Texans' Lovie Smith doesn't name Dameon Pierce RB1, yet

Dameon Pierce attacks the line of scrimmage with all of subtlety of a freight train, utilizing an aggressive, downhill approach to truck his way through tacklers.

Texans coach Lovie Smith took a less direct path than Pierce's running style when asked directly if the rookie running back was going to be named the starter.

Whether it's for competitive reasons given that the Texans are preparing for their Sept. 11 season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts or just his preference, Smith declined to anoint Pierce as RB1. That doesn't mean that Pierce won't wind up starting or being the primary running back regardless of first-team status or not. It was just how he chose to answer the question.

“I don’t have a mask on on how I feel about things," Smith said Monday. "Dameon Pierce has played good ball pretty much since he got in the facility. He’s a good football player, right amount of power. He’ll make you miss in the open field. He can catch the ball. He can do a lot of things that NFL running backs do.”

A fourth-round draft pick from Florida, Pierce is intriguing Texans fans and fantasy football managers with his production and powerful cuts. He rushed for 86 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries in two preseason games.

Why not name him the guy right now? 

“I’ve told you about Jalen Pitre, that doesn’t mean I’ll tell you about everything else," Smith said. "If I was going to tell you, I would’ve come out here and said that. We’re not naming any more positions. Since Jalen Pitre has been in the starting lineup the entire time that he’s here, that’s an easy one. With our running back position, I think you can see why we’ll kind of wait for that.”

What isn't ambiguous is that offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to emphasize what he's hoping will be an upgraded running game after the Texans were statistically the worst rushing attack in the NFL a year ago.

The experiment of older running backs Mark Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead was a colossal failure. Now, the Texans are hoping that Pierce along with former Indianapolis Colts 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack and Burkhead can combine for a stronger running game.

“I’ll just say we do have a plan," Smith said. "We’re a running team, just look at who we have on our roster right now. When I say we’re a running team, I’m not giving you anything. The team that we play to open up the season, right here at NRG stadium, they’re a running team, too. Their best football player may be their running back (Jonathan Taylor). 

"There’s a lot of ways to do it, and we’re going to look at all of the different ways that you can run the football. When I say run the football and be physical, it’s not like we’re going to run the ball every play this year. Whether we win or we lose, eventually it’s going to come down to the passing game, our quarterback, Davis Mills, completing passes to our receivers.”

Pierce started against the San Francisco 49ers and rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown on six carries in one series Thursday night during a 17-0 preseason victory at NRG Stadium. Pierce displayed an ultra-physical demeanor against the NFC West franchise.

“I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity,” Pierce said after the game. “I’m grateful to be in this position. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You’ve got to find that happy medium. Once you find that as an athlete, it’s easy to navigate. At the end of the day, you’re going to learn from it and get better from it.”

Pierce was clearly the most impressive back in practice sessions and games, including a 49-yard rushing performance on five carries against the New Orleans Saints. With Pierce, though, it’s more about the kind of crisp runs he’s manufacturing and his ultra-physical approach more so than fancy statistics.

Pierce said he gave his first touchdown ball to his mom.

“It means a lot,” Pierce said. “It’s a great organization, a great family atmosphere around here. It’s a good feeling when you walk in the building. Everybody is pulling in the same direction. It’s making it easy to buy in.”

After seeing enough out of him against New Orleans, Pierce was held out of the Texans’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams.

“I don’t run with good intentions, to answer your question,” Pierce said. “I don’t be angry, just real passionate about what I do.  I took bits and pieces of everybody’s game and molded it to my own style, which is violent. I like to fight for my yards. I like to punish the defense. I don’t like taking hits. I like giving hits.”

Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season in a Gators offensive system that platooned running backs. 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.

What is becoming evident is that the Texans have found a young running back worth investing time and resources into developing.

“Dameon is going to do a lot of special things for this team,” Texans right offensive tackle Tytus Howard said. “I remember being on the sidelines. I wasn’t in when he made those runs in the first week. I was excited. We haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher here since 2019 with Carlos Hyde. To see a rookie come in and make those types of plays the first time he got the ball it’s going to be something special.”

Texans general manager Nick Caserio didn’t hide his enthusiasm when the AFC South franchise landed Pierce.

“He plays with a lot of joy,” 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.”

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

New Orleans Saints v Houston Texans

Photo: Getty Images North America

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