Dameon Pierce runs with an angry, violent style as a classic downhill-style running back who hits the hole decisively and attacks the defense with bad intentions.
The Texans' punishing rookie displayed why he's earning a reputation as a hard-nosed back with some wiggle in the open field during his preseason debut against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night at NRG Stadium.
"I tried to sprinkle a little bit of magic in there," Pierce said inside the Texans' locker room. "I don't run with good intentions, to answer your question. I don't be angry, just real passionate about what I do."
Pierce smacked his chest to show how emotional he felt waiting for his turn. Over the past 24 hours, Pierce said that his feelings ran the gamut because there was so much anticipation building inside him.
"I got my thoughts together and did what I've been doing my whole life, just playing ball, just try to have fun with it," said Pierce, who got advice from veteran running back Rex Burkhead on how to calm down. "Man, if ya'll only knew what these last 24 hours were like for me. My head was racing. I've been jittery since last night. As the game got closer, I started letting loose. I started relaxing."
Pierce cut back and ran through an arm tackle by a 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle to bust into the secondary for a 20-yard run. Capable of bouncing off tacklers and maintaining his balance after the initial hit, Pierce rushed for 49 yards on five carries, averaging 9.8 yards per run.
"Dameon Pierce definitely caught my eye," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a good football player. He can run with power. He can cut on a dime. He can do something that you expect a good running back in the NFL to do. That was big for him."
Smith was asked what it will take for Pierce to earn the starting job but emphasized that it's premature to make that determination.
"Dameon has been impressive in practice," Smith said. "We expected him to do some of the things that he did. It's safe to say we like Dameon a lot."
Drafted in the fourth round out of Florida as the seventh running back selected overall in 2022, Pierce showed off his cutting skills, explosiveness, and power as he competes with veteran Marlon Mack for the starting job to revitalize a dormant Houston running game that ranked last in the NFL last season.
"Dameon Pierce, if you're in his way, he's going to run you over," Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre said days before kickoff. "That's the one tidbit I can give you about him."
Pierce once scored a touchdown for the Gators after getting his helmet knocked off. At the Senior Bowl all-star game, Pierce literally made a lot of noise with how much contact he generated against blitzing linebackers in pass protection drills.
"I took bits and pieces of everybody's game and molded it to my own style, which is violent," Pierce said. "I like to fight for my yards. I like to punish the defense. I don't like taking hits. I like giving hits."
He's a tough guy who also hustled through traffic to make the tackle after an interception by quarterback Jeff Driskel on a pass that was intended for him downfield.
"Man, that's hustle and trying to make the best of a bad situation," Pierce said. "You never want to turn the ball over."
Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 156 yards and one score.
Now, Pierce is off to a fast start at the NFL level.
"My progress is not only a testament to me, but I think our whole running back room, they really took me in," Pierce said. "I'm the youngest guy in there. They've really been treating me like a little brother. I know I'm going to aggravate them because I'm asking questions. They don't mind answering. They just laugh and they get me right. They're taking care of me. As long as I got them in my back pocket, I feel like I'm going to be all right."
Pierce has run the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds with a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times. The Georgia native rushed for 6,779 yards and scored 92 touchdowns in high school.
"He plays with a lot of joy," Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. "He plays with a lot of fight. He plays with a lot of toughness, and his personality, I would say, transfers over to the football field."
Mack, who tore his Achilles two seasons ago and has emphasized he now trusts his surgically repaired leg, didn't get to show much in two drives as he rushed for six yards on three carries. Mack didn't appear hesitant, but he didn't have a lot of opportunities in this first preseason game. Clearly, he wasn't nearly as impressive as Pierce.
A former 1,000-yard rusher with the Indianapolis Colts supplanted by Pro Bowl runner Jonathan Taylor, Mack has expressed confidence in his leg. He's had his moments during practice sessions, showing off his speed.
“I definitely feel like I'm there again," Mack said recently. "Last year, I didn't get that chance to show myself. But in the few games that I did, I felt that confidence in myself. But now, I've actually just got to go out there and do it again. I feel good, man.
"Every day I'm showing that explosion. I feel it in my cuts, and every day I keep going out there and keep doing it. I feel like my trust has always been 100% since last year. Just always had that trust, just didn't get the chance to show it again. But now, I'm actually going to keep on it, keep that trust in it.”
Mack has been mentoring Pierce, providing tips on how to run the football.
Inquisitive in nature, Pierce is listening to the veteran runner and running backs coach Danny Barrett and soaking up knowledge.
“He's a hungry learner, so he always asked the questions, man, makes sure he's always on point," Mack said. "That's why he's picking up really well. That's one thing you need as a young running back; ask questions, make sure you get everything from coaches, and just be well on yourself. And that's what he's doing.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.