Shorthanded Texans defense comes up big, led by rookie Garret Wallow


Garret Wallow relentlessly chased the football, living up to his reputation for speed, hustle and precise pursuit angles during his first career NFL start.

The Texans rookie linebacker notched his first career sack, bringing down Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick of the draft. And the former All-Big 12 selection from TCU tied with nickel back Tavierre Thomas for a team-high and career-high 11 tackles.

With starting linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, Wallow had a vastly expanded role Sunday during a 30-16 road victory over the Jaguars.

“I think it was definitely exciting to be out there,” Wallow said. “First and foremost, all the credit goes to my teammates. Of course, none of that would be possible without them. And we played really hard as a team both sides of the ball. I'm very proud of that. And that gave us a chance to get a win today.”

With the Texans shorthanded on defense due to safety Justin Reid being out with a concussion and cornerback Terrance Mitchell and defensive end Jon Greenard out after testing positive, the Texans filled in with Jonathan Owens at safety, Lonnie Johnson Jr. at corner and Derek Rivers at defensive end. Rivers had a sack and one tackle for a loss on Lawrence. Johnson broke up an end-zone pass, and Owens had eight tackles.

“Garret Wallow, he's playing lights out right now,” said cornerback Tremon Smith, who returned a kickoff 98 yards of ra touchdown. “Definitely coming in as a rookie, he's learning his blocks each and every day. He's staying after practice. He's at practice early. And it's going to pay off and he's going to be a great player for us on down the line.”

Neville Hewitt started at Mike linebacker and had 10 tackles. Defensive end Chris Smith, a former Jaguars player elevated Saturday from the practice squad, had one sack.

“The thing that I saw, they did their job,” Texans coach David Culley said. “They did what their coaches asked them to do. There wasn't a bunch of mistakes. Guys were right where they needed to be. They kept the ball in front of them. Basically, when you do that and you use your eyes and play the game the right way, good things happen.”

Wallow has gotten a taste of being a part-time linebacker over the past two weeks.

Now, he’s playing a more pivotal role.

A fifth-round draft pick from TCU, Wallow had four tackles in the previous two games while playing 34 percent and 25 percent of the defensive snaps in losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. 

Wallow has seen his role grow in recent weeks since the Texans deactivated former linebacker Zach Cunningham against the Colts for multiple disciplinary issues. He notched a tackle for a loss, the first of his career, against the Seahawks during a 33-13 loss at NRG Stadium.

Wallow's sack on Lawrence was a huge play.

“It was definitely a goodtime for us to make a huge defensive stop and set the tone for how the rest of the game was going,” Wallow said. “We came out there fired up just ready to make a spot, just put our team in the best position. I'm just glad we were able to get that done.”

Signed to a four-year, $3.775 million rookie contract that includes a $295,884 signing bonus, Wallow had 287 career tackles, 32 ½ for losses and 9 ½ sacks in college. Wallow ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds at the Horned Frogs’ campus Pro Day workout where he bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times and had a 32 ½ inch vertical leap, a 10-2 broad jump, a 4.12 short shuttle and a 6.87 three-cone drill.

Wallow had 90 tackles last season, including nine for losses and three sacks, five quarterback hits and three forced fumbles.

The entire defense adapted to the coronavirus pandemic that has struck the entire NFL.

“Well, I think a lot of the preparation has been put in since we first arrived here, just getting better, learning, learning the game better, becoming a student of the game better in any way that's possible,” Wallow said. “So, I think that definitely contributed for all of us to get to this point.

“Actually, things were popping up each and every hour of the day. So you never really knew. But I think guys were just having that mindset of just the next man up. Whatever happens, we have to go out there and just play to the high level standard that we hold ourselves to as a defense and as a team. So, I think that was huge. And I think definitely excited to see all of us flying around there today making plays.”

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars

Photo: Getty Images

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