It was a beautifully simplistic and well-executed play for the Texans that suggests a smash-mouth style is what offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to establish as the identity of the offense.
Undrafted rookie fullback Troy Hairston, a 5-foot-11, 245-pound converted defensive lineman and linebacker from Central Michigan who has also excelled on special teams, fired out of his stance in the I-formation to run interference for rookie running back Dameon Pierce.
Nine yards later, Pierce was smiling and the running game was clicking.
The Texans rushed for 156 yards on 36 carries along with nine first downs and one touchdown, scored by Pierce, who gained 86 yards on 11 preseason carries.
"Absolutely, we want to be a tough football team that loves to run the football and I think that’s what we have been trying to establish throughout the preseason," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "That should open up things. And by saying that, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be a good passing team. Our practices we have nine-on-seven, where the defense knows the offense is running the ball and they need to do something about it.
"Yes, we want that to be our personnel. Pro-I leads, maybe one of my favorite plays last night. It’s a lead with Troy leading as the fullback and Dameon carried the ball for nine yards. One of my favorite plays from the game.”
Hairston is making a strong bid for a roster spot.
The Texans cut veteran fullback Andy Janovich on Sunday, leaving Hairston to compete with fullback Paul Quessenberry. Quessenberry has gotten the bulk of the work with the first-team offense in I-formation alignments.
The brother of former Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry and current Texans center Scott Quessenberry, Paul Quessenberry can also play tight end.
"Tough call," Smith said. "I can go down about seven or eight other positions where I could say tough call, too. And that’s the beauty of where we’ve been with training camp. I say there’s hard decisions, but, in the end, if you just start looking at everything that’s happened, your gut will tell you which direction you should go at all positions. You mentioned the fullback position, there have been at least a couple of good guys we have liked at that position and we’ll make a good decision.”
Hairston is applying his defensive background (129 tackles, 15 sacks, 33 tackles for losses) at his new position after lining up at linebacker during the offseason. He ran for two yards against the Saints and had a four-yard reception against the Rams.
“He’s caught our eye throughout camp,” Smith said. “Versatile player and was a defensive lineman in college, linebacker. Normally, those guys can transition over to the fullback position. Brings a lot of athletic ability. He’s an excellent special teams player, also good lead blocker. We like a lot of things that he’s done.”
Texans' roster cuts pending
The Texans face a Tuesday afternoon NFL deadline to get down to a league limit of 53 players.
They'll spend the next few days making decisions.
“That’s kind of flexible, kind of fluid," Lovie Smith siad. "We haven’t completely finished watching the video together. I’m getting ready to go back with the offense right now, but we have time. Last night told us a lot, but we’ll take our time, too.
"We want to make decisions, let guys know, but we want to make good, informed decisions. As far as the timeline, that will keep going, talk a lot today, talk a lot (Saturday). Daily communication is what we’ll be having.”
The Texans have multiple injured players, including defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (biceps), kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn (groin), defensive tackle Ross Blacklock (groin), linebackers Garret Wallow (ankle) and Christian Harris (hamstring), tight ends Pharaoh Brown (hamstring), Teagan Quitoriano (knee) and Antony Auclair (right knee), wide receiver Drew Estrada (leg), cornerback Tavierre Thomas (quadriceps), cornerback Kendall Sheffield and starting defensive tackle Roy Lopez (hip flexor).
The Texans could place some players on injured reserve, including Auclair after getting down to 53 players so they can activate that player later when they're healthy.
"I think you need to take in all the information you have into making those decisions," Smith said. "Antony, we have history with Antony. When you have history with someone, you know how they perform in certain situations. You take that into consideration. You also have to see where you are right now, currently and how players got an opportunity to play and how they’ve played.
"We have some of those situations, there will be some injured players on our roster, we know that. We’ll just have to keep managing it. Normally, it works itself out. It does seem like this year some of these decisions are about as hard as they’ve ever been, and as a coach you want to be in these situations.”
Kenyon Green draws positive reviews
Texans rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green drew strong reviews from the coaching staff after his NFL debut.
The first-round draft pick was as advertised in his NFL debut, displaying aggressiveness, power and mobility. Green missed the first two preseason games due to a concussion and missed a portion of the offseason after undergoing lateral collateral ligament surgery.
“I thought he did some good things," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "He’s missed a little bit of time but there’s some flash plays that he had. Kenyon Green is a good football player. Injuries kind of knocked him back a little bit but when he’s been out there practicing, we’ve seen these types of plays that you’re talking about. For you to bring him up, everyone kind of noticed some of the blocks he made. He’s right on schedule, progressing the way we would like for him to.”
Drafted 15th overall out of Texas A&M, the former blue-chip recruit and All-Southeastern Conference selection from Atascosita High School crushed 49ers linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles on a run by Rex Burkhead for five yards. And on Marlon Mack's 24-yard run, Green got a ton of push up the middle, shoving back 49ers linebacker Segun Olobi at the second level to set up a touchdown.
Veteran running back Marlon Mack rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries, gaining a lot of yards with Green running interference. Green was sidelined for the first two games of the preseason as he recovered from a concussion. He missed time in the offseason while recovering from surgery to repair a lateral collateral ligament.
"It felt good, getting out there with my teammates," Green said. "There's still things I can do better, stuff I need to work on, my technique and everything, getting more comfortable out there. Overall, I think I did pretty good. Physical, taking people off the ball, making sure I'm driving them off the ball. I feel like we played good as a unit.
"I feel like we did real good. It's a blessing being out there, being with the hometown team. I'm happy to be out there and happy I can contribute to my team. I need to keep building. I can get better at the little things in my game. That's all I'm worried about is getting better. After the first hit, I calmed down and the jitters went away. I'm just focused on getting better whether it's second-string or starter."
Roy Lopez injury not serious
Texans defensive tackle Roy Lopez was held out of the 49ers game due to a hip flexor injury. It isn't regarded as long-term.
“Yeah, a little soft tissue injury," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "Shouldn't be much, nothing to keep him out of the first game, anything like that. Going into the third preseason game, if guys aren't 100 percent or close to that, we held them a little bit. He'll be fine. Nothing serious.”
Quessenberry draws praise
Scott Quessenberry has been the primary center for most of the preseason whenever veteran starter Justin Britt has been sidelined.
Britt didn't play in any preseason games.
Quessenberry started against the San Francisco 49ers. He's competing for a roster spot with center Jimmy Morrissey.
“We like Scott," Lovie Smith said. "Scott has done some good things. We brought him here for that reason. Whenever you can snap the football, that’s a good start. We talked about how much we’ve kept Justin Britt out, but Scott has stepped in and done a good job. The offense has continued to move along with him in there. He’s played in the league for a while, he has history.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.