Standing on the Texans' practice field Friday morning, Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. held a long conversation with veteran cornerback Steven Nelson.
The first-round draft pick from LSU asks a lot of questions, all part of his diligent process in doing his homework for every game. Stingley is seeking an edge. And he's determined to keep improving after delivering arguably his top performance of the season as he intercepted Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the end zone to help secure the Texans' first victory of the season.
After practices, Stingley immediately reviews the session on his iPad to study and critique his performance. It's all part of the daily routine for the low-key Louisiana native and former consensus All-American.
"I think he's been doing a good job," said Nelson, one of the highest graded corners in the league this year in his eighth NFL season. "He doesn't speak too much, but that's what you want. You don't want a guy who talks a lot. You want him to prove it with his actions. He puts his head down and goes to work."
That studious approach should help Stingley compete as he faces arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium: Las Vegas Raiders All-Pro wide receiver and $141.5 million man Davante Adams.
Two years ago, Adams scorched the Texans defense while playing for the Green Bay Packers. He caught 13 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a win at NRG Stadium, inflicting most of his damage against former Texans corner Vernon Hargreaves.
Traded to the Raiders in March for first-round and second-round draft picks, Adams reunited with his Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is playing Sunday after shoving a cameraman to the ground after a game against the Kansas City Chiefs and was cited for misdemeanor assault . He's eligible to play while the legal process plays out and the NFL investigates the incident.
Adams remains the same impactful player he was in Green Bay. He has caught 29 passes for 414 yards and five touchdowns for the 1-4 Raiders one year removed from catching 123 passes for 1,553 yards and 11 touchdowns before requesting a trade out of Green Bay.
"Before I got in the NFL, yeah he's always been the top (wide receiver) since forever, so it was pretty cool watching him," Stingley said. "And, now, it's pretty cool to see how he actually does his thing. So, I'm excited. I'm going into the game like, 'It's football, do my job.' Everybody is different. You've got to adapt every play."
Stingley has already been tested this season against talented receivers, squaring off with the Indianapolis Colts' Michael Pittman, the Denver Broncos' Courtland Sutton and the Los Angeles Chargers' Mike Williams. While he hasn't always stopped those elite receivers, he has yet to allow a touchdown and hasn't backed down from any challenge. He's been an extremely sound and willing tackler, too. He has one sack, 30 tackles and five passes defensed.
At 6-foot, 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.
A two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former blue-chip who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
The Texans targeted Stingley as their chosen corner for a reason.
“That’s why we drafted him that high," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "Each week there’s going to be great receiver on the other side. Some weeks, that receiver is a little bit better than other weeks. Who is the highest paid receiver in football? He’s (Adams) right up there. Right now, to this point, we can argue about a few thousand dollars here and there. He’s one of the best. There’s a reason why is my point.
"If you’re a corner in general, you have to be excited about that. For a young player like Stingley, yeah he’s excited about this challenge. Best of the league, that’s why we drafted him that high. I know he’s looking forward to it, like all of our teams. Davante Adams is a heck of a football player. There’s a reason why he’s in this position right now.”
Adams represents a special challenge. He's an extremely polished route runner and convincingly uses his moves to create separation. He has 698 career receptions for 8,535 yards and 78 touchdowns.
While the Texans have struggled against the run, ranking 30th in the NFL in run defense, they've been good against the pass. They've allowed just four touchdown passes, ranking second in the league with opposing quarterbacks posting a 73.3 passer rating, ranking fourth overall in the league. They're allowing 6.05 average air yards per pass attempt despite having just 11 sacks this season and a 5.6 sack percentage.
And Stingley has allowed a 61.4 completion percentage with a 76.9 passer rating posted against him.
The preparations Stingley has made in practice sessions, competing with Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks, a 4.33 sprinter, has helped position himself for games like this one.
Of course, Stingley will have help from safeties Jalen Pitre and Jonathan Owens and Nelson will have his time covering Adams, too.
“It’s never just one guy against the other," Cooks said. "That’s what I would tell Stingley, just focus on what you’re being coached to do, doing your job the best that you can and everybody else doing theirs. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
Nelson is extremely confident in Stingley's skills. He's seen him make improvements every week and doesn't think the moment will be too big for him.
"As a competitor, you can't play too much into big-name stuff," Nelson said. "At the end of the day, we're all men. We all bleed. You've got to compete to the best of your ability. That's how it has to be."
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.