Jalen Pitre encouraged by Texans regular-season debut

Jalen Pitre reacted aggressively, racing upfield from the secondary in pursuit of Indianapolis Colts All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor.

The rookie safety stopped Taylor after a gain of four yards, recording the first tackle of the Texans' season Sunday during a 20-20 tie at NRG Stadium.

It was an encouraging debut for the second-round draft pick and former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Baylor, displaying sound instincts and toughness.

The Stafford graduate finished with 11 tackles overall, third-most on the defense behind linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and safety Jonathan Owens. Pitre tied for the fifth-most by an NFL rookie in the first game of the regular season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and the second-most among rookies in their Texans debut behind linebacker DeMeco Ryans' 13 tackles in 2006.

As adeptly as Pitre performed, it was a few tackles missed and other plays that haunted him a bit.

“It was a fun game, I enjoyed it," Pitre said. "Felt like the defense was flying around and having a lot of fun out there with those guys. There are a lot of things I want to clean up going into Week 2, specifically my tackling. Second, my patience and my reads. I think those two are the two biggest things that I’m looking to improve on.

“Definitely, had a couple great run fits. I think that I showed up on time to make the play. There were a couple that I thought it could have showed up a little bit earlier on to define things for other players around me. I look forward to improving on that.”

 Pitre was flagged for unnecessary roughness in the third quarter for a hit on wide receiver Alec Pierce. It was a bang-bang play where he wheeled around and delivered the hit. Pitre didn't agree with the call, but he accepted that he could handle that type of situation differently in the future in terms of body positioning.

He was somewhat surprised that the penalty was assessed.

“It was a play later in the down," Pitre said. "It was very quick, something that happened kind of on the spot of the moment. The receiver was there so I turned and I just tried to hit him as hard as possible. In the future, I want to locate the target area a lot faster and hopefully not get a penalty next time because obviously that hurt the team. A little bit (surprised) because I thought that I did lead with my shoulder and not my head, but obviously it was too high."  

Another play Pitre wishes he could have back: a potential interception that got away.

"In terms of my interception, I think I could have zoned in on the ball a lot more and not worried about the tight end as much as I did," Pitre said. "I think I could have executed and made the interception on the play. That’s something I want to improve on. Plays like that are going to happen, so I’m not dwelling on that too much.”

Signed to a $8.95 million contract that includes a $3.692 million signing bonus, 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 in his final college season. He finished with 76 tackles total, had three sacks, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries.

Improving as a tackler all goes back to the nuances of the game.

“First, starting off on my angles, understanding where I’m coming in and what type of tackle it’s going to be, whether it’s going to be a roll tackle or if its going to be one of those more form tackles," Pitre said. "Just understanding where my leverage is and the angle that I have and executing that to the best of my ability.'

“I don’t feel like I had many nerves in the first game. Our coaches do a great job of preparing us throughout the week, preparing us in practice to see the things that we need to see and help us to read our keys in the game. With the preparation, there wasn’t much nerves going into the game.”

The Texans are encouraged by what they've seen so far from Pitre. That's why they plugged him into an immediate starting job opposite Owens

"What he'll tell you is that he probably missed a few too many tackles, but made plays throughout," Texans coach Lovie Smith said.

In the fourth quarter alone, Taylor, the NFL rushing champion a year ago with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdown runs, gained 70 yards on nine carries. He averaged 7.8 yards per run, pounding the Texans' defense.

“It was just some great plays by Jonathan Taylor that I think he did a good job at making people miss getting some of those broken tackles," Pitre said. "Along with their line doing a great job of making a couple of good blocks. When somebody is not where they need to be, it’s easy for a run like that to be made. I think that’s the reason why they got a couple runs late in the game.”

As well as Pitre has performed, he has maintained a humble, low-key approach. That falls in line with his unassuming, friendly personality. Pitre doesn't think he has everything figured out yet.

The Texans envision Stingley and Pitre forming a cornerstone tandem in an overhauled secondary.

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 after drafting Pitre. "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."

At 5-foot-11, 198 pounds, Pitre packs a lot of power into a regular-sized frame. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and posted a 35-inch vertical leap prior to the NFL draft. That means he's more than fast enough and can jump high to knock down passes against taller wide receivers and tight ends.

“He's probably the most consistent rookie I've seen in my years,” Texans linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “He's just one of the guys. He is a rookie, but he doesn't play like one.”

Now, Pitre is preparing to square off against one of the top quarterbacks in the game Sunday: Denver Broncos Pro Bowl passer Russell Wilson.

"I think Russell Wilson is a great quarterback, a great leader and I’m excited to play against him this week," Pitre said. "It’s a blessing. I wouldn’t say I was a fan but I understood the type of game that he had and how good he was. I understood that he was a great quarterback, but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of his.” 


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

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans

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