and 14 quarterback hits. The Texans like his versatility.
“Desmond has played inside,” Vasso said. “He’s going to play a little bit inside for us as well, then he’s played on the back end as well. Versatile player that we’re going to use appropriately.
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.