MONTGOMERY -- Steven Nelson is a classic bow-and-arrow man, hunting deer with precision and a sense of calm and instincts.
There’s a lot of waiting involved for Nelson to find his target, and accurately connect.
“I like to think of it as an art,” Nelson said during an interview at his livestock farm. “It’s not as easy as what people might think. There’s a lot of patience, a lot of failure. You’ve got to be pinpoint accurate. It’s a challenge, like golf.”
The Texans’ outdoorsy veteran cornerback applies those principles in a different way towards the game of football.
Heading into his ninth season, Nelson, 30, allowed just 9.9 yards per reception for his lowest in the past five seasons, an 80.5 opposing passer rating, 253 air yards for his lowest in the past five seasons and 114 yards after the catch for his lowest total in the past three seasons.
“I’m feeling really good, I played really good,” said Nelson, a native of Warner Robins, Georgia. “I exceeded expectations, coming in as an older guy and making plays from the first day, just being resilient and having my head down and doing whatever is asked of me and being able to succeed. I think I played really well, and I have something to piggyback on this year.”
Signed to a two-year, $9 million contract last year, the former Kansas City Chiefs third-round draft pick from Oregon State recorded 52 tackles with one interception and one sack in 16 starts. He played 94 percent of the defensive snaps and allowed 37 completions on 62 targets for 367 yards, and a 59.7 completion percentage with two touchdowns surrendered.
Now, Nelson is looking for more interceptions after picking off the ninth pass of his career last season in a loss to the Tennessee Titans.
“That’s always our goal is to get as many turnovers as I can,” Nelson said. “Sometimes, that doesn’t happen. If you can limit the catch and yardage ratio, that’s huge. The stats might not be there always, but, if you look into the analytics, it’s all there.”
Change is afoot with the Texans, who are coming off a 3-13-1 season that cost coach Lovie Smith his job.
He was replaced by arguably the most sought after coach from the hiring cycle: DeMeco Ryans, a former Texans Pro Bowl linebacker, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year as the architect of the NFL’s top-ranked defense with the San Francisco 49ers.
“That’s awesome and I’m really ecstatic to have him here,” Nelson said. “As a former player from Houston, he kind of understands the ins and outs of a player day to day and he comes from a winning background. The players, we’re excited to play for him and get this thing rolling.”
The Texans retained cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso, Nelson’s position coach from last season.
“Absolutely, Dino is a great coach,” Nelson said. “I’ve known him since my rookie year in Kansas City. Seeing his growth as a coach is really good.”
Previously with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, Nelson has a new defensive coordinator in Matt Burke and a passing game coordinator he has a background with in Cory Undlin.
What the Texans need is more victories. Nelson is optimistic they’re on the right track, including additions on defense like safety Jimmie Ward, linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
“We’re definitely trying to win more, that’s what it’s all about having that improvement,” Nelson said. “We’ve made some good decisions so far, getting a good group of guys in that can make it happen. The draft is coming up. I trust in them to do their job and bring in guys who can help us fulfill our dreams.”
As one of the elder statesmen in the secondary, Nelson embraces a mentoring role with second-year cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safety Jalen Pitre.
“It means a lot, man, to kind of be a helping hand to those guys and reach back and bring somebody else with me,” said Nelson, who has recorded 393 career tackles, 66 pass deflections, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. “I’m always an open book when it comes to the younger guys and their improvement and success. I’ve always shared with them and give them a different perspective.
“I think players do a good job of relating to the older guys who have done it at a high level. Those guys have a lot of respect for me, the way I carry out my business, going 100 percent every day and leading by example.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.