Jalen Pitre adapted on the fly, showing the intelligence and instincts he's demonstrated throughout training camp to earn an immediate starting job.
The Texans' rookie safety made his NFL debut and had four tackles, including one for a loss, against the Saints. Pitre lined up all over the field for the Texans in his first preseason game. He tackled Saints running back Dwayne Washington for a loss of two yards and appeared to be gaining knowledge from snap to snap.
He was close to a potential interception of Saints quarterback Ian Book that was picked off by cornerback Tremon Smith instead.
"Jalen Pitre has been outstanding throughout camp," Lovie Smith said. "Right now, I like what he's done.'
Pitre made it clear days before kickoff that he still has a lot to learn.
“Yeah, I would say I'm still growing," Pitre said. "I'm still understanding the playbook, understanding what offenses like to do in the NFL, and I love the game of football, so I love learning every day, and I feel like I'm doing that. I'm just continuing to go up. I feel like I haven't really reached any plateau yet. I've got a long way to go.
"Coming in, I just wanted to make sure that I was confident from the start. I understand that I don't know what I'm doing fresh off, and I think that when you approach something you've got to start with confidence in order to grasp the material and be able to go out there and make the plays when it's needed. I try to approach everything with a confident mindset, and I think that's helped me.”
The Texans are proceeding cautiously with rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. due to a previous foot surgery. Stingley didn't play against the Saints. The Texans and Pitre envision him and Stingley forming a cornerstone in an overhauled secondary.
"Stingley, you know, he’s great," Pitre said. "He’s a guy that I lean on when talking about different things that the offense is trying to do. I love playing with him and I love being out there with him. We’re always talking about what we’re about to get and I feel like me and him are going to be great together."
Texans observations from win over Saints
Texans starting quarterback Davis Mills appeared composed and poised, looking calmer than he did a year ago as a rookie starter when he went 2-9 in 11 starts and 13 games overall. Mills was playing without multiple starters and went three-and-out on two series before being replaced by Jeff Driskel. Mills completed 3 of 3 passes for 14 yards and an 86.1 passer rating. There were no real conclusions or revelations to be gleaned from his short appearance. He played fine with his usual sound mechanics. Situationally, the Texans' offense just didn't click. "I felt comfortable out there," Mills said. "I would have liked to have had some longer drives. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit tonight."
Cornerback and kickoff returner Tremon Smith was the first player that Texans general manager Nick Caserio signed to a contract extension during the season last year. Smith, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars, intercepted Saints quarterback Ian Book on an errant pass that was deflected and returned it 12 yards. Smith also effectively shadowed Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith on a fade pass to the corner of the end zone, breaking up the throw to prevent a touchdown. Smith is the Texans' primary kickoff returner and had one kickoff return for 25 yards. He had a 15-yard punt return.
Defensive end Ogbo Okoronwko signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with his hometown team after earning a Super Bowl ring with the Los Angeles Rams. The former Alief Taylor standout and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Oklahoma generated a lot of pressure and recorded one sack. Okoronkwo also disrupted the backfield enough to create opportunities for his teammates to get to the quarterback.
Texans rookie defensive tackle Thomas Booker, a fifth-round draft pick from Stanford, has had a relatively quiet training camp. But he had a big game in his NFL debut with four tackles and one sack.
Texans linebacker Blake Cashman finds the football fast. The former New York Jets starter is definitely instinctive. Cashman had eight tackles, one for a loss and a pass deflected.
Texans rookie defensive tackle Kurt Hinish is making a strong impression on the coaching staff. Hinish, who received $85,000 guaranteed from the Texans after going undrafted out of Notre Dame, has drawn praise from Lovie Smith for his gritty style and strong technique. He reinforced why the Texans like his approach to the game, sacking Saints quarterback Ian Book, a former Fighting Irish teammate, for a loss of 11 yards.
Texans backup quarterback Jeff Driskel played the majority of the game, completing 16 of 26 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted three times. Driskel, a former Denver Broncos starter whom the Texans shifted to tight end at one point before he broke his collarbone on special teams against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, had one touchdown pass on a jump ball to 6-foot-2, 220-pound wide receiver Jalen Camp. On one of his interceptions, he threw into heavy traffic that was intended for Dameon Pierce. He had another interception on a pass intended for wide receiver Chad Beebe that was thrown behind him. Driskel rushed for 17 yards on three carries.
Chris Moore and Phillip Dorsett, competing to be the primary slot receiver with rookie John Metchie III diagnosed with a form of leukemia and expected to miss the entire season, both had solid performances. Moore, who caught 21 passes on 22 targets and two touchdowns last season, caught both passes thrown to him for 25 yards. Dorsett, healthy again after missing time at the start of training camp, caught two passes for 18 yards on three targets.
Texans rest several starters
The Texans followed a conservative approach given this was the first preseason game, holding out several key players as a precautionary measure.
That included Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, star wide receiver Brandin Cooks, veteran center Justin Britt, running back Rex Burkhead, rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., defensive tackle Maliek Collins, defensive end Jerry Hughes, linebacker Christian Kirksey and defensive end Mario Addison.
The Texans also had multiple injured players miss the game, along with backup quarterback Kyle Allen, who was out after testing positive for COVID, per league sources. Allen is expected to return early next week.
Players who didn't play due to injuries included rookie offensive guard and first-round draft pick Kenyon Green (knee), tight end Antony Auclair (sprained right knee), wide receiver Drew Estrada (leg), wide receiver Chester Rogers (ankle), tight end Teagan Quitoriano (knee), linebackers Garret Wallow (sprained ankle) and Christian Harris (hamstring) and corner Kendall Sheffield.
Texans coach Lovie Smith said there were no major injuries.
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.