Jonathan Owens is poised to make individual history Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Owens is set to start his first NFL game. The Texans safety, a former undrafted free agent from Missouri State and the boyfriend of Olympic gold medalist gymnast Simone Biles, steps into a bit of a spotlight against Jaguars rookie quarterback and top overall pick Trevor Lawrence.
Owens is starting next to safety Eric Murray due to safeties Justin Reid, A.J. Moore and Terrence Brooks being placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Lonnie Johnson Jr. joins him in a reconfigured secondary lineup due to starting corner Terrance Mitchell also on the COVID-19 reserve list.
The Texans have enough confidence in Owens that they recently signed him to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, giving him a' two-year deal worth $1.175 million, including the remaining base salary for this season, along with a $10,000 signing bonus, a $895,000 base salary in 2022 and a $10,000 workout bonus.
“I prepare every week as if I am going to go out there and play,” Owens said. “Whenever the coaches do call my number and give me a more impactful role for team, I’m always prepared. Excited for the challenge and whatever they asked me to do, I’m ready to do it.”
Owens has been with the Texans for the past three seasons after signing with the Arizona Cardinals out of college.
Owens had a 26-yard kickoff return last season and an unassisted tackle on Indianapolis Colts star running back Jonathan Taylor. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds.
“Fast and physical,” Owens said of his playing style. “Play hard and do whatever the coaches ask of me. Do my job first, that’s the biggest thing.”
Owens has six tackles in four games in 36 defensive snaps, and his confidence is growing.
“Absolutely, you go out there and like you said, you play more snaps, you get more comfortable, you think less when you are out there,” Owens said. “IIt has been a while, probably since college before I have gotten a lot of defensive snaps. This year, they have been slowly building me up. I went in for a couple of series one game and I played a big portion of the second half last game. Just building my confidence up slowly and I’m excited for the challenge.”
As for Johnson, it’s been an up-and-down season for the former second-round draft pick from Kentucky.
Although he has a team-high three interceptions, he was replaced as a starter at safety and then shifted back to cornerback. Now, he’s a starting cornerback again.
“It’s good that I am versatile,” Johnson said. “I’ll go out there and play multiple positions and not be worried about it too much. Learning both of the positions and not going out there and try to focus on one. Just going out there and playing to the best of my ability whether it’s at safety or corner.”
Johnson has 48 tackles and five passes defensed in 12 games and five starts. He’ll play against Lawrence for the first time.
“The first game I didn’t play, so I’m not sure what he’s seen from me on film,” Johnson said. “But watching him on film I feel like he’s getting better. He is still a rookie quarterback, so we just have to go out there and take advantage of the opportunities we get.”