JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Once speedy Texans kickoff returner Tremon Smith regained his footing after nearly falling down, there was no doubt about his final destination: the end zone.
Smith raced 98 yards for a touchdown on a kickoff return Sunday during the first half of a 30-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars as he adeptly followed key blocks by wide receiver Chris Moore and cornerback Tavierre Thomas. This represents the Texans' first kickoff return for a touchdown since Oct. 4, 2009 when Jacoby Jones returned a 95-yard touchdown in a 29-6 win over the Raiders.
Based on the conversations that Smith held last week with Texans special teams coordinator Frank Ross, the former Central Arkansas standout was fairly confident there would be a prime opportunity to break free.
“Frank was putting in the returns, and I knew it was this one certain return,” Smith said. “And if we got the right kick and I made a couple guys miss that it could go the distance. So, of course, I asked him to start off the game with it. And the first kick we got, they tried to kick it away, went far right. And then the second one, it was just -- it was the perfect: just like practice.
“I told the guys you're just getting in front of your guys, wall them off, do what you need to do, we'll get to the end zone. They did a great job of that. So, I definitely owe them all something. I haven't come up with it yet, but I'm going to get them something nice for just setting it up for me. I couldn't do it without my blockers. My guys have been doing a good job of practicing the details at practice, you know, getting the right-side leverage when it comes to blocking. I just do the best to set my guys up so to make their blocks way easier. Once I set them up and I just hit it full-speed, I trust my guys 100 percent. And the rest was me just running.”
Unlike a return in 2018 while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs when Smith scampered 97 yards only to get tackled shy of the end zone, no one was going to catch Smith this time.
“It’s just a good feeling,” Smith said. “In 2018, I had something like that happen. And I got tackled on like the 3-yard line. So I can't wait to get rid of that video. Of course they brought it up. Everybody still brings it up. I think it's done for right now, though. I think they can leave it in the past.
“When I broke through them last few tackles, I'm like, ‘I can't get caught, so I keep looking back, keep looking back. And I've got to stop doing that, too. I've got to start looking at the Jumbotron. If I stop looking back, I'll stop slowing down and won't have to worry about anybody catching me.”
A former Chiefs sixth-round draft pick, the cornerback and kick returner has bounced around the NFL with stints with the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts before joining the Texans last offseason.
For the organization to show its belief in him by signing him to a one-year, $1.6 million extension that includes $500,000 guaranteed, including a $150,000 signing bonus and $50,000 workout bonus, $500,00 total guaranteed and a $1.1 million base salary, according to league sources, was personally significant for Smith.
The knowledge that Smith will be back for the 2022 season as general manager Nick Caserio’s first in-season contract extension resonated deeply.
Texans coach David Culley was beaming afterward when asked about Smith.
“Tremon, he is so explosive back there and he's been close before,” Culley said. “Our special teams this week did a nice job of preparation from the standpoint of understanding that if we took care of our business and we block well and gave our returners, punt returner and kickoff returner, an opportunity to get through the hole there that there's a chance to score, and they did a really nice job of that.
Signed last year to a $1.1 million contract that included an $80,000 signing bonus and $200,000 of his $920,000 base salary guaranteed, Smith reunited with Ross in Houston after playing for the former New England Patriots scout in Indianapolis last season. His longest return previously this year was a 44-yarder against the Los Angeles Rams.
Among the players who delivered blocks for Smith: wide receiver Jordan Veasy, tight end Jeff Driskel, a converted quarterback, as well as Moore and Thomas leading the interference.
“They threw some great blocks,” Smith said. “I trusted those guys 100 percent. I seen them make their blocks in practice every day. And even if they did miss a couple in practice, I still believed in them.”
What might Smith buy for his blockers as a Christmas present and a reward for helping him score a touchdown?
“So when I was in Kansas City, Tyreek Hill got us all like birds or something for when he scored his punt return touchdown,” Smith said. “It's going to be something real nice. You know, the holiday's coming up too. It will be a surprise. They're not going to know when they're going to get it or anything. It's just going to be up in their locker one day.”