Shadowing Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce step for step, Derek Stingley Jr. read the play perfectly.
Stingley was aware that he needed to protect the perimeter should Colts veteran quarterback Matt Ryan attempt to fire in a high lob pass. Mirroring Pierce's movements, Stingley redirected his trail technique to react when Pierce broke his route inside.
The Texans' rookie cornerback, first-round draft pick and former LSU consensus All-American did what comes naturally to him. He broke crisply on the football and swiped his hand to bat away Ryan's throw in the end zone for an incompletion.
"It was a little tight, so I knew he was probably going to do something outside," Stingley said. "I tried to stay outside leverage. He just took it back in. I just followed him. The ball was thrown and I made a play on the ball."
It was a fairly smooth debut for the third overall pick of the draft in his first NFL regular-season game, a 20-20 tie to the Colts. He had seven tackles, three solos and the one pass defensed.
Stingley looked comfortable in all situations and was his usual low-key self in discussing his performance.
"I think it was good," he said. "I did my job."
Fully recovered from a Lisfranc foot injury that required surgery, the Baton Rouge, La. native remained patient through a lengthy ramp-up process before making his NFL preseason debut against the Los Angeles Rams and deflected a pass intended for wide receiver Landen Akers.
Stingley said he continues to enjoy and soak up the moment of being in the NFL, realizing his childhood dream.
"I was saying that pretty much every play," Stingley said.
The Texans' defense had its moments against Ryan, including defensive end Jerry Hughes intercepting him once.
They did allow wide receiver Michael Pittman to catch nine passes for 121 yards on 13 targets with one touchdown. Most of the damage the Colts' offense inflicted was in the fourth quarter as they came back from a 20-3 deficit to send the game into overtime.
"I mean you look back on it and learn go back and look at the film and see what we can get better at," Stingley said. "You can see everybody flying around. One thing we're going to do is give effort."
At 6′0″, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn. The Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board and thus, selected him one pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Then, Stingley signed a fully guaranteed, four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option.
"Stingley got that demeanor," said Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who regularly stays after practice for extra work mentoring Stingley. "He reminds me of a guy that I played with. Not going to say any names, but that guy was special. Quiet guy, come out here and he's about business."
The early reviews on Stingley have been extremely positive. The Texans regard the Louisiana native as advertised.
"Just cut on the tape," Texans cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso said. "He's big. He can run. He's fluid. He's explosive. He's got great feet. He doesn't really have a glaring weakness in his game. The traits, you could see that in individual drills. You could see that."
Vasso emphasized that the mental aspect is another area where Stingley shines. He's regarded as a student of the game with a thirst for knowledge about every aspect of football.
"We're just excited about the player, mentally," Vasso said. "He's extremely conscientious. He's got a football mind that's constantly working. He wants to know why we're doing things. He wants to know the inner workings of why we do things, and I can appreciate that."
A two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former five-star recruit who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Both Stingley and rookie safety Jalen Pitre (11 tackles) performed well as starters in their first NFL game.
“I think they play really well, first NFL football game," Texans veteran corner Steven Nelson said. "I think they flew around made some plays. Really exciting to see.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.