Backpedaling smoothly, Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. flipped his hips before reversing direction to break on the football delivered by cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso. Stingley looked fluid and didn't appear to have any issues with his surgically repaired left foot, planting firmly during individual drills.
The Texans eased Stingley -- the third overall pick of the draft and former LSU star -- into practices this spring as a concerted plan to get him fully healthy. The plan is to cut Stingley loose for full-team drills during training camp and install him as a shutdown corner who shadows opponents' most dangerous wide receivers.
A former blue-chip recruit ranked the top recruit in the nation, Stingley dominated at The Dunham School with his rare blend of athleticism and technically sound play. He didn’t miss a beat at LSU, becoming a Freshman All-American and two-time All-SEC selection, finishing his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Now, Stingley is making another leap in competition as he transitions to the NFL. The early reviews on Stingley have been extremely positive. The Texans regard the Louisiana native as advertised.
"Just cut on the tape," Vasso said. "He's big. He can run. He's fluid. He's explosive. He's got great feet. He doesn't really have a glaring weakness in his game. The traits, you could see that in individual drills. You could see that."
Vasso emphasized that the mental aspect is another area where Stingley shines. He's regarded as a student of the game with a thirst for knowledge about every aspect of football.
"We're just excited about the player, mentally," Vasso said. "He's extremely conscientious. He's got a football mind that's constantly working. He wants to know why we're doing things. He wants to know the inner workings of why we do things, and I can appreciate that."
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, with 4.37 speed in the 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn. The Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board, and thus, selected him one pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner fourth overall. Then, Stingley signed a fully guaranteed, four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option.
Vasso isn't into making predictions, but he's extremely excited about the player Stingley already is -- and more importantly -- what he can become with experience and seasoning.
"I don't really lean on expectations," Vasso said. "I'm just trying to get him incrementally better each day and that starts with the mental right now. Me and him don't talk about expectations. We'll see when he hits the grass. You can make more strides then."
Stingley has also made a strong early impression on older teammates, including veteran corner Steven Nelson, a former Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kansas City Chiefs starter acquired this offseason.
“Great guy, very talented, hence why he got drafted where he got drafted," Nelson said. "You know, I think he's going to do some great things here whenever he gets rolling.”
“Great ball skills, athletic, smart, and willing to learn, asks a bunch of questions," safety Jonathan Owens said of Stingley. "That's really a thing where you're a new guy, you're always going to be a sponge, anything anybody tells you."
Stingley plays the game aggressively but under control. His style of play is steady and smooth.
“I would say I’m just calm,” Stingley said after the Texans drafted him. “I don’t let my emotions get too high, too low. I know in certain areas whenever I mess up, I know how to diagnose it and talk it through with my coaches and fix it real fast.”
Texans coach Lovie Smith anticipates both Stingley and first-round offensive guard Kenyon Green to be ready for training camp to hit the ground running. Like Stingley, the Texans incrementally ramped up Green's workload during OTAs and minicamp.
“We expect them to be full-speed, ready to go," Smith said. "Both players have had offseason surgeries. We knew that. So, we had a plan. We wanted them to first come in, we evaluate, see exactly where they are.
"We don't play tomorrow, so we're going to take it slow with them. The mental part has been good. We come back in the fall, we're going to be pretty much at 100 percent first day of training camp. We’re excited about that.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.