Texans' Jalen Pitre headed for starting job

Jalen Pitre saw the collision unfolding in front of him as cornerback Tavierre Thomas and linebacker Neville Hewitt converged on wide receiver Chris Conley, popping the football into the air.

And the Texans rookie safety pounced on the opportunity, diving forward for his first interception of training camp Friday morning. It was a big play by the instinctive second-round draft pick from Baylor, but it didn't come as a surprise.

The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year has been around the football since the start of camp, reacting smoothly to routes and closing quickly.

Signed to an $8.95 million contract that includes a $3.692 million signing bonus, Pitre is firmly in the Texans' plans. He's already one of their starting safeties.

“What we should notice about Jalen is he's just blending in now," Texans coach Lovie Smith said of the Houston native. "Of course, he's one of our starting safeties. We aren't giving out any starting spots, but he's been working with the ones. But he's intelligent, smart, everything we're looking for in a safety, he has. Can't wait for him to actually play his first game.”

Pitre models his game after New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu, a former All-Pro selection and Texans defensive captain, along with Arizona Cardinals standout safety Budda Baker. A former consensus All-American, Pitre led Baylor with 18 tackles for losses and had three sacks and finished with 76 total tackles, intercepting two passes, breaking up seven more and had three fumble recoveries.

He had 60 tackles as a junior and was an All-Big 12 selection with 60 tackles, 13 for losses, two interceptions, returning both for touchdowns and 2 1/2 sacks. He's a converted linebacker who started as a true freshman before redshirting the following season with a shoulder injury. He lined up as a hybrid linebacker-safety in a position called the Star in a 4-2-5 defense under Dave Aranda after Matt Rhule was hired by the Carolina Panthers.

"Tyrann Mathieu is definitely No. 1 on my list of players I try to model my game after," Pitre said after being selected 37th overall by his hometown team. "I try to take different things from his game to add to mine. His versatility, his knack for being around the ball, his instincts, they're all things I try to add to my game. I try to mix in some Budda Baker as well. You hit it on the head with the two players I try to model my game after."

The Texans like Pitre's aggressive, fired-up style of play and his versatility.

"He plays with his hair on fire," Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. "Versatile player. They used him a little bit inside in the slot. He played safety, so he has some position versatility. I think he might have a role in the kicking game. Tough, instinctive football player, loves playing football. His energy was infectious when he was in the building.

"I would say Jalen falls in the category of embodying the types of people and players that we want to have in this building. Kind of their vigor and joy playing football. You see it in the way that he plays. He plays with his hair on fire."

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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